Couples that study together stay together

Accountants Melissa Moodley Redlinghys and her husband Mario Redlinghys, graduated with twin MBA degrees from Henley Business School Africa in September last year and the degree has opened up a surprising new international future for them both.

Doing the MBA together was my husband Mario’s idea. In 2018 my mentor Llewellyn Mulder, then the managing director of the company I work for, Eguchi Iwao South Africa, suggested that I do an MBA. When I went home that evening and told my husband he immediately said he wanted to do it with me.

We began researching business schools online. Thanks to Facebook’s algorithms, Henley popped up on my feed and we added it to our shortlist. One of the main reasons we chose to study at Henley is its family-friendly approach and the flexible programme structure. I needed a course that would allow me to continue to uphold my work commitments at the same time. Mario and I also wanted to be able to spend quality time together that didn’t involve work.

Many people questioned the wisdom of Mario and I studying together but for us it was amazing, and I would encourage other couples to do the same. We do pretty much everything together anyway, so our studies simply became an extension of our relationship. It meant that we never felt isolated during the process: we felt each other’s pain and triumphs, and we encouraged one another to keep to our study schedules regardless of work and other pressures that threaten to derail you and impede your progress.

This sense of solidarity was critical when the pandemic hit and turned our worlds upside down. The nation went into lockdown shortly after we had written our first-stage exams and everything – studies and work – went online. It was a huge adjustment for me. I am terrified of failure and initially found it difficult to cope with work pressures and my studies. Because Mario was on the same journey he was able to help me push through my fears and embrace the process as opposed to retreating into my shell, which is my default position in circumstances like these. I am so grateful to my husband for that.

The MBA not only provides you with a business education it broadens your insights into the environments in which businesses exist. It makes you question your place in the world. As an accountant, my professional world was black and white until Henley came along and taught me how to see the grey. I found this humbling and in complete contrast to the arrogance so often attached to accountancy as a profession. Sometimes I think accountants are primed to believe that they know everything about the environment in which they operate but there are so many factors beyond work that we need to consider to fully understand those with whom we work. We need to embrace humanity in the workplace.

You grow the most when you move out of your comfort zone. At work we are exposed to a small circle of people who operate in the same environment or industry as we do. Then suddenly you find yourself in an MBA class where your fellow students have a totally different view of the world. They come from different walks of life, different industries and have different life experiences. Some are on an equal footing professionally and others come from higher or lower levels within their organisations. It was humbling and wholly unexpected to find that not only was I learning in the traditional sense, but that I was able to learn so much from those around me.

The study of organisational culture, which formed part of the Managing People module, was fascinating. I have worked at Eguchi Iwao, a Japanese coatings and consumables supply chain specialist, since 2013 and the way in which the Japanese do business is very different to South Africa. Respect for international cultures is something the Japanese get right. They are driven by honour, a style of doing business that has sustained them for the past 120 years. In Japan your word is your bond, regardless of whether you have committed anything to paper, while in South Africa I think having a written contract in place is considered to be more important. We need to remember this because nobody can turn up in a foreign country and expect that people are going to operate in the same way we do. We need to set aside our preconceptions and our own ways of doing things and learn to respect that which is different because ‘different’ is not necessarily wrong.

Things change overnight and you just have to roll with the punches. Shortly after Mario and I attended our graduation ceremony at Henley in the UK, he was offered a position at a multinational firm in London. Everything happened so quickly; we had just three months to wrap up our lives in South Africa and make the move. Fortunately for me Eguchi Iwao’s head office outside Japan is in the UK, so I was able to retain my position. There is no doubt in my mind that the learning experience we received at Henley Africa set us up to make the change.

My top tip for MBA students is to get stuck in and get the work done. Of course some modules are tougher than others, but don’t let that be a stumbling block to your success because the world needs business leaders who are committed to future generations, and we need them now.

Useful resources:
Henley Business School
At the core of Henley’s philosophy is the belief that we need to develop managers and leaders for the future. We believe the challenge facing future leaders is the need to solve dilemmas through making choices. We work with both individuals and organisations to create the appropriate learning environment to facilitate the critical thinking skills to prepare for the future.
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