Japie Wentzel is about to graduate with his executive MBA. This is no ordinary degree, it’s the culmination of a five-year journey that began with some harsh truths and some even tougher lessons.
“I’ve been in IT my entire working life. I’m a tech geek, there’s not much you can tell me about that, I’ve even automated my house,” he laughs. What was lacking though, he was about to discover, were his leadership skills.
“I had started working for a new manager and one day he sat me down with him and our Group CEO. They were blatantly honest. They told me that my technical skills were great but that I had gaps in my leadership – and if I didn’t fix it, I wouldn’t go much further in the company.”
Luck was at hand for Japie, Henley Business School Africa was literally around the corner from the IT company he has worked for the last 21 years and where today he heads its operations. He made some calls to the business school and was accepted into its Management Acceleration Programme.
“It was the first real tertiary education I’d had since leaving school,” he remembers. “I’d done the technical courses for my various role in IT, but this was an eye-opener, introducing me to group dynamics and syndicate work. It certainly wasn’t a joy ride.”
But suddenly he started to enjoy it. At the end of the year he finished top of his class.
“I’d gone in with an open mind, I hadn’t set out to excel but to actually learn enough to fill the gaps in my leadership skills, now though I was inspired to carry on.”
So, he enrolled for Henley Africa’s Post Graduate Diploma in Management Practice.
“MAP had given me the necessary skills, from academic writing to referencing and research. To be honest, the PG Dip was a lot easier than the MAP.”
He passed that too with flying colours.
“By now I was part of the Henley furniture, so I thought I’d try out for the executive MBA.”
Japie is due to get his final result in mid-May, but he’s passed. He’s received his preliminary marks and he’s very happy. He will be graduating in November this year, having managed to juggle a pandemic, work from home and create a home office for his wife too while helping to bring up their 12-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter.
It wasn’t impossible though – because of his MBA.
“The one thing I learnt at Henley is that there will always be something in the way: problems at work, financial crisis at home, a death in the family – or even a global pandemic, but we learn to use the tools they teach us to deal with it.
“It was tough, I had to shift out some of my assignments, extend deadlines, but it was no issue for the Henley faculty, because it’s part of the school’s legendary flexibility for students.”
For Japie the biggest learning didn’t lie in the modules, but rather from what he learnt about himself.
“When I started at Henley Africa, I had a rigid idea of my career: the job titles I wanted and the milestones of when and how I would reach them. Now I’ve realised that success isn’t about that, it’s about finding my own version of success.
“I am healthy, my wife and kids are healthy. We’ve been spared by the pandemic. We are living the traditional white picket fence dream. When it comes to the business, I’m not fixated about the technical side anymore, instead I want to be the best leader that I can be, enabling the people that work below me and empowering the organisation we work for.
And that includes, he says, finding people who are far more technically qualified than he is and giving them every opportunity to shine, because that way everyone benefits.
“I am very proud of Japie and his journey,” says Henley Africa dean and director Jon Foster-Pedley. “He is a great example that the ladder of learning that we created to ensure no one is left behind actually bears fruit and produces graduates the equal of any other MBA programme in the world – even if they had never had the opportunity to do a traditional three year undergraduate degree.”
Japie’s story, he says, shows how vital Henley’s commitment to creating family friendly learning environment has been.
“A decade ago, we pioneered the family-friendly MBA to ensure that our programme broke the notorious global mould of the MBA being the Marriage Break up Academy. Flexibility was always a key part of that. It made sense at the time but it made even more sense for our students since the state of emergency and the lockdowns were imposed in South Africa at the end of March last year.
“The biggest triumph for me and for the faculty is to hear Japie say the MBA helped him to cope – that’s precisely what we wanted to achieve, giving people the skills to unlock their own potential and thrive at a time when there is neither certainty nor guarantee.
“That’s why we get up and show up every day – to teach.”