At the end of 2020, Robert Thompson, GIBS general manager of operations, held a series of workshops for support staff. During these meetings, the team shared some of the challenges they had experienced over the past year and what they hoped to achieve in 2021. This opened the door for GIBS to offer these staff members some new and exciting learning and development opportunities to harness their talents and give them greater recognition for the vital role they play at GIBS.
One of the issues that became apparent to Thompson was the need for entrepreneurial support. Many support team members either owned their own businesses or wanted to open one. “We were surprised and delighted at the entrepreneurial flair that existed within our ranks,” said Thompson.
Thompson approached the school with the idea of running an entrepreneurship course specifically designed for his team. “Dr. Kerrin Myers put her hand up straight away to say she would love to run a course on entrepreneurship,” Thompson explains, noting Myers is passionate about growing entrepreneurs. As Myers put it, “I have a very powerful belief that anybody can be an entrepreneur, and in our context [South Africa], everyone should be one.”
Understanding that she would be working with people who do not come from academic backgrounds, and that this may well be their first foray into an entrepreneurial endeavour, Myers' aim is to approach these courses with a very different mindset. “We are going to have a sort of menu and be very flexible. We need to be responsive to what people need to learn,” she says.
Although the courses have been designed around the students, Myers still wants them to apply academic theories to their businesses. “It’s about having a business that supports you, instead of you supporting it,” she says.
Myers structured the course into five distinct sections, giving her students a holistic appreciation for the fundamentals of entrepreneurship. Topics will include an overview of running a business, including their personal resources as entrepreneurs, understanding their customer base, creating value, ensuring efficiencies within their businesses, and managing business finances.
Although this was a short course – five classes in five weeks – it will be run to GIBS’ normal high standards. In addition to Myers, specialist faculty members and business coaches will be invited to share their knowledge and insights. On completion of the course, all the attendees will receive a certificate from the GIBS Entrepreneurship Development Academy.
For Myers, however, the course's real value is getting these budding entrepreneurs talking to each other and sharing ideas, successes, and challenges. “This is where the magic happens,” she says of the support network she hopes will develop as a result.
During the strategy discussions, Thompson also noted that there was a strong desire for skills development. As with the entrepreneurship course, after a discussion with the school, it was decided that if people wanted to develop themselves further, they should have access to LinkedIn Learning. The response to this offering exceeded the school’s expectations.
In this first year, GIBS has enrolled 13 students on the platform. But the learners will not be left to their own devices. This initiative will be supported by GIBS Learning Initiatives consultant, Robyn Boswell, and the Human Capital Development department, says Thompson.
Online learners will have access to the campus computer lab and its high-speed internet connections. But before they embark on a self-directed learning programme, Boswell will take students through an induction programme to help them understand the intricacies of LinkedIn Learning and how to navigate the platform. She will then be available to support them throughout their journey, adds Thompson.
Moving and shaking
Thompson also set about including staff in a small but important aspect of campus life: music. Vincent van Gogh once noted, “In the end, we shall have had enough of cynicism, scepticism and humbug, and we shall want to live more musically.”
Given the stress of the past year, Thompson believed the support team could add some soul to the music played on campus. “We put it out to the team to submit a playlist of music. So far, three security guards have submitted playlists and gift vouchers were presented to each compiler,” he says.
To acknowledge the time and effort these staff members put into these playlists, Thompson arranged for their photos to be taken and for each to be rewarded with a R750 voucher. When a playlist is being played, the picture of the ‘eminent DJ’ will be on display, so students, visitors and GIBS staff know whose music is being featured.
Finally, GIBS wants to recognise the dedication and commitment of the support team, some of whom have worked at GIBS for many years. “We’ve had people, like one of the security guards, who have been on the campus before the first building was built,” notes Fox.
As such, says Thompson, “We thought that it would be a lovely gesture from GIBS to recognise their contribution.”
So, like all other long-term awards, GIBS support staff will now receive certificates recognising and honouring their commitment to the school during a ceremony featuring Thompson, Fox, and, if possible, the dean of GIBS. Although a token gesture, Thompson believes that it is important for people to be acknowledged for their dedication and service because, without them, the business school would not operate as smoothly as it does.
Fox says these initiatives are about creating a community on campus and developing and growing people. Ultimately, this is what GIBS’ vision is all about. “GIBS aims to inspire. To achieve this, we need to instil an inspirational, developmental ethos across the school and campus,” says Thompson.
Music in their souls
Three security guards have created deeply personal music playlists for GIBS. All three men have a deep love of African music and are delighted to have been able to share it with the business school.
Klaas Monegi’s love of music was inspired by his uncles. His love of jazz extends to great players like Salaelo Selota and Hugh Masekela.
Musa Godfrey Baloyi grew up in a family that loved to play music and dance. His playlist reminds him of his childhood and how it brought people together.
Leonard Mathebula has a deep love of African culture and languages. He believes music is the language that unites people.
Meet the entrepreneurs
On the inaugural launch of the GIBS Entrepreneurs course for its support team, 16 emerging entrepreneurs signed up. Their business offerings are as diverse as the class itself, but one thing they all have in common is enthusiasm about learning how to run a successful business.
Bongani is the beverages supervisor at GIBS. His ambition is to start a chicken fast-food chain. “This course is amazing. I see things that I have never seen before. The course is teaching us how to run the business, how to start the business and how to maintain your profits,” he notes. Interestingly, he says, this course is also helping him to grow within his current position. “Since I’ve started this course, I have seen things that can help us not to lose or waste money,” he says.
Tinyiko is a security officer at GIBS but stems from an entrepreneurial family. On the side, she runs a chemical business which is really taking off. The entrepreneurship course is offering her new insights into how to run her business. “What she is teaching us is like an eye-opener. We get to learn about our customer, what they need, what they really buy, and the client segment. I understand why I have got clients now,” she says. An added benefit of the course has been her newfound confidence to approach bigger customers and network with her classmates.
Nthabiseng is a member of the GIBS housekeeping staff. She was recently introduced to animal husbandry. As a budding entrepreneur, she is keen to learn more about running a successful business. This course is giving her valuable know-how while she secures land for her pig-breeding business. She says that she is finding the course very helpful but adds that there is so much to learn, so she is taking it one day at a time. What she loves is that Professor Myers has made the content accessible and easy to understand.
Faith, a waitress at GIBS, is also a network marketer selling Herbalife products and aims to start her own party catering business. She applied for the entrepreneurship course to help her set up and grow a business. She says, “The content is very good and exciting, and I am so happy to be doing this.” Faith has a host of business ideas, and one thing she has taken away from the course is Professor Kerrin Meyers’ advice that she needs to focus on one business and do it well.
Trinity runs the Eco-Carwash at GIBS, an opportunity offered to him by a GIBS alumnus. However, Trinity wants to expand his business and has registered a cleaning company. “Professor Kerrin Myers is a very good teacher, and the course is eye-opening,” he says. “She gives us so many practical examples we can work with, so even if you don’t have a clue of business or entrepreneurship, she breaks things down in simple ways that anyone can understand,” he says. He is also finding inspiration from his fellow students and is enjoying the many networking opportunities.