Why financiers are betting on high-end qualifications?

The value of pursuing an MBA is increasingly coming under scrutiny, given the substantial investment of time and money, and in light of the fact that the qualification is no longer as sought-after as it was during its heyday.

What is clear, however, is that an MBA from an elite institution is still a safe bet, and that its value is estimated so highly that lenders are willing to finance these studies.

In recent months, we have noted some niche lenders invite study-loan applications from prospective students, but only from those who intend to study at top international business schools.

What is interesting here, are the credit risk criteria – the ability of borrowers to repay their loans, based on their likely future earnings once they attain their international MBA.

‘Elite’ MBAs – those from top international business schools – appear to be moving into the sought-after space previously occupied by most MBAs, from any institution. The shift is that MBAs from local tertiary institutions are considered to be a good qualification, but not a decisive one.

An MBA itself is no longer a differentiator for professionals who are looking to make themselves more desirable from a hiring perspective.

The MBA is now so common, that the prestige and exclusivity of it has diminished significantly over the years. Twenty years ago, it was a rare and highly prestigious degree to attain, with graduates adding a golden arrow to their bow as they then became assured of substantial career and advancement, and the resultant package hikes that would offset their investment in their MBA studies in no time.

However with graduates flocking to obtain their MBAs – in the belief that this will undoubtedly set them up for a hugely successful career in the corner office – MBAs have become a ubiquitous presence on CVs, balancing the scales between demand and supply.

The MBA – let’s call it a general MBA to distinguish it from elite international qualifications – no longer adds the prestige factor, nor can one expect higher packages solely due to gaining the qualification.

Further, the degree itself is not seen as one which arms graduates with the one big elusive quality that every company now wants – leadership. Granted, the MBA promotes itself primarily as a business management qualification – but as one rises up the ‘management’ ladder, so too is one required to have both people management and business leadership expertise.

These two come hand in hand, and significant promotions with people management responsibility are not granted purely on the degree qualification. One would need to show actual experience and success managing people, and ambitious leaders should consider focusing on this area instead.

Those considering MBA studies must seriously reflect on the how, where and in aim of what result they want to pursue this qualification.

Prospective students need to know that yes, companies will take notice if the qualification is acquired from an international, preferably Ivy League institution. In these instances, there is a good chance that a professional will be snapped up for a top job, with a highly desirable package.

But as always, career mapping should be done strategically. An MBA will always add value, as would most other post-graduate degrees, but pursuing an MBA could turn out to be an expensive and disappointing exercise if done for the sole reason of landing a top position with a lucrative financial package.

Debbie Goodman-Bhyat is the CEO of Jack Hammer.

How new digital platforms will drive growth and jobs across Africa

Many companies, whether they realise it or not, have already taken steps to embed themselves into the digital ecosystems that will drive their growth in future.

However, the pace of adopting new digital platforms for doing business needs to increase – especially in Africa. These platforms are business models that create value by facilitating exchanges between two or more interdependent groups, usually consumers and producers.

According to the Wall Street Journal platform companies are major drivers of innovation as the top companies set the standards for the digital transformation taking place around the world. Traditional companies are challenged to keep up or risk being left behind. As platforms become the new normal for how business is done, African companies must seize this opportunity to begin to build a new digital value chain.

Already, more than a quarter (27%) of the executives Accenture recently surveyed report that digital ecosystems are transforming the way their organisations deliver value. And we found that 81% of executives say platform-based business models will be core to their growth strategy within three years. The mandate for leaders is to capitalise on new relationships, building a network of digital partners that will not only enhance their existing business, but also allow them to forge their way into newly emerging digital ecosystems.

What we are seeing is that entire ecosystems of customers are aggregating around several new digital platforms, and businesses are more motivated than ever before to take advantage of these entry points. Communication platforms like WeChat and WhatsApp, and Artificial Intelligence intermediaries like the Google Assistant, Alexa, and Siri represent distinct ecosystems delivering unprecedented access to customers and businesses are flocking to them.

A couple of examples include Hyatt Hotels, which uses Facebook Messenger to let guests do everything from booking and checking existing reservations to ordering room service during a stay, while Capital One bank developed a ‘skill’ for Amazon Echo’s Alexa, allowing people to check their accounts and pay credit card bills via the Echo device.

It is little surprise that the trend two of our Tech Vision 2017 study highlights that in the State of the Cloud survey 95% of respondents reported using public, private, or hybrid Cloud technology, while the CIO Strategic Partner Index run by the IDC reports that 29% of IT leaders are spending more than half their IT budget on external providers. Each platform commitment means easier future engagement with other companies on the platform using the same infrastructure.

However, of the 176 platform companies included in a recent report, The Rise of the Platform Enterprise: A Global Survey led by Peter Evans and Annabelle Gawer and sponsored by the Center for Global Enterprise, Asia has the largest number with 82, 64 of which are in China. North America has 64, with 63 in the US. Europe is a major consumer of platform services, but its home to relatively few platform companies –27 spread across 10 countries, nine of which are in the UK. It is concerning Africa and Latin America have a number of small platform companies, only three of which have met the $1 billion valuation threshold for inclusion in the survey.

More African companies need to decide which ecosystems to join and which roles to play as the technology changes are only the beginning.

How do African companies begin to close the gaps? An important way to get moving on this journey is to conduct an audit identifying how many internal and external platforms you are using and the goals for their use. Identify and address unnecessary overlaps. Determine the platforms your organisation most relies on, as well as those that most depend on you.

These are the ecosystems where your organisation should hold its strategic and market strengths. Over the next 100 days, look to essentially develop a comprehensive strategy to establish the foundation for your platform business model and ecosystem. During this phase you should appoint a C-suite sponsor to oversee a team that is responsible for championing your new ecosystem and digital partnership strategies. Then over the next year, leadership should have achieved comprehensive understanding of the new rules of business, developed a platform business model strategy, and started to test it with the launch of a small pilot programme.

Companies should keep expanding the conversation: for instance, in the first 100 days have a strategy summit with your closest partners to understand their goals for the future. Uncover shared goals and commit to developing a strategic plan for achieving them together.

Consider your organisation’s future through the lens of the biggest disruptions shaping your market, from inside and outside your industry. Craft the ideal role of your company in this future, and develop a shortlist of partners who can help make it a reality. And remember to develop metrics to quantify the results of ecosystem participation.

Many global brands are already taking the bold steps needed. The digital ecosystem is, for instance, totally redefining what automakers do. Rather than just building cars, they’re engaging with customers throughout the vehicle lifecycle, directly managing software upgrades, diagnostics, and safety. In the insurance industry, pulling down driving data from connected car platforms has enabled new services such as pay-per-mile insurance with newcomers like Google and Metromile to challenge the industry status quo. The opportunities are endless, no matter what industry you are in.

General Motors kicked off 2016 with a $500 million investment into ride-share platform Lyft. The move gave GM the inroads to launch their Express Drive service, an exclusive offering for successful, but car-less, Lyft driver applicants to rent a car directly from GM and get to work right away. The programme was remarkably successful in the short term, opening a new line of business for GM: by July, 30% of new Lyft drivers were requesting an Cruise Automation vehicle in their sign-up. In addition to partnering with Lyft, GM also made a $1 billion-plus acquisition of the autonomous vehicle software company Cruise Automation, and another billion-dollar investment in building an autonomous vehicle testing facility in Detroit.

This shows how platforms are rapidly becoming the central hubs for the rich and complex digital ecosystems that companies want to access. Consider the fact that 70% of ’unicorn’ startups (over $1 billion) are platform companies. Other companies such as personal car-rental app Turo and group dining experience Feastly have introduced their own offerings, as have dozens of start-ups, each with their own angle and offering. LiquidSpace, which lists offerings in more than 500 cities across the US, Australia and Canada, offers a platform for renting workspaces and meeting rooms by the day or hour.

In South Africa, a good example of a company embracing the platform economy and reaping rewards is Discovery Vitality, while Discovery’s proposed bank is another example of the evolution of this concept into other exciting sectors. The retail market for consumer goods in SA received a shot in the arm in 2015 when Kalahari was merged with Takealot, with the technology platform cleverly harnessed to drive growth since then.

Remember the sharing economy brings people together through technology to exchange or rent access to goods and services, so entrepreneurs are building this economy by leveraging emerging digital technologies to meet customer needs in new and disruptive ways.

Digital and mobile technologies have combined with public support to create a host of opportunities to transform the way government manages the infrastructure it has already acquired. For instance, through MuniRent, six local governments in Michigan are already renting equipment to and from each other.

How African companies and governments react to this change brought about the platform economy will define their prospects going forward. The platforms they use will serve as the pathways to the new digital economies that will drive growth and jobs across the continent. They will form the pillars of entire value chains in the future and so African companies need to ensure they make these decisions wisely and fast because there is no doubt that the digital partnerships African companies make today will determine how successful they will be tomorrow.

William Mzimba is the Chief Executive of Accenture South Africa and Chairman of Accenture Africa.

When is the right time to discipline with regards to off-duty conduct?

The recent publicity around senior government officials and members of senior management, and their alleged behaviour or conduct outside of the ‘workplace’, raises a number of questions for employers: to what extent does a person’s conduct outside the organisation or company impact on the employer and does the organisation or employer have recourse against the individual?

Off-duty misconduct is often viewed in a dim light. Both employers and employees are often under the mistaken impression that no action can be taken against an employee in circumstances where the misconduct is committed outside the workplace.

What an employee does after working hours is generally of no concern to his or her employer. If an employee has an affair or drinks outside of working hours, the employer has no recourse against him or her, that is unless it can be shown that the employer has some interest in the person’s conduct or there is a nexus between his or her conduct and the employer’s business.

Of course, there are instances where an employer does have recourse, for example, if an employee assaults someone after work wearing a branded uniform and driving a company car. Even though that conduct is not linked to his job in any way, the fact that he is linked to the company via his clothing and vehicle, means his conduct can be associated with the company. The recent suspension of the Managing Director of Southern African Auto Supplies, Lance O’Leary, is a prime example of so-called off-duty misconduct. Southern African Auto Supplies confirmed it has suspended O’Leary after he was shown on video attacking motorist Christopher Price (71) in an apparent act of road rage on London Road, Johannesburg.

In circumstances such as these, the employer would have recourse against the individual, even though he wasn’t executing his duties at the time and the incident didn’t occur during working hours or on the company’s premises. As long as the conduct itself can be linked back to the employer’s business and the company can show that the conduct had a real or severe impact on the business or workplace, action can be taken against an employee.

While some view the negative off-duty conduct or behaviour of senior government officials or senior members of management as damaging to their organisations, it must be irrefutably shown that their conduct has impacted on the good name of the organisation. If not, it does not have recourse against the specific employee.

The counter-argument might be that the conduct of someone in a senior position in government may possibly attract concomitant media attention, which may impact the organisation, but this does not mean that the organisation has recourse against the individual concerned for said conduct.

It is true that the higher you are in an organisation, the more likely it is that your behaviour outside the organisation can be linked back to it and potentially impact on the organisation. This is why senior executives are expected to conduct themselves with a greater degree of skill and care.

Ultimately, each situation needs to be assessed on its own merits or demerits. While the conduct or behaviour of senior government officials may attract publicity, this is because they are senior figures within their respective organisations. I have no doubt that what is happening to some senior government officials is fuelled by the elections and their popularity as a candidate for prominent positions. If an administrative clerk within any of the political parties had several extramarital affairs, nobody would blink an eye.

It is therefore important for organisations to obtain proper advice or guidance when dealing with off-duty misconduct before taking any action against an employee, given that the decision to take action or not will ultimately have consequences for the organisation.

Jennifer Da Mata is the Managing Director and Advocate Tertius Wessels is the the Legal Manager of Strata-g Labour Solutions.

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