Growth Ten Holdings’ Group Chief Academic Officer, Shireen Chengadu, is a leader ready to push the boundaries of what is considered traditional in this ‘new normal’, starting with the newly-launched Richfield MBA

With 41 campuses dotted around South Africa and 10 000 Undergrad and Postgrad students walking through their doors annually, Growth Ten Holdings’ tertiary education learning experience offering is seen as one of the strongest in the country. Under its umbrella sits Richfield Graduate Institute of Technology, AAA School of Advertising, and PC Education—three business units renowned for their high quality of education and incredible throughput of graduates ready to tackle the dynamic world of work.

At the helm of Academics is Shireen Chengadu, the Group Chief Academic Officer. While still new to her position—having taken the reins in August 2020, Chengadu has already started to make waves. The businesswoman, co-author of ‘Women Leadership in Emerging Markets’, entrepreneur, mother, wife, and champion of equality is not afraid to push the boundaries in order to achieve her goals. At this stage in her career, the goal now is ensuring that graduates of the highest possible calibre are produced under her watch, with people from all walks of life given the opportunity to reach their full potential and make the most of their lives.

“I am an advocate for equality… all forms of equality,” she says. “I have lived my whole life being an advocate for equality; gender, race, class, financial inclusion—equality in the fullest sense of the word. So diversity, inclusion, and transformation, that is the stuff that I get out of bed for, because I want to be part of a world where I have been contributing towards the solutions.”

With a determination and want to uplift those around her, it wasn’t surprising that one of the first things she did—during a pandemic, no less—was to create something which she, her employers, and, ultimately, her students could be proud of. This led to the launch of the relevant and dynamic Richfield MBA, in February 2021.

An MBA with a difference

For Chengadu, it wasn’t just about offering students the chance at attaining an MBA, but rather giving them an even more rounded business education. While traditional MBAs focus on business disciplines, foundations, and practices, what Chengadu wanted to see more of was the inclusion of tools, techniques and strategies of the emerging and disruptive technologies that are vital to manage and drive the transitions into the digital economy.

“Whether you are a higher education institution or a bank, you have to make use of technology to make the business go, and that is what makes this MBA so phenomenal,” Chengadu says.

“To my knowledge there is no other MBA like this in the country. There is a sublime marriage between the foundations and disciplines of business, and the digital capabilities as part of the formal core and electives curriculum.”

With this MBA challenging the norm, some may feel apprehensive.

However, with the depth of curriculum provided and the ever-changing requirements of the workplace coming to the fore in the ‘new normal’ and unknown of the next normal, Chengadu believes that their offering is best suited to those who want to future-proof their careers.

“I think if people want to be risk takers and be ready for that new and next world of work, they should choose this MBA. It has what other MBAs offer, but it offers far, far more,” she says confidently. “They will learn the digital capabilities to bring difference into a business, to make businesses really agile and thrive. They will be more confident about how they can foresee and solve problems for businesses because of the exposure of this combinatorial MBA.”

A comfortable way of learning

Another big win in terms of the Richfield MBA is that students can learn at their own pace. Many students who enroll for MBAs across all institutions are those already down the path of their careers. It is incredibly difficult to be able to juggle work, home life, and studying towards a demanding qualification such as an MBA, but Richfield makes this possible, as they know the challenges and understand the sacrifices being made. Attending classes in person is no longer an option for everyone.

The Richfield MBA combines online, face to face sessions, self-directed and group learning effectively to make the learning experience far richer and impactful. The content is designed and delivered by academic and industry experts and all students are supported by academic and industry mentors throughout the learning journey. This high level, future-proof degree is innovative, interactive and will help you explore the contemporary frontiers of business and entrepreneurship, as well as new technologies and their application in tomorrow’s world.

This is also the case for all of Growth Ten Holdings’ business units which offer contact and distance learning modalities, as they know the benefits of being able to complete your studies at a pace which best suits your lifestyle. Traditional learning does not work as effectively in these uncertain and complex times, and Chengadu knows that.

“What we are seeing is an increasing responsiveness of students in Richfield wishing to pivot from contact to distance learning. What is lovely about us is we give you the opportunity to decide what works for you,” Chengadu says.

“There is agility in how we operate with this ability to switch between modalities of learning, because these qualifications are offered in contact and distance learning format. Yes, people had to pivot to online to survive (during lockdown), but that was not just education, it was in all sectors. I do believe there is going to be a greater demand for quality distance learning. People want a learning experience as opposed to a lecturer-driven experience, because you remember the learning experiences far more than you remember your lecturer saying, ‘A, B, C’.”

Each qualification offered by Richfield Graduate Institute of Technology, AAA School of Advertising, and PC Education has been tailored-made to suit business requirements. Well established IT qualifications at Richfield remain in high demand for this very reason. There is no use producing graduates if they are not properly prepared for the fast evolving world.

As a result, Chengadu, her dynamic executive colleagues lead by Stefan Ferreira, Group CEO and her academic management team constantly consult with and utilise private sector experts to ensure relevant teaching and learning interventions lay the foundations for graduates who will be able to withstand the pressure of the complex and volatile work environment.

Leading into the future

Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, is someone who Chengadu looks up to during these difficult times. It was her conviction which led her country to success in the battle against COVID-19, and that is exactly the leadership trait which Chengadu believes is vital in overcoming challenges in all aspects of life.

She says: “If a good leader does not communicate with conviction, clarity, and absolute confidence, then the teams you are managing and leading will feel a sense of hopelessness. I think a strong leader, and I think about myself along these lines, is somebody who has conviction. If you do not back yourself up, nobody else will back you.”

It is this strength of leadership, which has seen Growth Ten Holdings’ business units continue to thrive during the pandemic. The next step is to ensure the growth and longevity of the business units, to ensure that all who enroll are provided with the best possible education, and creating lasting relationships with the business world to open avenues for graduates. Those are the goals for Chengadu going forward—and she is relishing the opportunity to make a difference.

As mentioned before, equality is a big deal for Chengadu, for without it, we will never reach the heights we deserve as a society. Another goal for Chengadu is working on the often touchy subject of transformation, not just from a human perspective, but from an academic standpoint, too.

“I would like to achieve academic transformation in the business. I do not mean transformation in the sense of diversity and inclusion, even though that is a given, but I talk about academic transformation as the cutting edge trends and technologies to deliver exceptional learner-driven experiences,” Chengadu adds.

It is clear that with Chengadu at the Academic helm, the stature of Richfield Graduate Institute of Technology, AAA School of Advertising, and PC Education will build on past successes and be sustained for many years to come. Armed with an MBA, undergraduate and postgraduate offerings to push boundaries and a leadership style which warrants success, Chengadu is proving that being an intuitive “risk taker” is what this world needs right now.