The Gordon Institute of Business Science. Picture: Supplied
The Gordon Institute of Business Science. Picture: Supplied

There’s no better time for entrepreneurs to show their true colours than during an economic crisis like the one SA is facing now, says Morris Mthombeni, interim dean of the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs).

Covid-19, and the government’s response to it, could force hundreds, possibly thousands, of enterprises to shut their doors permanently. And savvy people might think this is not the time to leave the security of a steady corporate job and risk everything in an uncertain environment.

Mthombeni disagrees. While acknowledging that small businesses have been hit particularly hard during the pandemic, he says: “This is actually a good time for entrepreneurs to start their journey. People are nervous, and assets can be bought cheaply. Opportunities abound for courageous risk-takers. This is a time for people with innovation, agility and resilience – people who understand the concept of risk and return.”

Business schools also need to be entrepreneurial to face down the growing number of challenges confronting them, he says. Loss of revenue because of cancelled or deferred executive education programmes is hurting most schools. Age-old teaching manuals are being torn up as schools follow the accelerating trend towards digital and online education. And clients are desperately seeking guidance on how to prepare for the future.

Mthombeni says: “Everything is happening at once; but if we always knew what the future held, life would be easy. Schools and businesses have to take evidence-based guesses on what will happen, and hope these will pay off. We can get things wrong. We must hope we don’t get them too wrong.”

Mthombeni became interim dean on July 1 after Nicola Kleyn declined to renew her stint in the full-time position she had held since 2015. She is now dean of executive education at the Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands.

Mthombeni, who joined Gibs in 2014 after a 28-year career in the financial services industry, would like to make his interim position permanent, but that will require him to raise his academic status from having a doctorate to professorship.

Whatever happens, he says, he has the full authority of a permanent dean at present. “I’m not here to hold the fort but to position us for the future.”

Not that Gibs needs a drastic shake-up. The school has been on a steady upward curve since its launch in 2000 and is consistently ranked among the world’s leading providers of executive education. Its MBA and other academic programmes also enjoy a rising reputation.

Mthombeni says: “We are well positioned and well run. Nicola has left behind an excellent team. My job is to build on what is already here.”

However, there is no room for complacency in the ultra-competitive business education market.

“Our market share in some industries is not what it should be,” he says. “We have to be more proactive and spend more time understanding what companies there need to survive and thrive.

“We want them to understand we are partners in this transitional journey. Business still needs an outside view. The future is coming towards us at a rapid pace. The best way to prepare for it is to do it together.”

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