Milpark's new director shares insights on leadership trends

Segran Nair, director at Milpark Business School
Leigh-Ann Hayward, Head: Corporate Education and Chief Commercial Officer of Milpark Education, in conversation with Segran Nair, Director: Milpark Business School.

Leadership has never been more challenged by the pace of change than today – or so we think. But there have, of course, been other significant industrial and technological ‘revolutions’ in the past. The difference today is the speed with which change can spread. In a world of rapidly advancing technologies, disruptive innovation and sustainability imperatives, how can we equip people to lead high-performing teams and drive long-term success? Here Leigh-Ann Hayward and Segran Nair speak about developments in leadership training, both at Milpark and out in the wider world.

Welcome to the Milpark team, Segran! We’ll dive into the topic just now. But firstly, as recently appointed Director of Milpark Business School, how have your first 100 days ‘in office’ been?

Thanks, Leigh-Ann. They’ve been interesting. I’ve known Milpark for a while and I also know my predecessor really well. However, in joining the team, I’ve had to get used to some new language and concepts – but I think I’ve got them down pat now!

I’ve had deep conversations with my colleagues – they are very experienced and thoughtful individuals who have the student experience at heart; they are very supportive in enabling the learning journey, which is refreshing. And, of course, Milpark is essentially an online environment so it has been good to learn about its systems and support structures.

I have also done focus groups with students on the MBA. And, again, it’s been wonderful to hear of the excellent support provided to them, the level of discussions that are taking place in modules and how the Milpark approach helps them.

At an Exco level, what’s driving Milpark Education, again, is having the student at the centre of everything. We work for every single rand the student spends with us, so to speak – so we want to make sure Milpark meets and exceeds our students’ expectations.

It sounds like a really immersive start... Have you begun to map out some initial ideas for the Milpark Business School? What can we expect to see emerging?

That’s a great question. I’ll mention a couple of things. We are looking at the MBA first of all: checking that our content remains cutting-edge, relevant and applicable. We have looked at certain trends, although I’m not one for fads. Still, it is incredibly important to have conversations around artificial intelligence, disruptive technologies, big data and organisational strategy, in terms of building resilience.

We absolutely need to find ways to help leaders prepare to lead in this world of constant and rapid change. We must make sure those conversations are happening on our programme so that students can be better informed and make the right decisions at their organisations.

We are also looking to be proactive to market wants – such as shorter, more intensive engagements for executive education. Face-to-face group sessions. Fresh content. We have identified three themes – leadership, entrepreneurship and digitisation/data analytics. However, with all of those, we must and will check how they resonate with the students.

There are also a couple of things that really matter here for organisations: how to respond quickly to changes in the business terrain requires companies to become astute and agile learning organisations, to promote a free flow of ideas, share experiences and so on. I believe we must learn from and with each other, even when we are competitors.

From your vantage point, what are corporates looking for in a business school, today, in Africa?

Africa is a vast continent of different countries, languages and cultures – as well as a lens to the global village. Companies need people who can hold their own in multicultural environments, so that South African individuals working in West Africa, for instance, understand that they are also brand ambassadors. This translates into a need to be respectful and sensitive to local norms and idiosyncrasies, while also communicating well and bringing people along.

What do corporates look for in business schools in particular? There are a couple of trends emerging, one of which is around leadership. There is sometimes a challenge when technically very competent people move into leadership positions. Leading diverse teams and engaging with different departments and stakeholders can be complex. There is certainly emphasis being put on business schools preparing leaders beyond merely managing tasks.

Another aspect is innovation – companies can get bogged down in organisational cultures and procedures that hold back the creative solutions required for them to remain relevant and competitive. We need to enable individuals to challenge themselves – and the status quo.

You and I work closely together on custom executive courses for corporate clients and we’ve already discussed objectives for leadership development and our responsibilities as a higher education provider in the field. Would you mind sharing a few pointers? What do we want course participants to learn, in terms of leadership in the African context?

I think, if one takes a values-based approach – including subscribing to the value that it’s okay to have varying views in the room – that’s a great start. So rather than being highly combative, let’s hear each other’s opinions – sometimes it might not be what we expect – and find a middle ground for the sake of moving forward.

In that process, we provide personal development opportunities within our programmes – creating an environment for critical reflection, debate and diversity of ideas. That’s one of the ways we at Milpark can show up differently – and, in doing so, allow students to show up as themselves.

We also need to be talking about how we lead by example. We have to set the right tone for the younger generation – tomorrow’s leaders. One approach is doing things that are right by communities, sustainably, to ensure they benefit from whatever it is we do. It is about more than just egos and pay cheques; but rather how we create value and allow communities and countries to move out of poverty traps. These are some of the ways we can move out of the spirals we find ourselves in.

Useful resources:
Milpark Business School
Since 2008, Milpark has offered a wide range of programmes targeted at meeting the needs of students in business in South Africa. In addition to management education, Milpark also offers a wide range of qualifications in financial planning and insurance, and banking and investment. As a result, Milpark is a leading niche provider of qualifications to many sectors, able to offer an articulation path from FET through to the highly valued MBA degree.
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