Female business school dean brands are on the rise

Dr Erika James has recently been appointed dean of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States – the first woman and first African-American to lead the prestigious university.

In Africa several female academics are also trailblazing within and beyond university walls and, while there are countless others, in this article I have personally and selectively chosen to celebrate two such women – Dean Enase Okonedo of the Lagos Business School in Nigeria, and Nicola Kleyn, dean of the Gordon Institute of Business Science at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, until March 2020.

My argument in this article is that female business school dean brands in Africa are demonstrating excellence that is beginning to surpass the traditional male CEO brand options that have been a more regular feature in Africa.

The focus on these two female business school deans is occasioned by the fact that the 2020 Financial Times Executive Education top 50 schools rankings featured the Gordon Institute of Business Science at 38 and the Lagos Business School at 47. They were the only African higher education institutions on the list.

Executive education is a crucial offering of progressive business schools the world over, and I argue that for these two schools to feature in such a prestigious global ranking, there must be a certain distinguishable leadership the deans bring to bear in the running of these business schools.

In the case of Kleyn, she has also accepted a new position as dean of executive education at the Rotterdam School of Management, so it would seem that Africa is also exporting its executive education management excellence to Europe.

The CEO brand

Close to 50% of the reputation of a company can be attributed to the standing of its CEO. Like it or not, today’s CEO has been precast in the role of their company’s chief brand ambassador and for higher education institutions, a CEO brand is the packaging of its leaders into tangible market offerings that offer value to the various university stakeholder audiences.

The best CEO brands are mapped extremely well to the corporate university brands they represent, and they represent the very best the higher education institution has to offer.

Marc Fetscherin, in a 2015 article entitled “The CEO Branding Mix”, argued that in many instances the CEO (or dean, vice-chancellor, etc) is often perceived as the face of the company and usually receives the most publicity and therefore is an integral and important part of the company’s reputation.

The article shows that in respect of an iconic CEO brand like Steve Jobs, his resignation from Apple on 24 August 2011 saw Apple stocks drop 3% in one day – equal to about US$10 billion of company value. Conversely, when a challenged CEO brand like Daniel Vasella announced his resignation from Novartis, the shares jumped 2%, and when he resigned as chairman, the shares jumped 3.5% in anticipation of a shift in leadership and strategy.

In higher education, the CEO brand is also an important factor, as illustrated in the case of the following two African women leaders.

Enase Okonedo – African business school legend

Professor Enase Okonedo is an African business school legend. Wikipedia notes that in 2009 Okonedo became the dean of the Lagos Business School and, under her tenure, the school established the Centre for Research in Leadership and Ethics and the Centre for Competitiveness and Strategy.

The Lagos Business School was ranked among the top 50 business schools in The Economist magazine’s 2018 Executive MBA (EMBA) ranking and it was the only business school in Africa to be featured in The Economist 2020 Executive MBA Ranking.

On 1 December 2016, the school received accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), becoming the first institution in West Africa to be thus accredited.

Lagos Business School also proved its standards in management education as the International Accreditation Advisory Board of the Association of MBAs (AMBA) accredited the MBA programmes offered by the school in December 2016. These are the accreditations that all leading business schools seek globally.

Okonedo herself was the chairperson of the Association of African Business Schools in 2012-13, and in 2015 was elected to the AACSB international board of directors. She is also on the academic advisory board for the Global Business School Network and for the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University.

Her 11-year stewardship of the Lagos Business School has seen the metamorphosis of that institution into a globally recognised business school brand.

It would seem that the lead CEO brand differentiators for Okonedo are peerless leadership, ethical management, competence, innovation and global relevance.

Nicola Kleyn – Global relevance

In April 2015, Professor Nicola Kleyn was appointed as dean of the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. In September 2020, Kleyn starts in a new role as dean of executive education at the Rotterdam School of Management at the Erasmus University in the Netherlands.

Kleyn has been a business school dean trailblazer as reported by the Rotterdam School of Management: “The Gordon Institute of Business Science at the University of Pretoria which she has led as dean since 2015 is the only African school whose EMBA programme is featured in the Financial Times ranking, and they have just won a gold award in an EFMD competition – all credit to the work of Nicola and the team that she’s built at GIBS.”

The article notes further that Nicola is the outgoing former chair of the South African Business Schools Association, and heads the accreditation for the Association of African Business Schools.

The ranking of GIBS as the top South African and African business school for executive education by the UK Financial Times in its Executive Education 2020 Ranking marked the 17th year in which the school has ranked among the top 50 best executive education providers globally. The school was ranked at number 38.

It would seem that the lead CEO brand differentiators for Nicola are competence, innovation and global relevance.


Other notable female Association of African Business School dean brands in Africa include Hawa Petro (Mzumbe Unversity, Tanzania), Florence Memba (Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya), Helena Van Zyl (Free State Business School, South Africa), Yasmine Benamour (HEM Business School, Morocco), Ana Martins (KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa), and Penny Law (Regenesys Business School, South Africa), to name a few.

These, together with the achievements of the two women profiled, represent a microcosm of the notable work by women leaders in African higher education institutions. The CEO brand commonalities I glean from the female higher education institutional brands profiled here include competence, innovation, integrity, ethical management and global relevance – all of which are most refreshing for higher education institutional development in Africa.

The current glass ceiling for women's higher education leadership brands in Africa should become rapidly outmoded since female CEO brands are bringing as much, if not more, to the leadership table than their male counterparts.

Professor Robert E Hinson is the head of the department of marketing and entrepreneurship at the University of Ghana and acting director of institutional advancement at the same university. Professor Hinson has worked across universities in Africa and made professional and academic presentations in countries like Algeria, Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda, to name a few.