• Full marks

    Lyal White, senior director of the Johannesburg Business School, says tertiary education must encourage students to engage with the continent

    Full marks

    Two of the most distinguishing offerings from the University of Johannesburg’s one-year-old Business School (JBS) is that it provides for under- and post-graduate courses, and by 2020 it will be the first to launch an enhanced and entirely new face to an MBA degree. Lyal White, senior director of JBS, says that, with 10 000 registered students – the largest intake for a dedicated South African business school – part of the attraction is that it is not configured by conventional mindsets.

    ‘We’re rethinking the future of business from a leadership and management perspective. We’re looking at what the Fourth Industrial Revolution presents and immersing ourselves in what we need to do to have a real developmental impact on society; how to connect with people, organisations and cultures across the continent, and even globally.’

    In effect, JBS is creating its own revolution by including in its mainstream curricula the likes of arts and culture, engineering, politics, philosophy, humanities and design, because ‘everything is interconnected’, says White.

    Such disciplines have aspects that will be included in JBS’ own connected pipeline, that of the five places of learning with which it is aligned under the College of Business and Economics umbrella, namely the schools of accounting; consumer intelligence and information systems; economics and econometrics; public management, governance and public policy; and tourism and hospitality.

    Usual academic requirements and accreditations will continue to be met, but White says that today’s business learning environment needs to take into account real-world realities and especially the African context.

    To better understand those factors, JBS partners with business organisations, and has concluded there is a management crisis hampering real socio-economic development in South Africa and across the continent.

    ‘We need to deal with this by taking a different approach to education and respond to such market needs, bearing in mind that those responses may not necessarily be in line with traditional methods,’ according to White.

    The MBA is a particular focus because historically it is the degree most in demand globally. This is not going to change in the near future, he says, adding that in Africa it’s considered aspirational and often takes the qualified into leadership positions.

    ‘At JBS we are motivated to produce leaders that are future fit. Leadership is not declared, it’s the role you play and for that you need a broader understanding of market impacts. We’re straddling the gap of connectivity because this is the future of the MBA. It has to be more contextually relevant and nuanced.’ More so in Africa, argues White, because business has always been about the softer issues. At JBS there is a nuanced approach to business acumen, and one that other such schools have not yet fully addressed.

    ‘Our focus is essentially hinged on three interconnected pillars – artificial intelligence and innovation; authentically African; and third, most critical, a collective impact,’ he says. In its delivery of these, JBS is working with local NGOs that expose students to the socio-economic, often-political background of an environment.

    ‘Context is fundamental to understanding how we came to be where we are. When we are not aware of the fault lines in society, there can be further ruptures,’ he says.

    UJ’s Business Centres of Excellence also stand in support of embracing an African context. One such example is the Centre for African Business, which delivers applied research – importantly, says White, presenting real case studies from the continent, in effect ‘the legacies we leave behind’. Those legacies speak to oft-forgotten aspects of life development, empathy and emotional intelligence, which, as White points out, are not attributes that business schools usually address.

    ‘Part of being a leader requires being attentive and a strong listener, along with being able to take certain risks and being courageous. It’s no longer business as usual … things change. Online, for example, has enabled Africa to be connected, and so at JBS we prioritise putting into practice all the blended learning and innovative approaches I have mentioned, into cross-platform forums.

    ‘We are also taking Africa to the world, by moving away from being just a B-school – the acronym by which business schools are known – to being more Zen-like, something that is trending globally.

    ‘What is the purpose of sustainable development if going forward you are not engaged with Africa and its nuances? Accounting for the current multi-disciplinary business mindset requires programme add-ons that enable students to cope, once qualified, with the hectic lifestyles that leaders experience,’ he says.

    For students to have this experience requires business schools to lower the barriers to entry. White says this must include finding new revenue-generating models that address the funding challenges experienced by potential and existing students.

    ‘There are smaller and very credible business schools that are more nimble than those such as ours, but we are at the behest of monolithic university protocols. Even though the market may appear saturated – and it really is fiercely competitive – the opportunities for us to develop the story of African business remain big and profound.’

    By Kerry Dimmer