So says Kumeshnee West, newly appointed director of Executive Education at the GSB. West, who has been in the role in an acting capacity for the past two years, says that in common with the rest of the world, Executive Education at the GSB is on the up – with growth in customised programmes in particular rising year-on-year. As a result, the pace is pretty intense.
“Being at the helm of this important division is stimulating and challenging at the same time,” says West. “At the moment we work with a number of very high profile clients, including four of the big five banks in South Africa. I am proud to say that we have a very high level of client satisfaction. It takes a lot of energy, a lot of teamwork, a lot of outside-the-box thinking and I love every minute of it.” Leading a team of 16 education and industry experts, West is described by her people as enthusiastic, energetic and a fair leader. “Almost everyone in my team also describes me as loud,” a laughing West adds. “That’s not a bad thing, mind you. We are a pretty dynamic team and I do my best to keep the energy going all the time,” she says. Starting her career in the healthcare industry, West was a management consultant before joining the GSB in 2012 – right after completing her MBA at the school. “I have a lot of passion for leadership and management development,” she says. “While the role of Executive Education in the business school is often seen as a revenue generator, we also need, I think, not to lose sight of our primary objective which is to develop excellent leaders and managers, who are capable of driving change and innovation in their companies.
“Our country and continent needs leaders and managers who are above average.”
West says that in too many instances, experienced professionals are promoted into management and leadership positions without the necessary support. “There needs to be an emphasis on training them to be effective managers and giving them support. A big part of what we do here at Executive Education is enabling business professionals to build their peer networks of support along with their skills. Our programmes draw people from across the continent and from all the top organisations.”
“In my first block of teaching at the GSB in August, I learnt more from my class than they did from me!” laughs Charteris. She says the challenge is to create a teaching environment to share knowledge, providing the greatest possible stimulation and learning experience for students.
Charteris is excited about her new position at the GSB, which saw her relocating from Durban and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where she spent seven years teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students. Working in academia, she says, often feels like two distinct jobs – teaching and research. “Working with postgraduate students is extremely rewarding as they are knowledgeable and passionate about various issues and engage substantially with the material. They provide stimulation and a level of job satisfaction that I would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.”
She says education helps people to rise above their circumstances by expanding their opportunities. In addition, an educated public is critical for the continued development and growth of an economy. This ties in with her other field of interest – finance. She has a master’s degree in Commerce and is currently completing her PhD. “Finance is central to the efficient functioning and growth of the economy,” she believes. “Managers and entrepreneurs need to learn how to allocate scarce financial resources to the most productive means in the economy and manage them efficiently to generate the best financial and social returns.”
Equally comfortable on the back of a motorcycle or in front at the podium, van Niekerk has travelled the world, worked a variety of adventurous jobs and mingled with a range of interesting people in an extraordinary career as a marketing guru, culminating in his appointment as global head of marketing at Investec – a position he held for 16 years. He is now looking forward to his new involvement at the GSB. It is not van Niekerk’s first time on the campus. He did his MBA at the school in 1996 and has lectured on various marketing courses over the years. So he knows the GSB brand – and he likes it.
“The GSB is an extraordinary business school,” he says. “It takes the best that is on offer internationally in terms of business knowledge and expertise and makes it relevant contextually, for Africa. The school has to have its own niche, but that doesn’t mean turning its back on centuries of European learning,” he says. Van Niekerk knows how to cut to the chase and get to the essence of a matter. As motivational speaker, brand builder and strategist, he has made a name for himself as a straight talker.
“There are no sacred cows in my approach to brand guidance. I don’t do marketing speak. Tough truths, pragmatic answers and honest evaluation are what I give.”
He was the architect of Investec’s brand and before that, was the founding partner and director of Sw!tch Branding & Design. Prior to this, he was director of consulting and board member of KSDP Pentagraph (at the time the 10th biggest design consultancy in the world).
Van Niekerk enjoys teaching, interacting with students and sharing his expertise. “I have been fortunate in my career and have had reasonable success. There is a sense of giving back now and helping to open the doors for others. People have paved the way for me and I have an obligation to return the favour to others who are starting out now.”
“I am very happy to be here,” says Latif Alhassan, who also completed his PhD at this business school in 2016. “The GSB has an important place in Africa. It is the foremost business school in Africa and highly ranked and regarded overseas. So it is an honour to be working here.” He adds that the GSB is not only an African institution but also an international one, with diverse cultural representation from all over the world. As such, the school also offers many opportunities for young people, like himself, and he is eager to play a part in this. “My philosophy is to help students move beyond theory and the classroom, to the outside world, their place of work. I want to ensure that they can really use what they have learnt in a practical sense.”
Far more important than imparting knowledge and teaching skills, is ensuring that students have truly grasped the concepts and are able to apply what they have learnt. “They need to be able to explain in practical terms what this knowledge means. Case studies play a vital role in this,” he says. “When theory relates to real, current world events, it leaves an imprint on their minds and takes the discussion further into their external interactions with the broader society.”
This will not be his first teaching experience, as he previously taught at the University of Ghana Business School. “I like to stimulate their minds,” he says of his students. “Engaging with students is very fulfilling.”
When he compares students in Ghana to those at the GSB, he observes that while there are similarities, there are also differences. “There is greater diversity in the geographical backgrounds of both faculty and students. The GSB students are nationals of various countries and this reflects the international status of the school.”
Apart from his academic work, Latif Alhassan was actively involved in the implementation of a capacity-building programme for farmer-based organisations in eight African countries on behalf of the Farmer Organisation Support Centre in Africa (FOSCA) programme of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). He is currently an associate editor for Africagrowth Agenda and Development Finance Agenda magazines.
He is very passionate about research with a focus on the financial services industry, and more specifically, the insurance markets in emerging economies. “There is much more uncertainty in emerging market economies,” says Latif Alhassan. “Many depend heavily on trading with developed economies and are susceptible to fluctuations in the market conditions.”
Latif Alhassan believes research plays a critical role in development of insurance markets to enhance its role of promoting stable business environments in emerging markets.
Amongst other work, he is currently undertaking research to estimate the liquidity de-creation behaviour in the shortterm insurance market in South Africa as well as examining the complementarity between banking and insurance markets in stimulating economic growth in Africa.
“I love people as much as I love being creative, from a numbers point of view,” says Wilson, who joined the GSB after completing his MBA through the school in 2008.
He has had a varied and exciting career, working at organisations as diverse as Rentokil, the College of Cape Town, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, as well as a number of chartered accounting firms. The people skills he speaks of have not only drawn him back to the GSB, but also to teaching. He is now a volunteer tutor at The Tertiary School in Business Administration (TSiBA). “I love every minute of it,” Wilson says of his time teaching business administration and principles of accounting and finance. “It is quite a humbling experience.”
The human side of his work blends well with the intellectual side, believes Wilson. “The thing I enjoy most about my line of work is building relationships and building financial models,” he explains.
Wilson says he brings with him to the GSB a set of values he holds dear: strategic thinking, a commitment to positive change, and a dedication to supporting a learning culture. Particular skills, he says, are financial management, financial systems design and implementation, and identifying risks and overcoming business obstacles. “These values took root after I completed my MBA,” he explains. “Upon returning to Rentokil, I moved into a role that required me not only to look at the finances, but the application of operational resources and the structural integrity of the business model. I was instrumental in a divisional restructuring process which was extremely challenging and exciting.
“These values gave flight to my creative side, and are the driving force behind my passion for inquiry.”
He is inspired, above all he says, by the desire for knowledge and curiosity – his own and that of others – especially children.
Wilson, who hails from Athlone in Cape Town, is a keen hiker, and a sports fan, and loves taking time out to watch football in the Cape Town or Athlone stadiums.
At the age of only 34, Kabinga has studied in Canada, worked in Switzerland, completed his PhD and received numerous scholarships and awards, among them the Brightest Young Minds SA’s Top 100 Brightest Young Minds in South Africa (2010).
Newly appointed to the GSB permanent faculty as a senior research fellow and lecturer in development finance and strategy (he has worked at the school in a non-tenured capacity for the past three years), Kabinga says the GSB is the best place for an African academic. “It is the top business school on the continent; it provides emergent scholars the space and opportunity to engage with a rich empirical context, solve some of the world’s most wicked organisational problems and grow one’s career as a world-class researcher,” he says.
There are so many areas where good quality research on African and frontier market themes is needed. The kind of research that influences frontier market businesses, guides government policies and breaks new ground is crucially important in bringing about real improvements in society, he believes.
Kabinga has three areas of focus: industry and economic transformation in Africa; energy and infrastructure reform management; and inclusive finance. Each of these fields is daunting enough in itself, but this former technical advisor to the Ministry of Finance and National Planning in Zambia does not shy away from complicated topics. For instance, his doctoral dissertation was on Eskom, examining why blackouts plagued South Africa between 2005 and 2008.
“The electricity crisis was commonly explained by insufficient generation capacity, badly maintained power plants, insufficient coal quality and a weak electricity grid. But how did such a situation occur in the sixth largest electric utility in the world?” He looked, in detail, at the crippling capacity shortfall that the power utility had in 2008 and found that a dramatic lack of competencies and skills played a crucial role. Underpinning these developments, were five sector and public policy reforms that had severe – and unintended effects – on Eskom’s capability structure.
“I have been living in South Africa since 2002,” says senior lecturer Johannes Schüler, who was recently appointed to the full-time faculty of the UCT GSB (he has taught at the school in a part-time capacity for the past few years). “Despite the obvious and much talked-about challenges, this country holds much potential for people with a positive mindset and a willingness to overcome obstacles by embracing them as opportunities.”
Schüler came to South Africa to assist in building a technical consulting agency start-up, followed by developing a local appliance manufacturer to become a global market leader in its category and from there went on to found his own company, Le Bonbon Confection, which currently employs over 100 people and supplies Woolworths.
“I am passionate about entrepreneurship, as I see it as one of the most impactful responses to the many problems South Africa is facing,” says Schüler. “Entrepreneurs provide solutions to unemployment, slow economic growth and increasing challenges in competitiveness in comparison to other emerging market economies.”
Unfortunately, there are many obstacles standing in the way of entrepreneurs, especially in South Africa, he says. “Regulatory requirements, onerous labour laws, insufficient start-up funding opportunities and most importantly, the level and quality of education.” In addition, he sees the business school’s role as integrating academic knowledge with practical, implementable competencies that are required in emerging market contexts. “This will hopefully result in more capable rather than knowledgeable graduates,” he says.
Beyond the classroom, Schüler has been able to make a significant impact on helping MBAs to integrate their knowledge through his role as coach and mentor to student teams that have gone on to compete successfully in several international case competitions. The experience of participating in these case competitions “forces the students to learn how to work efficiently as a team and to make wellthought- out, practical decisions quickly, rather than remaining stuck in academic discussions,” explains Schüler. This is where the magic happens and MBAs become business leaders.
He has come a long way since his early years, growing up in a rural area in KwaZulu-Natal. As a child, Thabede was a herd boy in a povertystricken community mired in factional fighting and violence. He remembers the lack of basic services, poor healthcare and the need for social justice.
“It groomed me for socio-economic development activism and the empowerment of our communities,” says Thabede. He looks forward to bringing this experience to bear in his new role at the Bertha Centre, specifically, to help it operate ever more efficiently by designing innovative processes and structures to support its fast-growing operations.
Thabede is exceptionally well placed to step into a management role in what is a complex and fast-growing centre that is part academic institution, part innovation hub and part NGO, in terms of its funding.
He understands this kind of organisational complexity, having spent years working in the public service and NGO sector. He has been with the Department of Social Development, Department of Health and later became Deputy Director for Service Delivery Integration in the Department of Local Government in the Western Cape. He then spent four years working as an operations manager, training manager and national programme implementation manager for various NGOs. He also started his own management consultant company – Moyomuhle Social Solutions – which gave him practical insight into the obstacles that many entrepreneurs and organisations face. And his experiences as a student (he has an MBA under his belt) also give him a unique insight into the workings of a business school. A great believer in the value of blazing a trial for others to follow, Thabede says that his focus will be on creating methods and ways of working that can be scaled up and used by others to create social impact. “One thing we talk about a lot is the role that the Bertha Centre plays – and needs to play – in society and business. It is about making a tangible impact on students and society, one that is meaningful, relatable and sustainable.”
“We are fortunate to have the opportunity to grow our way out of the current economic slump,” he says. “The business school is relatively well placed – we are a diverse business operation both in terms of our teaching portfolio, which includes academic programmes and executive education offerings, our various centres of excellence and our physical infrastructure, such as our hotel. The school is also shortly to begin work on the construction of an multi-purpose academic conference centre that will further bolster its property portfolio while providing an expanded support base for our academic endeavour.”
Canning, who is a seasoned financial professional, having worked for over a decade in university financing – the last eight of which have been as finance director at the GSB – says that it is no accident that the GSB finds itself in a good position, but the result of good strategic planning over several years.
“Even before the #FeesMustFall protests and the resulting freeze on fee increases, universities have been under pressure to improve volumes, efficiencies and diversify their offerings – while maintaining quality,” says Canning. “And the GSB has been hard at work over the past decade doing just this. In recent years, we have had a lot of opportunity to innovate and bring a different financial outlook to how we do things.”
“There are always things to improve in any organisation. The GSB is already one of the leading institutions on the African continent and it is our job to make it even better.”
For Canning, finance is a strategic enabler. First it is about making sure there are funds available and then it’s about investing them wisely in line with the strategic vision of the school.
Such wise investments in the past few years have included the opening of an international office, to facilitate the school’s international relations and drive the rankings and accreditations work, which forms a crucial part of the GSB’s positioning; the formation of a research office to advance the school’s research agenda, which plays a key role in building the school’s reputation; and the opening of an academic office that includes a case writing centre. It has also seen some significant changes and additions to the programme portfolio.
In his new role, Canning will step back from the financial nitty gritty and step into a broader strategic role. Describing himself as a man who “loves adventure” he is looking forward to the new challenges that the role brings.
“I think that growing a business like the GSB in the current economic climate is a careful balancing act – while we strive to run the school like a business – the commercial operation that it is – it is a very specific kind of animal – the link between academia and business. This requires us to approach things differently.”
He says he will be looking to encourage his team to be ever more innovative and entrepreneurial in their thinking as they seek ways to grow and consolidate the business of the business school. “The GSB has so much to offer in terms of access to talent and new thinking and innovative teaching methodologies that help our clients and partners to always be ready to take the next step. To keep on exceeding.”
Another key focus in his new role will be on building the school’s relationship with its graduates, “our key stakeholders”, through the work of the alumni, career services and marketing offices at the school.
It’s quite a lot to take in, but Canning says he has a good team to support him and that he keeps his life in balance with regular exercise (he is a gym addict and loves hiking). In his approach to work and life, he says that he is inspired by his small children (aged five and a half and two and a half) to take things as they come.
“Their decisions are untainted and honest,” he says. And it is that spirit that he hopes to bring to his new role; a fresh, open and energetic approach.