His flying training has taught Jon Foster-Pedley that hiding mistakes is criminal. As a result, he encourages frankness in his organisation. Picture: SUPPLIED
His flying training has taught Jon Foster-Pedley that hiding mistakes is criminal. As a result, he encourages frankness in his organisation. Picture: SUPPLIED

Tell me about your work at Henley.

We build the people who build the businesses that build Africa. I have a brilliant job, working with the best of Africa's people, helping them learn about their possibilities and giving them optimism for the future in a world with plenty of difficult news daily.

The school has grown in the past six years from six to 50 full-time people, we have tripled our MBA class size (we now have 1250 MBA students on a 30-month course with us) and increased revenue by 700%.

We call ourselves a "design agency for learning", and have transformed our MBA from 30% black to 68% black, and from 20% women to 42% women.

I spend most of my day challenging and pushing for higher quality, better processes and insisting on clear thinking and using imagination. We have a frank atmosphere at Henley - we believe in candour.

What sets Henley apart?

Our strong sense of mission and purpose - and our creativity. We want to build a better South Africa by creating skills to build organisations and businesses that create real value in society; use resources smartly and creatively, and reward hard work and talent.

You have not always been an academic. How did you end up where you are today?

I've had a varied life, following my curiosities and interests. I started off with a prestigious scholarship to a military academy in the UK, training as a pilot, then studying sociology as an RAF pilot officer - a world of free thinking and radicalism that lured me to leave the RAF and live an exploratory, alternative life for a few years. I met extraordinary people and did so many things; working as a labourer, driver, chef, waiter, clerk, marquee erector, mushroom farmer and much more as I travelled and learnt about life.

After some time practising eastern religions and meditation, I returned to the mainstream. I became a flying instructor and commercial pilot, in Scotland, moved to South Africa as a bush pilot and then became an airline pilot and captain.

I joined Henley in 2011 as dean.

What about being a pilot has helped you be a better dean and director?

The first is simply the need to take initiative, see the big picture and get things done. In aviation, you have to make sound decisions, or die. The second is aviation's systematic and open attitude towards error, failure and learning. Making a mistake isn't the biggest problem - hiding mistakes is criminal. You are forced to share information, mistakes and problems openly and fast, taking full accountability so that others can learn, disasters can be averted and the system becomes safer for all.

What is your favourite thing at work?

Building the business so we can take exceptional, empowering learning to more people so they can find their mojo.

And least favourite thing?

Sitting at a desk all day. Meetings with pedestrian thinking and timid initiatives. And doing that necessary but difficult leadership task of occasionally asking people to find another organisation to work for.

What is the best a career advice you have received?

It's a toss-up between: "All power is assumed, not given" and: "If you are not being threatened with being fired at least twice a year, you're not doing your job."

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