In January it was announced that Walter Baets, Director of the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB), will fill the Allan Gray Chair in Valuesbased Leadership. He will work with a small team including senior lecturer Dr Nceku Nyathi, who joined the centre last year, Associate Professor Kosheek Sewchurran, Professor Kurt April, Dr Shadrick Mazaza, and newest recruit Dr Timothy London, to set the agenda of the centre.
Funded by Allan Gray and his wife Gill, the centre is the first of its kind in South Africa and will explore new ways of doing business, based on purpose and sustainability, that create dignity and belonging. Allan Gray is the founder of Allan Gray Limited and co-founder of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation.
According to Gray, values-based leadership involves a fundamental questioning of the principles by which the world has been doing business – more specifically exploring whether profit and shareholder value should continue to be the exclusive drivers of business or if values, purpose and meaning might be more effective drivers for the 21st century. The centre will investigate what is required for the generation of new business and economic practices in line with this ideal.
“There is a lot of great thinking taking place in universities around values and leadership – but it needs to be translated into business and society. The centre will be adept at doing this – Walter Baets breathes and sleeps the need for values-based thinking, and having the centre based at Africa’s top business school means it is perfectly positioned for maximum effect,” said Gray.
Baets’ responsibilities will include giving academic leadership and establishing a research agenda for the centre. In addition to its faculty complement, the centre will host two PhD bursary students, who will help build research in this field.
“The right questions need to be asked,” said Baets. “For example, what does it mean for a company to embrace values-based leadership, what are the tools and the mindsets needed? The centre will explore these questions and develop the appropriate responses.”
Dr Nceku Nyathi, who is responsible for the smooth running of the centre, says that it will have three main streams: events, teaching, and research – and that work in all three streams is well under way. This year saw the launch of a new module on the MBA – Complexity, Organisation and Values, which will form the core of the teaching thrust of the centre and there are plans to roll out executive education short courses around values-based leadership in the near future. In April, a new leadership series – the Leadership Salon – was launched in collaboration with the Association of Allan Gray Fellows. These small-scale regional events will reunite Allan-Gray Fellows around South Africa to enable them to explore facets of entrepreneurial leadership through experiential mediums such as facilitated dialogue, audiovisual media and art.
On the research front, PhD students are already engaged in research projects. Nyathi said that the students will be exploring such questions as: what kind of role can values play in building a country and driving growth and development in a different way with the ultimate aim of developing case studies on values-based leadership that speak to a South Africa context. “A lot of the work we will do is about context,” said Nyathi. “We have to situate our leadership teaching and understanding in a context. But at the moment not much is actually known or understood about how values play out in African organisations.”
Nyathi believes that South Africa’s corporate culture must be developed further to be responsive to local demands, while still keeping in step with the international commercial tune. “It is not just about drilling Western practices into managers. I hope to engage and challenge students to adapt these well-established business practices to the local, national and commercial African climate,” he said.
With world economies still experiencing the negative consequences of intensely profitdriven leadership, Nyathi believes that certain South African and African values can be moulded to form a new professionalism and corporate ethic that will better serve African businesses and the communities they work in. “Western concepts of management have served us well, but it is time to make them accessible and workable in an African context. There are local, home-grown values such as communitarian dialogue and decisionmaking, which could be used to pollinate wellestablished international practices. It is these kinds of intercultural perspectives I would like to introduce to the GSB curriculum,” he said.
He added that research at the centre will also emphasise the organisation over the individual. “Values-based leadership is not just about one person but about empowering and disseminating values to a broader group. With leadership studies, there is often a danger of being obsessed with the single person, but the centre will strive to keep a broader focus.”
According to Nyathi, there will be active collaboration between the Centre and the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation and to some extent with Allan Gray Limited in setting the research agenda. At the same time, the foundation will benefit from the fresh research and input to improve its endeavours.
Baets added that the centre is a bold step for business education on the continent, even the world. “Not many business schools have a values-based leadership faculty, and collaborating with Allan Gray, an organisation that has always held values as integral to its mission, our symbiotic relationship will ensure that we shape leaders who can develop new solutions to intractable challenges,” he said.
“Coming, as it does, at the time of the death of Nelson Mandela, the awarding of the Chair will give new impetus to the work of living out his legacy in the world of business.”