Nick Binedell is a man who loves a good story and the dean of the Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs) at the University of Pretoria is a master of using anecdotes to good effect.
“In an emerging economy you should have comprehensive provision,” Prof Binedell says as a preface to one of his favourite tales about the youth programme at Gibs. The programme brings together 250 17-year-old students at Gibs for 12 weekends a year. High schools can send a maximum of two students for leadership and entrepreneurship training and groups of participants are mixed by class, colour and religion.
“In one morning they tackle the constitution,” begins Prof Binedell. “Then they are split into three groups for lunch,” he continues. The first group get a fabulous meal with white tablecloths and waiter service; the second group get the standard Gibs buffet lunch; the third group are sectioned off where they can see the other two groups and are given basic provisions.
When the third group complains, continues Prof Binedell, “We say, you’ve just been in South Africa.”
It is a tale which Prof Binedell tells with relish, not just for effect but to graphically demonstrate the difference between a traditional western business school and one in a developing economy, where business is so intrinsically linked to social development.
“It [South Africa] is full of flux, change and challenge,” he says, pointing out that is has changed dramatically in his lifetime. “The country I come from no longer exists – which is fantastic.”
The speed of change is one of the things that drives Prof Binedell on. “There’s not enough time. We have to have an impact and we have to have it now. If you don’t manage institutions, you don’t have a country.”
Gibs, the business school he founded, has certainly moved swiftly. Though it opened its doors just 14 years ago, the school now has a range of MBA programmes, a strong executive education portfolio and doctoral programmes. “We started with a blank sheet of paper. Now we teach in 22 countries and operate seven days a week. Sunday is as busy as a Wednesday,” the dean says proudly.
Nonetheless there is still much to do. The plan is to increase the research output at the school and the number of academics – the school has just 25 full-time faculty plus 25 adjunct professors – both of which are needed to achieve international accreditation from organisations such as the AACSB in the US and Equis in Europe. Prof Binedell also points out that the implementation of the latest technology in education, and online learning, are something in which South Africa lags behind the US and Europe and needs to be addressed.
But as Prof Binedell is quick to point out, in Latin America there are around 700 business schools, but in Africa there are only 40. It is a statistic that clearly irks him and one he is doing his best to change.
•1953 Born in Bulawayo Zimbabwe
• Educated at Rhodes University (bachelor), University of Cape Town (MBA) University of Washington (PhD)
• 1986 Appointed senior lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand
• 1992 Appointed director of the Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of the Witwatersrand
•1998 joined the University of Pretoria to set up the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg