Business Schools: Profile – University of Stellenbosch Business School

Tasneem Motala: From MBA student to lecturer

 Eugine Yiga

AFTER a few years of working for oil and gas refineries in Durban, Tasneem Motala, a chemical engineering graduate, moved to Cape Town for a new petrochemical industry job. But the real fuel for her career came when she enrolled in an MBA at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB). “Engineering is technical and the undergraduate degree doesn’t give you much insight into how business works,” she says. “I wanted to get more exposure to business concepts and more exposure to different fields.” USB was the ideal choice for several reasons.

First, while other business schools insisted on a January intake, USB’s mid-year option meant that Motala could start when she was ready. Second, the Modular MBA, in which two years of classes are presented in nine blocks of one week each, provided the flexibility to continue her full-time work. Third, the International Study Module gave her a once-in-alifetime opportunity to spend a week attending lectures, meeting students, and visiting businesses in Paris. But the biggest benefit USB offered, and one of her main reasons for doing an MBA, was the personal and professional leadership development. Whereas other modules run over a block or two, the leadership module extends over the full duration of the MBA.

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“You engage with the leadership faculty and have one-on-one sessions in which they look at the reflections
you’ve done on aspects of your life,” she says. “That emphasis on leadership and a personal touch is what attracted
me to USB.” Getting to reflect on the choices she’d made in her career led her to the realisation that she wasn’t doing what she wanted with her life. Indeed, when she first considered doing an MBA, she had a slight feeling that it might be time for a professional change. “As a child, I always said I wanted to be a teacher,” recalls Motala, who was born in Newcastle (in the KwaZuluNatal Midlands) and raised in Durban. “It was my biggest passion when I was growing up. And while that feeling of  wanting to share knowledge with others was still at the back of my mind, the reflection and journaling pushed it to the fore. That’s when I realised that lecturing might be a career for me.”

Upon completing her MBA, Motala, who had built strong networks with her classmates and among the faculty,
was invited to lecture in one of the programmes last July. A year later, she was appointed as a full-time senior lecturer in Operations Management at USB. She admits that it’s not easy to be on the other side of the lecture hall. But she loves the challenge of putting theoretical concepts into practical context with real-world examples, which is
something her students always appreciate. She also considers it an honour to work with the same professors and
lecturers she admired. “The MBA allows you to speak the language of someone from a different background,” she says. “So when you’re sitting around the boardroom table, you can understand what the finance director or the IT expert is saying. You’ve been introduced to the concepts, understand what their work involves, and can speak the same language at a higher level.

I think that’s the beauty of the MBA from USB. That’s what it gives you and that’s what it added to my life.”

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