Segal's legacy leaves a clearer map for the GSB

01 December 2003
Graduate School of Business (GSB) director Nick Segal (63) bids the school and university farewell at the end of the year after five years at the helm of what has become one of Africa's flagship business schools.

When first approached by former Vice-Chancellor Dr Mamphela Ramphele to head up the GSB, Segal recalls with humour that he "didn't know one end of a business school from another". A chemical engineer with a DPhil in economics from Oxford, Segal had a 26-year international career, followed by a brief spell in the mining industry (he was a director of JCI and later Anglo Vaal) to recommend him.

But it was his reputation for unorthodoxy and an ability to look at the bigger picture and take a systems view that caught Ramphele's attention. When UCT approached him to head up the school, it had a need for a fresh approach. Business schools invariably have complex and sometimes adversarial relations with their parent institutions and the GSB in the 1990s was no exception. The higher education sector was also facing upheaval in the wake of a new democracy.

Segal arrived at the GSB with a mandate to transform the institution and make it more relevant to the South African context. "I liked the irony of a 58-year old white male being given such a task," he says of his reason for taking on the challenge. For Segal, transformation was more than a demographic numbers game. It included the way the GSB interacted with the university and the way it positioned itself in the market and society. The first achievement was to gain autonomy for the school and by January 2000 the GSB had the financial and operational independence of a regular faculty while remaining part of the commerce faculty.

Under Segal, the GSB also worked hard to reach its vision as the best business school in Africa while being internationally competitive. This acted to pull everyone at the school in the same direction and had a number of spin-offs, including the successful application for EQUIS accreditation from the European Foundation for Management Development in 2001.

The Executive MBA continues to be at the vanguard of executive management education and the leading-edge adult education methods developed on the Executive MBA have been extended to executive short courses. A host of initiatives and tailored management programmes were also brought into being. Two centres were established at the school during the past three years: The Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) and the Southern Africa-United States Centre for Leadership and Public Values (CLPV).

At a student level, the numbers of black South Africans on the fulltime MBA have declined while the number of women has remained static, trends that are difficult to explain. To tackle this, the school established a transformation forum to seek ways to remedy the situation.

But for now, Segal plans to take time off to explore southern Africa with his wife, Diana. He also plans to "reconnect" with his former 20-year old Cambridge-based consultancy, Segal Quince Wicksteed.

Asked to sum up the legacy he feels he has left the GSB, Segal hopes he will be seen to have "raised the level of the school's own ambitions and given its staff a new sense of confidence about the institution and themselves and where they are going collectively".

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