Written by Ian Kilbride
It was a great honour this week to deliver my inaugural address as an Honorary Professor at Stellenbosch Business School on the subject of ‘Business, experience and philanthropy’.
Ranked in the top 1% of business schools globally, SBS is triple-accredited and is setting a new standard in business education in South Africa, as well as business social engagement globally. My inaugural was the keynote address at the 2023 academic year opening ceremony at SBS, led by Professor Mark Smith, head of the SBS. Attended by the Registrar of Stellenbosch University, Professor Ronel Retief, together with all SBS teaching faculty, the hybrid meeting included students and guests from across South Africa and beyond.
Dr Armand Bam SBS lecturer and also the MD of the Spirit Foundation in South Africa, arranged for Mr Jabaar Mohamed to act as Master of Ceremonies, and who, as deaf from birth, reminded us all that the disabled are able and must not only be accommodated, but fully valued and maintained in the mainstream of business and society more broadly.
My speech focussed on two central themes. Firstly, the importance and value of acquired experience and the importance of sharing one’s experiences throughout your career. Secondly, the importance of philanthropy and the value of engaging in its practice from early in your career. Simply put, you do not need to accumulate a fortune at retirement and then distribute 50% to an effective philanthropist. I feel that philanthropy should be practiced at every step of one’s career in accordance with one’s ability and desire to give. The broader point is that business philanthropy should not be simply a case of donating a percentage of profit each year, but a much broader and richer repertoire of giving time, ideas, skills and mentoring.
Back to business. I am not an academic and despite the honour bestowed on me by SBS, I have no desire, or the ability, to develop my academic business acumen. I am, however, a reasonably successful businessman with a desire to learn and to share my experiences, good and bad, with young business students in order to assist their careers.
Therefore, my commitment to SBS and its business students is to distil my decades of business experiences in SA and the UK in an honest and practical way and to share these freely, with the hope that students may avoid some of the mistakes and set backs I have encountered. I hope that this will enable others to develop, by learning of issues I have encountered as an entrepreneur and thus avoid them personally. For me, this is the reward of ‘giving back’.
My own business odyssey has been one shared every step of the way with my family and so it was a great pleasure to be able to deliver my inaugural address with my father sitting in the audience, alongside two of my sons. I know that they shared the pride I felt in what was a highlight in my career and one from which I shall continue to grow personally, intellectually and as a businessman.
I wish to thank my colleagues at SBS for this honour and opportunity.