Exclusive interview with Dr Randall Jonas – NMU Business School director

Exclusive interview with Dr Randall Jonas – NMU Business School director

Early in January, the Nelson Mandela University (NMU) announced the appointment of Dr Randall Jonas as the new NMU Business School Director. Dr Jo

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Early in January, the Nelson Mandela University (NMU) announced the appointment of Dr Randall Jonas as the new NMU Business School Director.

Dr Jonas boasts an elaborate curriculum vitae with more than 35 years’ working experience in both public and private sectors, including many years as Chief Executive Officer of the Eastcape Training Centre (ETC) and Private FET College, where he served industry and commerce in  the development of critical skills.

He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of the Western Cape, a Higher Diploma in Education (HDE), a Masters in Sociology (University of Port Elizabeth) and a doctorate specialising in organisational management from NMU.

Dr Jonas spent 26 years as an educator at Chapman High School, working his way up to headmaster from 1998 until he left the school in 2006. From there he headed the ETC and, in 2012, he started a company Symposia (Pty) as a subsidiary of the ETC Group to commercialise business opportunities such as conferencing, catering, corporate training and motor vehicle repairs.

He has proven leadership and managerial skills and has led numerous public and private sector institutions. Dr Jonas has a commendable record of leading successful turnaround strategies in non-profit organisations and established best practices in corporate governance.

His work in higher education has largely been recognised with numerous awards, including a national one for outstanding leadership in private tertiary education in 2009.

We recently got an exclusive opportunity to sit down with him (Dr Jonas) and chat about a myriad of issues including his vision for the NMMU Business School. Here is a snippet what he had to say.

Congratulations of your new appointment Dr Jonas. What are some of the immediate goals that you are pursuing in your new role – or hoping to achieve by end of 2017?

Dr Jonas: The Faculty of Business and Economic Sciences has just crafted a new strategic vision and mission – of course, the Business School is part of that Faculty. To that, I am planning, as we speak, a series of strategic planning sessions with our team. At the same time, the excellent work being done is consolidated and strengthened. I intend to embed the Business School as an active and engaged entity that excels in teaching, learning and research.

As such, we hope to explore new opportunities like the burgeoning township economy, blue economy and even green energy. The Business School is thus gearing to be a significant role-player in the economic development of our region.

In addition, I plan to have a series of business engagements with private and public stakeholders to firstly share our vision for business and economics and solicit their input about the challenges we face.

You are well-respected for showing good leadership throughout your career to date. How would you describe your leadership style?

Dr Jonas: Leadership starts and ends with people. I have always endeavoured to tune into what an individual is all about. By recognising that people have different personalities and that certain things affect them differently, I always endeavour a sensitive and emphatic engagement to stimulate trust and confidence. Adapting to various situations of interaction is key to the relationship.

My preferred style is to represent an instrumentality for people to succeed. In this way, people are able to unite around a common vision and are inspired to transact for organisational excellence. I like to be abreast of changing conditions so that I am able to analyse and act accordingly.

What do you see as the role of business schools in society – especially in our current climate in the Eastern Cape?    

Dr Jonas: The primary role is educating and advocating, but that is not so simplistic. We live in a rapidly changing world faced with an unprecedented technological revolution, which impacts the way we live, work and interact with each other.

In addition, corporate failings, an increasing regularity environment as well as an unease about rising poverty, unemployment and inequality, of necessity influenced the role of business schools in society.

The problems facing business requires leadership “recalibration”. The Business School should hone its research skills to produce knowledge that actually assist in solving real problems. It must also facilitate creative, innovative and analytical competences so that business leadership can gain an understanding of a complex world and are able to act.

To develop business leaders, who know how to lead and manage successful businesses in a sustainable and responsible way; business leaders with an ethical and moral compass coupled with strategic and contextual intelligence.

The specific situation in the Eastern Cape… Poverty, unemployment, service delivery deficits etc. makes it imperative that the Business School positions itself as a strategic partner to develop responsible business leaders, who will make an impact on the socio-economic conditions of the communities in which they operate. By developing turnkey education programmes customised for the public sector, the Business School can play a facilitative role in economic development in the Eastern Cape.

Still on the role of the school to its society, how do you plan to bring the NMU Business School closer to Eastern Cape communities?

Dr Jonas: The Business School must strengthen its humanitarian mandate. As an educational institution for business, the NMMU Business School freely acknowledges its social responsibility and will, through various projects, seek collaboration with other entities to make a meaningful impact on the socio-economic order. 

This will be through providing business advice services to small business owners in our communities; through social entrepreneurship and community engagement projects and through action research that investigates the real problems that small, medium and large businesses face and the provision of advice based on these research findings.

Research has identified three key challenges of SMEs locally – that is access to markets, finance and compliance with regulations. The Business School can and will play a role through collaboration with other social agencies.

What are your thoughts and did the recession and subsequent global economic worries change the way the NMU Business School operates?

Dr Jonas: It is freely recognised that Business School’s in general took a knock in relevance, reputation and legitimacy. It was inevitable and is also unfortunate. Business and education has a strong grounding in ethics and morality and nothing has changed that imperative.

However, the state of business and economics globally is a stark reminder for Business School’s about their role and how they operate. The NMU Business School is mindful that it has a role to play in preparing effective and ethical leaders in the public and private domain.

Business schools must be sensitive to crises in the communities, especially when business schools are accused of contributing to these crises. So, responsible schools should investigate whether the knowledge, which we co-create with our students are responsible and ethical and contribute to sustainable communities.

The NMU Business School, as part of the European Doctoral Degrees Association for Management and Business Administration (EDAMBA), is partaking in discussions on “responsible business” issues. Importantly, through programme innovation and development, we shall strengthen entrepreneurship and small business development courses in support of efforts to eradicate unemployment, poverty and inequality.

The NMU Business School’s MBA currently ranks among the top 200 in the world – its MBA programme is currently ranked 6th in South Africa. How do you plan to strengthen your MBA’s standing locally and globally?

Dr Jonas: Through our membership to international accreditation bodies increases our quality of academic programmes and best practices in delivery of our degree and executive development programmes. We will be conducting cutting-edge research on how to grow successful, responsible and sustainable businesses.

We will also utilise thought leaders as lecturers on our programmes; plan international study visits for our students; and invite our top alumni, who are global leaders in their respective fields as guest speakers and mentors for our students.

As a Business School, we will review the integration of new trends in leadership competencies such as contextual intelligence in our MBA programme.

The Business School received confirmation of its MBA accreditation from the International Accreditation Advisory Board of the Association of MBAs late last year. What does this mean for the school and why is this an important achievement?

Dr Jonas: This makes us one of the 264 accredited business schools out of about 16 484 business schools in the world. It tells our stakeholders that the quality of our programme is comparable to the quality of top international business schools. This accreditation also puts us in a position to attract world-class lecturing staff.

Coming back to the home of the NMU Business School – the Eastern Cape. When you look at our economy, what do you see us doing right and what do you see us doing wrong?

Dr Jonas: I will first look at what we are doing wrong. Firstly, it’s our dependence on the automotive sector, a sector which has seen significant declines over the past few years. Owing to increased global competition, our local manufacturers had to adapt and this impacted on unemployment rates across the province.

A lack of a diversified economic base is another challenge. We are also exporting local skills and talent to other provinces because of an inability to retain them.

With some reference to the recent Matric results, we need to boost the public education and training system to play an effective role in local economic development. Specifically, the Business School has been limited to do better by a lack of human resource capacities and financial constraints.

Coming to what we are doing right; we are looking at economic development in an integrated manner. Through collaboration and lots of goodwill, there is convergence of private sector expertise, government eagerness for collaboration and intellectual capital of higher education institutions such as the NMMU Business School.

This partnership will help the Eastern Cape province tremendously on its path to prosperity.

How many students are currently enrolled with the NMU Business School?

Dr Jonas: There are currently 122 MBA’s accepted onto the programme and 96 PDBA. This figure, however, does not reflect what our final registration will be, as registrations close on the 3rd of February.

In 2015 and 2016, there were upheavals in the tertiary education sector brought on by the #FeesMustfall movement as well as demands for free higher education. How has the NMU Business School responded to this new reality in education – that is if the school was affected in any way?

Dr Jonas: While the shutdowns witnessed across campuses nationwide as a result of the #FeesMustFall protests did not affect the Business School in particular, they did affect us as part of the NMU. We, however, still managed to complete our lecturing programme and examinations in November and December 2016.

We may not have been affected but as the Business School, we have been and will continuously investigate, evaluate and explore the relevance of our programme contents to addressing local and national socio-economic development challenges such as unemployment, inequality and poverty.

One day, when you leave the NMU Business School, what do you hope will be our legacy?

Dr Jonas: I want to take this opportunity to thank my predecessors for the building up the NMMU Business School into what it is today. I hope to build on that strong foundation and leave a business school that has consolidated its relevance, reputation, value and legitimacy. A Business School that is a true catalyst for economic development. A Business School that makes South Africans proud.


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