Shattering the greenhouse: Growing business at the award-winning Henley Africa

For the second year running, Henley Business School Africa has received the PMR.Africa platinum award for the best MBA business school in the country.

Dean of Henley Africa Jon Foster-Pedley believes the achievement is significant as it shows the progress made since the school was established less than a decade ago.

“To say that we are overjoyed by Henley Business School’s back-to-back platinum award would be an understatement,” he said. “It underscores the importance of the journey we set out on in 2011 and affirms the milestones we have passed. For us, that journey began eight years ago. There really wasn’t much to speak about – five staff in a single office, a single qualification – the MBA – from a small locally-accredited operation of an overseas business school.

“Fast forward to today and you find a full stand-alone and diversified business school with the highly sought-after triple international accreditation, on an impressive campus with a full range of qualifications that have been developed in-house to create a pathway of learning from post matric to the MBA, with a degree and honours degree equivalent along the way.”

The numbers are just one indication of how far Henley Africa has come, according to Jon.

“We graduated 30 students eight years ago, this year we will cap almost 1,000 across all those qualifications. But it’s so much more than that. At a time where people are pondering the value of an MBA in an uncertain era dominated by the unknown of the fourth industrial revolution, we have just enrolled our largest MBA class to date; 329 students, which is so big we’ve broken it into five intakes to ensure that we maintain the standard of learning that we have become so well known for.

“When we set out on this journey, we did – unashamedly – want to create an MBA that was different from the others. We wanted to build the people that build the businesses which build Africa. It was a bold vision, but it was dependent upon us getting closer to our community and finding our own relevance by actively seeking and addressing their needs – while meeting those of our students at the same time.”

So how did they do this?

“The first thing we did was to make our flexible MBA family-friendly, breaking the stereotype of the qualification being the Marriage Break-up Academy,” Jon said. “Then we created MBAid, a Henley outreach to NGOs and NPOs which would provide our students with immersive learning, finding real-time business solutions to real-life economic and financial problems. Eight years later, we have helped more than 350 NGOs, giving them priceless access to some of the finest business minds in the country – something they could neither have afforded nor even really dreamt of before.

“We got to know the needs of our students and the cohort who would follow, many of them denied the opportunities to study in the past, but with all the experience and intellect to excel. They weren’t like the traditional MBA intake, with shiny undergraduate qualifications and then the requisite number of years behind a desk; instead these were people who had never had that kind of opportunity. We had to structure our programmes around their needs; to continue to earn while they learn, to immediately put into action the lessons they were being taught – and not wait until they graduated – and to ensure their spousal or parental responsibilities never fell by the wayside with catastrophic consequences.”

Diversity is an important part of Henley Africa’s ethos, and helps ensure the benefits of its teaching are felt throughout the communities.

“Our executive education programme, which didn’t exist when we started eight years ago, comprises 60% women and 80% black, and is twice the size of our MBA programme. We also run a coaching programme; the Professional Certificate in Coaching as does Henley UK. We provide the highest number of MBA scholarships – 30 this year – in the whole of Africa, to allow us to cast our net as widely as possible, to infuse our classes with diversity and reward local heroes, giving them critical skills to become even better and bigger community leaders,” Jon said.

He is also keen to champion creativity.

“Innovation is a core part of everything we do, from setting up Henley #FIRE (Full Immersion Reality Education), the eponymous Henley #ICE (our school of Innovation Creativity and Entrepreneurship) and even offering the only MBA in the country for the creative and musical industries, which has attracted some of the country’s household names to take the plunge and tick the MBA off their career bucket lists. We are continuing to innovate; from a specific campaign to de-jargon and effectively de-colonialise business education to developing new movements on campus with Henley #AIR (African Insight and Research and #EARTH (Environmental Activism through Research and Training at Henley).

“We have done this not to be different for the sake of being different but because of our unequivocal belief in the correlation between economic growth and the growth of creative industries, especially in emerging economies.”

None of this comes without its challenges, as Jon explained.

“The problem is that our economic landscape is still dominated, almost asphyxiated, by the monolithic corporates of a long-gone era. This all-pervasive corporate conservatism and conformity act like a thermostat keeping the status quo in place. We need to break that mould, shatter the greenhouse and create the conditions that nurture the growth of organic businesses that disrupt the model and evolve the economy. Creative industries are vital to this project, not because they’re fun to be around or because they legitimise the inner rebel wearing a tie, but because they challenge the status quo.

“One of the biggest problems in executive education, especially at business schools is that many people come here wanting to better conform. It’s as if getting an MBA gives you an entry ticket to an elite club of business conformists, who all think and act the same way. The answer instead, we believe, is to develop Masters in Business Activism who Mobilise Business Action, but we can only do that through re-affirming academia as the servant of learning and ensuring that we never render it arcane but rather make it more and more accessible to create a new cohort of leaders – in business, in the arts, media and the community – who can build the businesses that will build Africa, which in Africa’s case means repairing the ravages of a decade of state capture and corporate collusion.”

And their award win, Jon believes, shows they are making the correct approach.

“The PMR.Africa awards, based as they are on the feedback from the people in the industry who know what they are speaking about – the business managers and the HR practitioners – confirm our own feedback from students and from corporate clients about the correctness of the journey we chose to embark upon eight years ago,” he said.

“To win this accolade two years in a row is very special for us indeed – it serves too as an incredible motivation not to yield for a moment from our mission to keep on trying harder, not for another award, but to make a very real contribution to diminishing the yawning chasm of the Gini co-efficient which continues to shame us all.”

Pictured: Jon Foster-Pedley, Dean and Director of Henley Business School Africa, is joined by Frempong Acheampong, Academic Director, and Tebogo Mekgoe, Head of MBA at Henley Africa, in accepting the PMR.Africa award.

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