Sharmla Chetty. Picture: Russell Roberts/Financial Mail
Sharmla Chetty. Picture: Russell Roberts/Financial Mail

Sharmla Chetty, who opened the SA office of US-based Duke Corporate Education (CE) in 2007, has been appointed president of global markets for the business school’s network. The job, which takes effect immediately, makes her responsible for Duke CE’s international customised executive education.

Until July 31, SA-born Chetty was president of Duke CE’s African operation, which has its headquarters in Johannesburg, and MD of its European division. She says the two jobs will now be separated and that a new African head will be announced soon. Chetty will continue to oversee the local business for now but hopes to complete the handover to her successor by the end of 2019.

“I’ve known of my new appointment for some time and have already begun taking on more global responsibilities,” she says. “So we are prepared for the change here.” She adds that her experience in emerging markets will help Duke CE’s international growth plans.

Duke CE is a subsidiary of the Fuqua School of Business, itself a division of Duke University, based in the US state of North Carolina.

Sharmla Chetty. Picture: Russell Roberts
Sharmla Chetty. Picture: Russell Roberts

Chetty hopes to continue living in Johannesburg, though she admits it will be a challenge. “I already live out of a suitcase with existing international responsibilities and this will make it worse. But SA is my home and I don’t want to live anywhere else. Location shouldn’t matter.”

Duke CE has become a significant SA provider of executive education over the past 12 years. Global CEO Michael Chavez says: “[Chetty’s] success in building Duke in Africa and Europe has been astounding.”

Chetty says business schools should be “influencers, not order takers”. In other words, their role should be to prepare corporate and government clients for the future, not just provide executives with immediate management skills.

One of the biggest challenges is to guide clients into a world where digitalisation and artificial intelligence will transform the workplace. Duke CE recently hosted a Johannesburg seminar on digital technological disruption and the impact of the fourth industrial revolution.

Chetty says: “CEOs and executives need to take responsibility for the future of their people and for society. They must rethink what their workforce can do. New jobs are being created every day.”

Chavez says it’s no longer a question of teaching managers and executives but of preparing them to learn and to be open to new ideas.

“Some people think you can put existing business models on digital roller skates and carry on much as before,” he says. “That’s not the case. We all have to think of things differently.

“As business schools, we have to ready people for an exploratory process that will last the rest of their lives.”