Thapelo Tsheole (MBA PT 2013/14), the CEO of the Botswana Stock Exchange, recently addressed our current MBA PT students about Botswana's economy, its main industries, and the challenges it faces in diversifying away from mining and diamonds. Tsheole has been the CEO for the past eight years - when appointed at 39 he was one of the youngest CEOs in Botswana’s history. This he puts down to hard work.
Below he shares his key takeaways from the UCT GSB MBA programme and offers his advice to recent graduates.
“Before I undertook my MBA at the GSB, I had already completed two other degrees but they were very technical. I have a Bachelor of Social Sciences from the University of Botswana and a Master of Commerce from Rhodes University (RSA). But I wanted something to teach me about leadership and I wanted to formalise my understanding around people, culture and strategy. I took a gamble and used my savings to fund the degree. People didn’t understand why I wanted another degree and it was a difficult decision to make. Eight years later, I am still very happy with the decision I took and I have done very well. Without the GSB, and my MBA, I don’t think I would have achieved as much as I have. I was recognised by the President of Botswana in September 2018 and awarded the Presidential Order of Meritorious Service, this was for service to my country. I don’t know if I would have achieved that without some of the leadership skills I learnt on the MBA.
The MBA took a great deal of hard work and sacrifice. This is something that has been a key theme in my life. I am used to hard work because I grew up in a village and I went to the local primary school. There were 100 students when we went to Grade 8 but by the time we went to university, only three of us made it. My parents never went to school. When you get to a certain age, education can take you from poverty. But to get there, you have to work hard. Luck also places a huge role in your success
One thing I learnt at the GSB from my lecturers was the importance of work-life balance. Professor Ronnie discussed this several times and I have taken it to heart. I travel a lot for work and at one point I was working too hard. Now, I try to take time out, visit my village and do fundraising work with the school and football club. In fact, some leaders in the Botswana Government asked me to stop raising money only for village and start raising money more broadly for various initiatives around the country as I am a leader nationally now and not only for my village!
For me, my best advice is when you do a Master’s Programme: think what you are going to do with it. Then while you are studying, leverage the UCT brand and create your networks. You have one big opportunity to take advantage of it. Don’t wait to build your brand.
Some of the other good advice I can give: quit or slow down all social media. Three years ago I deleted Facebook and Instagram. I couldn’t manage my time and found myself wasting a lot of it. Don’t waste your time on social media! Now I go to sleep early and I wake up early. I go to the gym or for a run at 5am. If I am going out, I take a nap! I try to take every fourth weekend off – to take a break and sleep. Being a CEO is stressful, you need to make time to go off-grid and enjoy nature.
From the MBA programme, I remember the group work well – the arguments we had, if you don’t argue in your group then something isn’t right! It is always made up of a group of people with opposite characteristics and we were on campus until midnight most nights. At the time, we had to fly into Cape Town and be on campus six times a year. I developed long last friendships, and strong networks. We still stay in touch and visit each other.
And as for Tsheole’s next move? “I made it very clear in the 2019 elections I was not interested in standing for a political role. I am a technical person who likes the corporate world. Perhaps I will reconsider in 2028.”