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Mind your own (MBA) business

by Rizel Delano
It’s a fact: the lack of MBA certified professionals in South Africa could have an impact on the country’s leadership talent in the future.

In today’s ever changing global situation and sometimes fiscal uncertainty, organisations only survive and thrive because of strong leaders with integrity and sound judgement. These managers are intellectual and insightful business people who collaborate and engage intelligently together – who can manage innovatively, strategically and ethically.

This is the opinion of Jon Foster-Pedley, dean and director of the prestigious Henley Business School Africa. He said in an exclusive interview with Leadership that these qualities are critical to identify and capitalise on new opportunities arising from emerging economies, to maximise shareholder and social value, and to fuel future growth. It's thus imperative that managers equipped with a proper skills set and maintain personal and professional development, exactly the reason why so many opt to obtain the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. MBA is considered one of the most prestigious and sought after degrees in the world. In some countries abroad, some employers actually expect all personnel, from personal assistants to top executives, to have MBA certification. "Mostly for contextual understanding, strategic collaboration and dealing with complex issues,” says Foster-Pedley.

To be internationally competitive, our leaders need to be confident, positive and skilled on all levels, and need to manage better with rigorous work ethics. But SA is operating under a somewhat repressive education system, leaving too many pupils disempowered with the belief that they lack the creativity and originality to excel. Rather concerned about this fact, Foster-Pedley says, "I’m angry about the damage caused. Educators are supposed to unleash potential, teaching pupils to be more imaginative".

According to Foster-Pedley, true confidence is to know that you can learn most things, embrace optimism even in the face of great difficulty, and develop a sense of purpose delivered with courage and determination. "With appropriate encouragement and methods, the intellectual and creative transformations are nothing short of astounding," smiles Foster-Pedley.

The Henley education is about channelling human potential. It's about instilling confidence, empowering minds and identifying new frontier possibilities. "We all know we need discipline, co-ordination and intellect to be good leaders. Add initiative and you have a new level of competitiveness. Add creativity and passion, and you're operating at a new level of ability."

"Although the lack of MBA certified people in SA might have an impact on our leadership talent, I've believed for a long time we've confused education with intelligence, and now we're truly coming out of that. We in Africa of course have all the talents, intelligence and capability of the Americans, Asians and Europeans and it's about time we all really believe that. Capability and discipline are unstoppable. We must apply ourselves to develop the skills we need to take our rightful place in the world."

Already Henley has seen an improvement in the quality of applicants with a steady increase in the number of previously disadvantaged applicants. At 60% Henley is still not demographically representative, "But if you compare that figure to when I started teaching MBA in 1995, when only about 10% of the class was black people, it's clear we've come a long way"

Raised in England and Malaysia with a curious explorer's mind and a background in aviation and aerospace, Foster-Pedley teams with highly experienced individuals. When he decided to enrol for an MBA at Ashridge UK to sharpen his own axes, it was a total intellectual awakening, a reflective and provocative process with an epiphany of what one's mind is capable of.

In 1997 he designed, launched and directed the successful UCT Executive MBA, became director of GSB Executive and Management Education, and reprised his interests in creativity and innovation. He developed ground-breaking courses under Creategy™ - the art of creative strategy, and developed an experimental MBA elective, 'Strategy, Design and Creativity', which rapidly became the most popular elective on the MBA. In 2011 he was appointed as dean of Henley Africa, the only internationally triple accredited (AMBA, EQUIS, AACSB) business school in Africa.

To date, Foster-Pedley has consulted and designed education and action learning processes in many industries for major international corporations, smaller companies, and government. He has hands-on experience in international sales and marketing, leading multicultural sales and management teams.

Recently, he accompanied the Airports Company South Africa Limited (ACSA) team for a week to identify opportunities, benchmarks, and competencies in China. In just two days, the team visited three of the biggest companies in the world. Foster-Pedley says, "China values social stability very highly and progresses at a phenomenal rate. Infrastructure development is at the forefront, thereby offering a huge capacity for businesses to grow quickly".

China considers Africa as 'the growing lion' and is eager to collaborate in sustainable business practises, "Which means good business for SA. The Chinese operate within a huge established network and are intelligent, engaged, proud, motivated, respectful and polite with a strong perspective and sophistication in trade. He says that the general mentality around the MBA in SA needs to shift away from the stigma that it's a family uprooter. For this reason, Henley imparts coping mechanisms and organises the delivery of its MBA programmes in such a way that busy executives in demanding jobs can readily integrate their studies with their work, whilst still keeping the desired connection with family.

Henley is also one of the first first business schools worldwide to organise its teaching around real-world dilemmas and individual business choices, rather than by traditional academic disciplines. Founded in 1945 with offices in the UK, South Africa, Hong Kong, Scandinavia and Germany, Henley offers exceptionally high-quality interaction and peer group learning. Henley has an impressive track record of growing leaders and developing managers with an active network of 30 000 alumni in senior management positions in 141 countries.

It is one of only 1% of all business school globally, and the only one in Africa, to hold international triple accreditation. If the work perceives an MBA as that brilliant, it should be available to everyone to create genuine business acumen on an international scale, and build lasting sustainable relationships.

Originally published in Leadership Magazine, Edition 332, November 2012.
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