WHEN SPEAKING to Carol Adams and Ruschda Johaadien, who graduate this week from the Graduate School of Business (GSB) 2001 part-time Associate in Management (AIM) programme, it becomes clear that the year they spent at the Waterfront campus has been a watershed experience for both.
President and Vice-President, respectively, of the AIM class for the second semester of last year, Adams and Johaadien have achieved things neither would have thought possible until recently. Both talk of the AIM programme "opening a new world of opportunity".
Adams is an occupational therapist by training who "escaped" employment in a clothing factory by registering for and finishing her degree - cum laude - at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) despite a number of financial hiccups. After working as a community therapist for UWC for a few years, she moved to Southern Life (currently Momentum) where she progressed from claims consultant into the company's actuarial department.
Feeling that she needed some formal business training, she registered at the GSB last year, but with a certain amount of diffidence. "Going there with a community, social service ethic, I didn't feel that I belonged in the hard business world," she says.
The quiet one in the class initially, Adams soon found her voice and discovered a burgeoning sense of confidence. "AIM doesn't just give you the academic framework and the business skills, but it also helps you grow as a person," she notes.
While she had not intended to leave Momentum when enrolling for AIM, prospects at the company became limited and she realised – thanks to her new-found confidence – that it was time to move on. "It was very clear in my mind that I had outgrown my job, and I had to do something which was more challenging."
Two days after finding out she was pregnant (with twin boys), she negotiated "a very nice package" with the fledgling Medscheme Life, who had called her with a job offer. This package included Medscheme reimbursing her for AIM tuition costs.
If not for AIM, Adams says she may have become frustrated in her professional life. "AIM provided me with the opportunity to realise that I am capable of doing much more than I thought. I think eventually I may have reached this point in my life, but I feel I would have taken a lot of detours and it would have taken a bit longer to get here."
Johaadien agrees that AIM also gave her the courage to venture into previously unexplored regions of possibility. A BA graduate – also from UWC – she was working for managed healthcare company, QUALSA Healthcare, when she decided that she needed a generic business qualification.
Thinking initially that the course would simply provide her with the necessary business skills, she realised after the first term that AIM had much more to offer. "It opened my mind to so many different things, to so many different ways of looking at things," she recollects.
While she, like Adams, had no intention of leaving her then-employer, a number of job offers came her way courtesy of the GSB's Careers Service. An eleventh hour decision to attend a presentation by Private Wealth Management (PWM), a subsidiary of Old Mutual, changed the course of her life.
"I remember sitting in the car and thinking to myself, should I rather go shopping at the Waterfront? What do I know about finance, I thought? I literally had my foot out of the car door when I said, 'Ruschda, this one second can change your life'. And it actually did. As I sat in the presentation and listened to the speaker, I thought, hey, I can do this.
"The whole course has given me a lot of confidence in my abilities. Even going into AIM, I didn't think I was going to cope, but the course has shown me there's a lot more to me than I thought."
Currently on a three-month intensive training programme in financial planning at PWM, Johaadien says the AIM course has also given her the courage to take on some very difficult professional pursuits. She has recently registered on a programme to become a certified financial planner, the highest qualification in this field.
"I would never have thought of tackling that now if didn't do AIM last year. It's just opened up this whole new world to me."
The long hours at the GSB have paid off, she adds. "My family didn't see me a lot, but they knew what I wanted to achieve and why."