Percolating learning and wisdom | Fin24
 
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Percolating learning and wisdom

Oct 29 2017 06:00
Sue Grant-Marshall

Sue Grant-Marshall speaks to Nicola Kleyn about the world of business schools and MBAs.

Nicola Kleyn, dean of the Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs), was recently appointed president of the South African Business Schools Association (Sabsa).

Dean of Gibs since 2015, Kleyn, whose quicksilver movements and speech are matched by a deeply reflective personality, insists it is important to absorb learning and wisdom, “and then take quiet time to let them percolate”.

For an hour she talks flat out about MBAs, business schools, brand management and reputations, and the dire need for quality education skills in South Africa.

Of her role as president of Sabsa she says, “We face a series of intense issues, both in higher education and in the economy, at the moment.

“So it’s important to provide a collective forum where heads of business schools can come together, generating scenarios for a possible future.”

She mentions the severe shortage of high-quality staff faculties across universities, where academics are ageing “and enticing young people into academe is getting harder”.

At business schools, “we face a double challenge because people can choose to go into business or to teach, and the former often pays better than we can”.

In times past, the importance of gaining an MBA (Master of Business Administration) was questioned “because back then things didn’t change as rapidly as they do today. There was a notion you could learn everything you needed to on the job.”

Today, many people do MBAs to accelerate learning about business from a broader perspective, often at a time when they need to shift careers into a higher gear or change course.

“They often want to build a strong network of peers, which they won’t do working in one organisation.”

Furthermore, an MBA is much more than a curriculum. “The learning and experience that everyone brings to the class will determine the quality of the conversation,” adds Kleyn.

She discusses Gibs being an “unashamedly applied school. So, while theory matters, we need action.”

One of the core elements at Gibs, she emphasises, is building African prosperity.

“We’re operating in a context characterised by unacceptably high levels of inequality, of poverty and of corruption. We need to play whatever role we can in addressing those.”

Kleyn, who succeeded the highly regarded Nick Binedell as Gibs’ dean, graduated from Wits University in 1993 with an MBA and obtained her DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) from Pretoria University.

She was head of Investec Business School before moving to Gibs.

She had begun her academic career in marketing before focusing on brand and reputation management. “You can paint glossy colours all over an organisation but that will not fool people in a world of increasing transparency and social media.” It was the latter that recently blew a racist Dove soap advertisement out of the water and swept across the globe. “It is such a gender-based brand that it forgot about race,” observes Kleyn.

She actively sets aside time to reflect, “because you can’t learn while being deluged by academic information. You need to make meaning of it.” The mother of four children aged between 16 and 26, she describes “me time” as reflection, but she enjoys a massage and chocolate milk shake as much as anybody else.

When it comes to holidays, she turns to a TED talk by travel journalist Pico Iyer, “who talks about the importance of ‘going nowhere’. I prefer still time at home.”

Kleyn is acutely aware that we live and work in a fragile environment, “where globally we’re seeing social fragmentation and polarisation. In SA, it’s exacerbated by our history of apartheid.” It’s easy to be negative here, “so, for leaders right now, it’s our responsibility to be appreciative of the good we have and to grow our strengths”.

She’s passionately dedicated to anything that will aid learning.

Kleyn is wearing a moonboot as the result of a fall “from which I didn’t take enough downtime to recover”. It might slow down her usual lively stride, but cannot mask the extraordinary energy and determination with which she hurls herself through life. “So, now I have to undergo another surgical procedure. What I’ve learnt from this is that, in order to be productive, we sometimes need to take time out.”

She chuckles, lively eyes illuminating a face glowing with intelligence and enthusiasm for the task at hand.

Little black book

Business tip: Figure out what your strengths are and play to them. Don’t focus on your weaknesses.

Mentor: Nick Binedell has been pivotal in encouraging and instilling a sense of confidence in me.

Inspiration: Realising it is you who are best qualified for a leadership post.

Favourite book: Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling by author and academic Edgar Schein.

Wow! moment: Realising that we can pick ourselves up in the face of adversity and start again.

Life lesson: Be mindful you don’t put making a living ahead of making a life.

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gibs  |  winning women  |  education
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