I say this because, in The Campus Trilogy, author David Lodge is wont to take a good-natured dig at academic life. This quote always amuses me, “Morris read through the letter. Was it a shade too fulsome? No, that was another law of academic life: it is impossible to be excessive in flattery of one’s peers.”
Unlike the flamboyant fictional character Morris Zapp, I am not given to flowery prose, but when it comes to Nicola Kleyn I find myself leaning heavily towards ‘excessive flattery’.
Under Nicola’s sterling leadership, GIBS has gone from strength to strength, gaining in stature abroad, attracting ever-growing numbers of students from around the continent, and cementing GIBS’s global research standing. Her unwavering commitment to the school saw Nicola extend her tenure by an extra two months to help smooth the transition and to ensure a seamless handover. Not once has she taken her foot off the pedal since announcing her decision to step down, she continues to work all hours with the single-minded pursuit of keeping the school vibrant and relevant. The steadfastness of her leadership during the Covid-19 crisis is notable. Her vision to introduce flexible hours and work from home, even before the pandemic, has stood GIBS in good stead, as have our advanced digitisation plans.
Even as I write this, Nicola is giving unstintingly of her time to support me personally, and the school, through a challenging period in our 20-year history. For her support, openness and friendship I am exceedingly grateful. It is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye and wish her much success in her new role as Dean of Executive Education at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University.
One of the highlights of Nicola’s tenure as Dean has been the entrenchment of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into our curricula, teaching methods and practices. GIBS was a UN Principles for Responsible Management Education champion in 2018-2019, which serves us well now as we confront the importance of two core SDGs: Good Health and Well-being and Quality Education. While all 17 of the SDGs are important, the outbreak of Covid-19 has highlighted the overarching importance of these two goals. The pandemic has exposed significant public health gaps, the inequality of poverty and poor infrastructure, the risk of greater spread in underserved communities and, on the education front, the tremendous disadvantages of poorer students.
As a business school born in Africa and committed to servicing the entire continent, a number of other SDGs also factor strongly in how we approach the shifts taking place around the world, from the issue of Decent Work and Economic Growth (goal 8) to Responsible Consumption and Production (goal 12). Our lens in responding to this crisis must be to think about short-term responses to challenges as well as long-term opportunities.
Over the past few years, GIBS has taken up the challenge to better balance resources, to nurture talent and approach the future with responsibility and mindfulness. We realised early on that leading by example shows the way and encourages business to do the same. We are planting for tomorrow’s harvest, keeping our people motivated, communicating widely and effectively, embracing sustainability, driving effective online learning, collaborating and building potent partnerships, harnessing the power of technology and building our internal resistance to potential threats.
It is my fervent hope that now, and into the future, our students, the businesses that rely on our services and all our stakeholders come to think of GIBS as a laboratory for learning and experimentation for the future. This is an exciting time to be at the helm of a leading African business school, and I relish the challenges that lie ahead.