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Cassim Motala, UCT GBS alumnus and former co-head of RMB Ventures. Picture: UCT GBS
Cassim Motala, UCT GBS alumnus and former co-head of RMB Ventures. Picture: UCT GBS

“When my business failed for reasons beyond my control, the credibility that I got from my MBA allowed me to secure a position at Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) through the company's 'Class Of' programme,” says Cassim Motala.

Motala says this MBA — which he attained from the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (UCT GBS)was the bridge that allowed him to transition from being an early gaming industry start-up entrepreneur to working at one of the country's most respected corporates, and eventually becoming the co-head of RMB Ventures.

“RMB's 'Class Of' programme was started by Paul Harris, who wanted to recruit those who were not from the traditional accounting, CFA or law backgrounds,” says Motala. “Harris was looking for creativity in his recruits. People that would be special in their own way and almost challenge the incumbents with their oddball thinking.” 

When he applied for the programme, Motala indicated in his cover letter that the reason he was applying in the first place was he had lost all his money on a business venture because his other two partners had irreconcilable differences with each other. “Which they told me was the funniest thing they had ever read on a job application,” he says.

It also helped that Motala obtained some of the highest grades for his MBA in the class, “this piece of paper that proved that I could get my head around the quants”.

Motala says his degree was invaluable in his new career working in private equity at RMB. “The MBA gave me insights into many parts of the business, from strategy to organisational design to operations and finance. You’re kind of doing company analysis on steroids. And looking at all of the data as a whole gave me something of an edge over some of my colleagues, who were only focused on the numbers. [They were] exceptional at what they did, but I felt that I had more frames that I could use to understand beyond this.”

Having been part of UCT GBS's transformation committee as a student in 2003, Motala was involved in the replacement of the school's part-time MBA programme with its current offering of a Modular MBA, ideal for those seeking to study part-time over a two-year period. 

Today Motala is still passionate about the evolution of the UCT GBS’s programmes and the school’s role and relevance in today’s rapidly evolving business environment. 

To understand all of the cogs in a corporate you have to be more of a generalist. An MBA gives you the ability to see the bigger picture
Cassim Motala, UCT GBS alumnus

“I think many more businesspeople need to get involved. Involved in accessibility, involved in teaching, involved in creating broader content and context,” he says.

“When I came out of the MBA, I realised that many of the skills I had learnt didn’t come from the theory. They came from the many, many micro-discussions that needed to be made in the chaos that is the real business environment.

“To understand all of the cogs in a corporate you have to be more of a generalist. An MBA gives you the ability to see the bigger picture and to deal with volume of content that you have to distil into insight and choice, simulating business. This isn’t where it stops though; business also needs you to be able to hustle and to bootstrap, which business school cannot teach you.” 

There are few people who are able to zoom into the detail and zoom out to broader strategic considerations — much like in physics, where a quantum equation can only ever give you either the position or the momentum of a subatomic particle, but not both. This makes a UCT GBS alumnus a particularly valuable jack of all trades.

“That’s why in my career I always hire people who are much, much smarter than I am to drill into the detail of a particular aspect of a business, and deliver the insights that will answer the question: if you look at it from the level of all the disciplines, and our forecasts and models, and the various drivers, and even our competitors: does this make sense? And the closer you are to all of that detail while being able to look at it in the most holistic way, the better you are at responding,” says Motala.

Everyone knows the expression, “Jack of all trades, master of none”. But not many people know that it is just the first part of a longer adage, which changes its meaning and connotations significantly:

Jack of all trades,
Master of none,
But oftentimes better
Than master of one.

This article was sponsored by the UCT Graduate School of Business.

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