Jon Foster-Pedley, Dean and Director of Henley Business School, talks to AfricaLive about the role of business schools in shaping Africa’s future, and why South Africa should look to Asia for inspiration as it embraces change in the fourth industrial revolution.
AfricaLive: Please tell our readers about Henley Business School and its identity.
Dean Jon Foster-Pedley: Henley Business School is the oldest business school in Europe, dating back to 1946. Henley M.B.A came to South Africa about twenty-seven years ago as a licensed operation and part of a private company.
In 2008, the University of Reading bought the Henley Management College as it was known back then and renamed it the Henley Business School. Since I joined this institution back in 2011, we have grown from five people at the office to seventy-five. We have also increased our revenue by 1,000%, and our school holds two-thirds of all M.B.A. students in Henley Business schools.
Our scholarship program is the largest in this continent and one of the largest in the world. All this growth has happened despite nothing in the way of monetary investment coming our way. This institution has grown multiple-fold because we run a successful entrepreneurial operation that produces exceptional value.
AfricaLive: What role is your institution playing in creating the next generation of professionals that South Africa needs to prosper?
Dean Jon Foster-Pedley: We have a couple of special initiatives such as M.B.A.I.D, which is a non-governmental organisation (N.G.O.) that seeks to turn the energies of business schools towards social upliftment. Through M.B.A.I.D., we have worked with over 300 NGOs in South Africa. The program sees that all our staff get a free education by taking part in various applications of their choosing. These programs help equip our team with what they need to accelerate their rise up the corporate ladder. We also have a number of initiatives such as Henley I.C.E (Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship) to foster growth in these areas. There is also Henley F.I.R.E. (Full Immersion Reality Education), Henley A.I.R (African Insight and Research), and Henley E.A.R.T.H. (Environmental Activism through Research and Training of Henley). We have launched a movement called #Corporate Activism, an initiative that fights to improve corporate governance while fighting corruption. Our M.B.A. program has had some recent additions such as the family-friendly M.B.A. people must learn how to maintain a healthy balance between family and their education.
We also have the creative M.B.A. which nurtures talent in media and other performing arts. This M.B.A is vital because, in the developing world, growth mostly comes from creative talent. Boosting this industry calls for a nurturing of leaders who will help push it to its highest potential. Henley Business School South Africa is also the only business school in the country that offers an international M.B.A. Students who enrol in it will be able to work anywhere in the world without restrictions. All these efforts are there to create a generation of competent people that will take South Africa to the next level. Our motto is that we build the people who will do the businesses that will build Africa.
AfricaLive: What are some of the strategic goals you wish to accomplish shortly?
Dean Jon Foster-Pedley: Our goals are not just about educating people and handing our certifications; we also want to bridge the enormous wealth gap in South Africa. Contrary to what many may think, the wage gap can be reduced quite significantly within a short time. The indigenous people are brilliant, even though many are uneducated. We must never confuse education for intelligence. The legacy of apartheid has many believing that they are incapable of success. One of our goals is to dispel this notion and change the way people think and view themselves.
The negative sentiment about Africa out there does not help either. This business school intends to understand the people and do everything we can to help empower them. To do this, we must stop just focusing on traditional sectors. We must diversify by promoting other industries so that we can grow our economy and increase job creation. Africa has excellent prospects, and that is not just me being optimistic. There is a young population here willing to go to great lengths to achieve success. You see it in their drive and hunger, and we must nurture that.
AfricaLive: How is Henley Business School preparing for the fourth industrial revolution and are you having this conversation with industry stakeholders?
Dean Jon Foster-Pedley: The notion that the fourth industrial revolution will affect everybody, and their job is both true and false. We don’t refer to it as the fourth industrial revolution because that makes it unclear to many people. In our eyes, we interpret it as a time with increased connectivity, better software development, artificial intelligence, as well as other technologies that redefine the world of work. Though some manual jobs will be lost, we must not see the fourth industrial revolution as a threat but rather an opportunity to diversify our economy.
If you look at Vietnam, for instance, most of their economy was supported by the sale of raw materials. Their economy was made up of 33% coffee, 6% rice, 6% crustaceans, 25% textiles, 20% petroleum and oil, and a tiny percentage I.C.T. Today the economy is mostly I.C.T and services, and the raw materials only make up a small percentage. South Africa should be following that blueprint if we want to have a prosperous future. Henley Business School hopes to play a significant role in fostering this by not just focusing on corporate life. The empowerment of the locals by diversifying this economy is a vital goal of ours. We are training students in the fourth industrial revolution competencies so that they can go out there and build new industries. Corporate players also need to take part by investing in these new industries. These are the discussions we are having with industry players.
AfricaLive: How is Henley Business School helping to create a better environment for South African businesses to flourish?
Dean Jon Foster-Pedley: We have a fantastic group of corporate clients who support our programs. Our passion is to build confidence in the people who come through our ranks. As a business school, we develop our class theory to boost the capability and not just for the sake of rhetoric.
Corporates who work with us are encouraged to engage and build communities; this is why we stay constructively provocative. This advocacy is to encourage large corporates to invest in new sectors because they have the capital and capability to do so. Research is vital in our goal to help improve society. Our research is centred on social proprieties like the planned redistribution of land to small farmers in South Africa. Henley Business School must help out by training these farmers to be good at it so that they can prosper.
We must also reach people who live on the survivalist edge who want to learn but can’t afford it. A revolution of how we think about learning is therefore necessary. A change like that is tough for large Universities to do. Private institutions and online learning then become vital drivers for reaching the masses.
AfricaLive: What is your role in fostering intra-African relations between institutions of higher learning?
Dean Jon Foster-Pedley: Universities don’t exist in a vacuum; they are reflections of what society thinks and what governments want to do with them. We do believe in cooperation among institutions, but it’s not just about that. It’s also about changing what Universities exist to accomplish. Before we think about collaboration, let’s build brilliant institutions with brilliant teaching and excellent research. Doors must open to multi cooperative research, and Africa-wide blended digital learning. Universities at the moment are very vulnerable to political climates. Institutions of higher education in Africa must be able to withstand such environments and win the test of time.
AfricaLive: What is your message of confidence about South Africa and Africa in general?
Dean Jon Foster-Pedley: Africa is often thought of as a hopeless place, and that rhetoric is destructive. We mustn’t overlook all the positive things about the continent. This continent does not need sympathy; it needs more people who believe in its potential and are willing to invest.