Steven van Rheede had for a long time known he was going to do an MBA, and had in fact some years ago written a short, almost prophetic note that he kept in his wallet: “MBA, 2020.”
The programme, he imagined, would offer time away from the distractions of work, and the space to reflect. And thanks to a global pandemic, he got that and then some.
Steven started his working life as a chemical engineer. He’d been drawn to the industrial sector, he says, probably because his both his parents and his grandfather spent most of their working lives in factories. The factory floor wasn’t alien to him, either, as it was where he would earn some cash over the December school holidays.
But Steven was also fortunate enough to do what circumstances had prevented his parents and grandparents from doing: go to university. He completed a National Diploma in Chemical Engineering at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in 2009, and a BTech the following year.
His first positions at Chevron, Goodyear and CGI Creative Graphics were all, to varying degrees, textbook engineering jobs. But Steven had leadership in his sights. “I think I always had that drive, that ambition to become a manager,” he says.
He was also willing to put in the hard yards, taking up managerial training opportunities at Goodyear and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. It soon paid off, and he was appointed as production manager at LED Lighting in 2017. Not done upskilling himself, he would in 2018 complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration at Unisa.
But an MBA was always the inevitable next step, the natural progression. “I hoped for an introspective experience,” he says. “I thought the MBA was a space for me to gain greater insights into my own leadership ability. I knew that to lead others better, I would need to understand myself better.”
But to get that immersive, reflective experience, Steven knew he would have to quit his job, which he did at the end 2019. He chose to do his MBA the UCT GSB (above other options), in part because his wife, busy with her PhD there, encouraged him to do so. That proved to be the smart choice as he was awarded a GSB Foundation Scholarship, without which it was very unlikely that he would have been able to do the MBA, he says.
The first months of his studies lived up to all his expectations, the programme starting off “with a bang”, he adds. But then COVID hit, and everything had to go online – which the UCT GSB managed with aplomb, despite initial teething problems.
He missed seeing all his syndicate members, but there was a silver lining to working from home, says Steven. For one, he could spend more time with his infant son, born on the last day that the UCT GSB was still open. Then there was the newfound opportunity to engage with international students on the modular MBA and Executive MBA programmes.
And despite a demanding schedule – his wife was back at work while also applying herself to her doctorate – and little sleep, he found his sought-after time for reflection.
“I think I had a lot more time to just sit and reflect,” he says. “I had the time to figure out who I am and what I wanted to do in the world, and what kind of leader I am. So it was very much a year of meditation.”
Steven has reaped the rewards of that meditation and reflection in and out of the class, finishing the MBA cum laude, and becoming, he says, the kind of leader he wanted to be in a new job as plant manager at KELPAK. (See below.)
- Steven didn’t have much time to hang out with his classmates on campus, but he left the campus with at least one fond memory, and a few stubborn stains – joining in on Diwali celebrations in November, he participated in a balloon fight, said balloons filled with dyed water. Which didn’t wash out as easily as promised.