Management Consultant Mike Eldon

What graduates ought to do

At the beginning of this month, Strathmore University Business School held its Executive Education graduation ceremony, and I was invited to be their keynote speaker. It was a wonderful occasion, where more than 300 of the nearly 2,500 participants in the executive programmes that had been running this year were receiving their certificates, with many others online.

After an exhilarating rendering of the National Anthem led by the Spellcast group, the School’s Executive Dean Caesar Mwangi addressed the gathering, telling those present that while they were graduating at a time of unprecedented challenges, Strathmore expected that they would find ways to contribute significantly to shaping a sustainable and prosperous Africa.

The theme of the day was “Developing Sustainable Businesses for Africa”, and this was re-emphasised by the next speaker, Vice Chancellor Vincent Ogutu, who talked about the university’s mission of developing ethical and transformational leaders.

He then introduced the Chief Guest, yours truly.

In their remarks, both had referred to how they have known me since they were students at the University of Nairobi when I had engaged with them through my involvement with AIESEC, the international association for students in economics and commerce (now broadened to include other disciplines).

As a result of their informal tone, I felt at ease to open by stating “No protocols observed,” before greeting “Vincent” and “Caesar”. I am a protocolophobic fellow and enjoyed the friendly atmosphere that encouraged me to indulge my preferred relaxed style.

In my talk, I referred to my early life experiences with a variety of cultures that formed me as a citizen of the world and prepared me for my life here in Kenya, where I launched my management career in the late ’70s.

This is when I began nurturing Adult-Adult, I’m OK-You’re OK, Win-Win relationships among my staff and others, and which I have been promoting ever since.

Strathmore’s broader theme for the year is “Caring for our common home”, derived from Pope Francis’s appeal. I shared examples of how this is being applied in Kenya, through such organisations as Kepsa and its member organisations, as it engages with the government to care for Kenya.

Those involved in such initiatives, which include some who are members of the UN’s Global Compact and of The Blue Company, plus others who indulge in personal social responsibility through volunteer clubs like Rotary and Lions, take the longer-term view.

They are up for gratification deferral, in support of sustainable futures.

I also talked about Charles Handy, who was a colleague of my father’s at Shell and later became a global management guru. He founded the Sloan Master’s Programme at the London Business School – from which, as it happens, I graduated in 1974, as part of its sixth cohort.

I later got to know Charles Handy myself, and to learn from him personally, I revealed.

I mentioned that in his 1989 book, The Age of Unreason, he summed up the emerging trend in Western workplaces as: “½ X 2 X 3”, seeing that companies were tending to employ half the number of people they used to and expecting twice the output from them, in exchange for which they were being paid three times as much.

In the ’80s we were already seeing the transformative inter-related effects of globalisation, liberalisation and technology… with its consequences being the need for educated and mobile knowledge workers.

But no one had described the brave new world of “survival of the fittest” as succinctly as Handy, who worried before many that so many people (the other “½”) would be woefully unfit to meet the needs associated with more and more of the world’s modern-day jobs.

I added that in a 2019 article in the London Business School Review, about which I wrote a piece in this column, Handy advocated a form of learning at business schools that was “experience understood in tranquility”, and I assumed it was like this for them.

I urged the graduates to be active in caring for our common home through the kinds of organisations I had mentioned, so as to help build a critical mass of leaders with high values, able to influence the direction in which our country will head.