Monash South Africa goes beyond textbooks to provide support to students and prepare them for the workplace. Picture: ISTOCK
Monash South Africa goes beyond textbooks to provide support to students and prepare them for the workplace. Picture: ISTOCK

Esther Benjamin, until recently the CEO of private higher education institution Monash South Africa, clearly demonstrates that passion is a crucial element in the makeup of a winning CEO.

She admits to being passionate about the significant impact the organisation has on young people’s lives – and, in her personal life, about the quality time she spends with her family.

“In the role I had at Monash South Africa and working in the higher education sector, the impact we have is crucial,” she says. “We affect the lives of our students and their families. In a broader sense, we also have a direct influence on society as a whole because our graduates go on to play significant roles in their communities and their countries.

She adds: “It is this ability to make a real difference in the world that motivates me to go to work every day.”

Globally, people are becoming more active and involved in their own education, and an increasing number of individuals are taking personal responsibility for their careers and life goals.

Monash South Africa historically offered mainly undergraduate bachelor’s, honours and master’s degrees. It now also offers an MBA and a variety of other flexible postgraduate programmes aimed at working professionals.

“Students are increasingly involved in the learning process,” says Benjamin. They understand what it takes to succeed and, in their pursuit of higher learning, “they are seeking support and they want to ensure that they are receiving the highest-quality education possible to ensure their success”.

Internships and industry interaction and engagement play a key role in the students’ eventual career success, she says.

“As an institution, Monash provides support to students to develop workplace readiness. Students are often actively engaged in that process – a level of involvement that we support and welcome.”

Educational institutions often find themselves in the middle, with students on one side and commerce and industry on the other.

“Higher education has to be focused on what students need to meet workplace demands,” says Benjamin. “Monash closely engages industry to determine what new programmes it should consider introducing on its campus. Monash South Africa also works to bring industry to the classroom by ensuring it has industry leaders in its classrooms to interact directly with students.

“It is active in ensuring that more students are getting internships and other forms of workplace experience even while they are students. Leadership experience through student organisations and community engagement initiatives is also important.”

While Monash South Africa focuses on students’ academic success, the institution also looks beyond that to prepare them for the workplace and to ensure they have the life, career and workplace skills to make the transition from campus to career.

Benjamin says this is an evolving process because it has to match market needs.

“There is so much more that higher education can do to bridge the gap from campus to career, and it is an evolving process about which we are thinking creatively every day,” she says.

Being intensely involved in her career takes its toll, and striking a balance between her career and personal life has been challenging at times.

“Being in the CEO seat was demanding,” she says, “but that is a role that we choose and we make that choice because of the potential we have to contribute.

“At the same time, quality time with my children is so important, and I protect the time we spend together. I am also passionate about my daily workouts and I am at the gym at 5am every morning.”

Though her lifestyle does not lend itself to relaxing regularly, the Benjamin family like to explore the world. Her work and other travels have taken her to more than 100 countries so far.

“We continue to explore the world and I have friends and colleagues around the world, and this engagement and interaction is an important part of what brings meaning to my work and life,” Benjamin says.

Benjamin was a participant in the Odgers Berndtson 2016 CEO x 1 Day programme.

This article was paid for by Odgers Berndtson Sub-Saharan Africa.

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