Born to serve

by Tracy Greenwood
Henley Business School stalwart and newly promoted Head of Operations, Graham Garrard, cut his professional teeth in the exacting hospitality industry, setting him up for a career in service that has come to extend well beyond the hotel foyer.

Would you rather work or learn in a heated room or shiver in the chill of a Joburg winter? At Henley Business School, you don’t need to make the choice thanks to Graham Garrard, newly promoted Head of Operations. Every day, Graham and his team make a hundred decisions on our behalf to keep the wheels on campus turning smoothly. From ensuring that training rooms are optimised for comfort and learning efficiency to making sure that there is enough coffee on campus at all times, Graham’s standout skill is the meticulous orchestration and execution of a wide array of functions that make other people’s lives better.

Now armed with a Henley MBA degree, Graham has come a long way from his childhood days in Paulshof, Johannesburg – the very same suburb in which he now works. "School was a struggle for me. I was diagnosed with ADHD at a young age, and at a time when the condition wasn’t widely recognised. I often felt overlooked in the classroom as teachers shuffled me from one class to another. There didn’t seem to be an understanding that each child’s learning process is unique," he explains.

As high school approached, Graham’s parents were acutely aware of the need to find an institution that would accommodate their son’s neurodiversity. After a couple of hits and misses, they decided on Willow Ridge High School’s assisted learning programme in Wilgeheuwel. "The smaller class sizes were exactly what I needed," Graham says. "My teacher, Yegandri Koseelan, had faith in me and nurtured my passion for catering and I went on to complete my N3 – the equivalent of matric – in catering. My school instilled in me a sense of passion and resilience and taught me that friends can indeed become family."

Despite the challenges he experienced in the schooling system Graham says his upbringing was tranquil and his childhood was a happy one. "I spent my early days with my older brother and then, when I was eight, our family welcomed a sister, which altered the family dynamic. I went from being the baby to being the middle child, complete with middle child syndrome," he says with a smile.

Graham’s formative years played a pivotal role in shaping his career aspirations. "It’s something I’m deeply appreciative of. From a tender age I was immersed in an environment where culinary artistry and entrepreneurial spirit flourished - my mother's passion for cooking and my father's meticulousness in business management were daily inspirations."

Graham has always been passionate about hospitality and the culinary arts. "When I was a child I was consumed by the desire to work in hospitality management. I envisioned myself at the helm of a prestigious hotel, one that catered to a clientele who valued luxury and expected impeccable service," he says. "There is an intricate dance involved in meeting and exceeding guest expectations, crafting memorable experiences that resonate on a personal level. It’s something I’ve transferred to my current role where my focus is on the experiences of the Henley team internally, and on students, alumni and guests of the school externally."

Working at Henley – he started his journey at the school as events coordinator – fuels Graham’s desire to contribute to an organisation that profoundly impacts lives through educational and internship programmes. "I find immense satisfaction in autonomously steering projects to completion guided by clear vision rather than micromanagement," he says. It’s an environment that allows him to channel his passion into meaningful work that fosters a sense of purpose, in the knowledge that each task he undertakes has the potential to alter someone’s life trajectory for the better.

The most profound lesson he has learned at the school is that business can be conducted with compassion and humanity at its core. "It’s more than transactional; it’s about building relationships and communities. At Henley I have learned the power of vulnerability, of showing up authentically, which fosters trust and collaboration."

Graham at a glance

1. What kind of leader are you?

"My leadership philosophy is twofold: Firstly, I adopt a coaching approach, recognising that every individual has untapped potential. By investing time in personal and group coaching, I empower our staff, many of whom have faced significant life challenges, to aspire to greater heights. Secondly, I practise democratic leadership, actively involving my team in the decision-making process. This collaborative approach is crucial in operations, where adaptability and collective input are key to tackling complex projects and driving innovation. Together, these leadership styles create a dynamic and inclusive work environment that not only respects but also leverages the unique contributions of each team member."

2. Where would we find you on a day off?

"Riding my bike! To me it’s more than just a sport or hobby, it's a pursuit that marries the soul with freedom and the body with endurance. It's the art of chasing horizons, where freedom brings you closer to nature and further from everyday stress. The synergy between rider and bike creates an unparalleled form of meditation in motion, offering a sanctuary where one can reflect, rejuvenate, and rediscover the simple joys of life."

3. What makes Henley special?

"Henley's ethos of ‘doing business with heart’ resonates through its embrace of diversity and vulnerability, fostering a learning environment where students are encouraged to share their experiences and insights. This culture of mutual growth and of giving back, particularly to the younger generation, positions Henley as a beacon of holistic business education that prepares leaders not only for the market demands of today but also for the societal challenges of tomorrow. Together, we are crafting the architects of tomorrow. The individuals who will go on to construct the enterprises that will elevate Africa."

Useful resources:
Henley Business School
At the core of Henley’s philosophy is the belief that we need to develop managers and leaders for the future. We believe the challenge facing future leaders is the need to solve dilemmas through making choices. We work with both individuals and organisations to create the appropriate learning environment to facilitate the critical thinking skills to prepare for the future.
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