EVERY year, Henley Business School hosts a master class at its Greenlands Campus. It’s a wonderful way to re-connect with alumni and students, while giving prospective students a glimpse of what we are all about. Last year, it was facilitated by Henley Business School Africa’s Dr Puleng Makhoalibe, the head of Henley Business School Arica’s School of Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship.
This year, Henley is hosting the second ever global master class in Munich on May 22, in what we hope will be a series of master class sessions that will go to Johannesburg in the next six months’ time and then to Asia, either Kuala Lumpur or Shanghai.
The global master class is the brain child of Jean-Pierre Choulet, Henley’s director of development, alumni relations and engagement. Together with myself and Henley Business School Africa associates John Vlismas and Barry van Zyl, he piloted the first global master class in Lagos, Nigeria, last November. Before then – for the first time ever – we held the annual alumni meeting outside of the UK, also in Munich. Taking these initiatives out of the UK and into the world is a critical part of reflecting just how global the Henley family is, while ensuring that we literally keep in touch with the people who make us who we are – and help them keep relevant in a rapidly changing world.
The world is changing, very rapidly, we are already well over the threshold into the fourth industrial revolution, the only question is how ensure we stay ahead of the wave and not become subsumed by it. That’s what we will be chatting about in Munich, but not just 4IR – we have to look at the reality of the world we live in. We have seen protests from India to Nicaragua, the US, Thailand and Russia on everything from the environment to overbearing and out of touch government. Only days ago, the United Nations released a report detailing how the world is in danger of losing a million species; in the last couple of months, Britain has been rocked by protests arranged by the Extinction Rebellion, a protest group trying desperately hard to focus international leaders on the impending environmental crisis and get them to act while there is still time. We need little reminding of our own impact on the environment here in South Africa, the incredible, literal sea of plastic that clogged not just Durban harbour but lay like a rim of plastic on our normally pristine beaches. All of it had been washed down from our human settlements in the aftermath of the tropical storms;
themselves exacerbated by global warming.
The old way of doing business, predicated on profit for the sake of profit which in turn creates a rising tide of prosperity, is a fallacy. Any business that depends on continuous growth will fail, simply because there are limits to the resources that are available and as we have seen, we end up with Ponzi schemes to try to underpin this system. The answer is to start focussing on creating prosperity instead where more people than just the shareholders benefit. Business generally is exclusionary rather than inclusionary and in a country like South Africa with its high Gini co-efficient, which in any case, measures money rather than prosperity, if we don’t fix the fundamentals, more profits just mean the bosses get even richer off even more obscenely bloated pay schemes.
The longer we take to address this inequality, the more unstable our world becomes. We have seen in the north and the south what happens when the populace loses faith in its elected leaders. Here in South Africa, public pressure led to the unprecedented resignation of a president only last February. We have also seen yet again, not that we should have needed reminding, how the developed world and the developing world remain totally interlinked, not merely because we all breathe the same air and depend on the same water, but also because instability in one spills over to the other as surely as night follows day, as we have seen through ongoing Syrian refugee crisis and its impact on Europe. None of these are abstract problems anymore, they are literally at our doorstep – if not part of our lived experience already.
How do we lift people out of poverty? How do we change a system that has existed as long as it has but where there are still so many vested interests supporting it and constraining change? How do we change the worship of conspicuous wealth to a reverence instead of those committed to conspicuous welfare? Most of all, how do we change attitudes so that corporate social responsibility is not a box ticking exercise but actually a strategic business imperative that actually unlocks sustainable profits and growth?
Our master classes tend to address complexity theory as we strive to become more relevant and more efficient in our businesses, the truth is that running businesses for profit is relatively simple: You have a cohort of like-minded individuals all gunning towards the same objective. Running a modern-day business predicated on prosperity, be it at a local, national or even global level, is a beast of a totally different nature because the scope of organisation is so different; the stakeholders are not just within the business, but without, in the community. Now you have to deal with people with vastly different viewpoints and even agendas but find common cause. And we have to do all of this in an era of the internet of things which adds unimaginable complexity to a world we are still discovering.
These are some of the things we will be discussing and debating in Munich in May and then further finessing it for Johannesburg by November. In the process, we hope we will be helping this incredibly powerful network of alumni and students align around this cause and give them renewed purpose as we critically review the foundations of what we traditionally think is business in order to reinvent and evolve it ahead of the curve.
Jon Foster-Pedley is dean and director Henley Business School Africa