Wits Business School. Picture: SUPPLIED/WBS
Wits Business School. Picture: SUPPLIED/WBS

Be careful what you wish for, says Timothy Hutton, interim director of executive education at Wits Business School (WBS). “Everyone is looking forward to returning to normality … only it won’t be normal.”

Actually, he thinks many companies aren’t giving much thought yet to what the future holds. They are too busy trying to manage the present. “I don’t think people are looking at the endgame,” he says. “Only when they start getting back to normality, whatever that might be, will they start looking for guidance.”

WBS itself will have fresh guidance from next January, when Sasol executive Maurice Radebe becomes the school’s new full-time director. He will replace Jannie Rossouw, who is standing in this year after retiring last December as head of Wits University’s school of economic and business sciences. He was drafted back into immediate action when former WBS director Sibusiso Sibisi resigned last December.

His priority this year has been to tidy up the school’s administrative processes in readiness for a full-time successor.

Despite spending the past 31 years in the energy industry, Radede has strong links with the school. He gained his MBA there in 1997, has been a teaching executive-in-residence since 2013 and co-founded the African Energy Leadership Centre. Currently executive vice-president of Sasol’s energy division, he is due to retire at the end of September after reaching the group’s mandatory retirement age of 60.

WBS has enjoyed relative leadership calm recently after a decade of revolving-door appointments. If Radebe sees out his five-year contract, he will be the first director to do so since 2004.

He says: “WBS used to be the SA business school where people aspired to study. Just look at our alumni. I want to rebuild the unique partnerships we used to enjoy, to bring back that confidence from the business community.”

It is already making strides in sectors like energy, African philanthropy and technology. Brian Armstrong, the school’s chair of digital business, is a strong proponent of online education. Covid-19 may have forced it on business schools and clients, but Armstrong says its wholesale adoption is long overdue.

Traditionalists can argue all they like that online education is distant and impersonal but he says: “In a virtual classroom, maybe you can’t rub shoulders quite as well but you make up for it in other ways. It may not be such a warm experience but you have more engagement with your lecturer. It is more rigorously formatted.”

It also gives access to more and better teachers. “You can bring a greater range of thought leadership to the virtual classroom because you don’t have to fly people in,” says Armstrong.

He observes: “At the end of the day, it’s about results. Ours show that students learning online do just as well as those learning face to face.”

Hutton adds that the delivery method matters less than the way you use it. “Successful education derives from great content that is well delivered,” he says. “It’s that simple.”

If there is a problem with online teaching, he says, it’s the sheer volume of information available to students – not all of it accurate or honest – at the click of a mouse. “We have to bring absolute integrity to our certification,” he says. “We have to ensure data is checked at multiple reliable sources.”

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