Elvis Phala (South Africa) – University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business


Elvis Phala has loved technology for as long as he can remember. Qualifying as a Computer Engineer in his native South Africa was a dream come true and he embraced the opportunities that came with it. However, he came to a stage in his career where he wanted to make an impact on a bigger level. He shared with us how the MBA at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business has been the ideal platform to jump start this process and how he is very much looking forward to what is coming next.

How was the transition from engineering into an MBA Program?

Coming from an engineering background I have to say management seemed very foreign to me, especially since I am a very technical person. I delve into the technical detail, that is what I love to do. Now that we are moving into a world and a working environment where we have to collaborate more and understand the people that we are working with, that is where the managerial mindset comes into play. It was therefore important for me to branch out of my comfort zone – which is just me working in a corner on my technical projects – to now be more open-minded and be able to collaborate. That is what I have gained from the MBA. Participation in group work is an important part of this journey and has greatly helped me to be able to open up and share ideas with others and to be able to be vulnerable in front of other people and take criticism and to learn and grow from that experience. The transition has been challenging but very rewarding. I can see the improvement in the way I interact with colleagues at work and I am able to engage more with other people. I would recommend that all technical people at some point in their careers take a few managerial courses and they will see that they have actually been missing just a little something to add to their CVs.

Why did you choose the UCT GSB MBA?

I don’t think there is anyone that competes with the UCT program. I very much appreciate that UCT is very innovative when it comes to how they present the courses and material. They don’t follow, they lead. They have been the leaders in MBA schools in Africa for a number of decades now. The curriculum is very innovative – they are always adding and subtracting depending on what is working. They are very focused on sustainability which is something I think is very important going forward. As much as they teach you the technical skills and how to grow your business and how to be a good manager and all of these things they also focus on sustainability. They look at how everything is connected and how our actions not only affect us directly but how they affect the environment as a whole and how they affect our communities. This is what drew me to UCT. It is not just a technical school, it is also a caring school. At the end of the day it was a very simple choice for me – it was UCT.

What is the impact of the MBA on your current job?

I am a system engineer for a manufacturing company here in South Africa. As a system engineer, I have really seen a big impact from the MBA on my day-to-day business. I love technology and I am always trying to push technology into everything we are doing at work but it has not been an easy thing for me to not only get management but also the people on the floor to adopt the new technology. Now, with my new knowledge that I’m gaining from the MBA, I interact in a different way with everyone at work. Instead of me trying to push my ideas on everyone I am actually engaging them, I am having conversations with them, I am understanding the challenges that they are having. In that way I am more able to show them that technology can actually make their lives easier. We have been adopting a lot of new systems because of this new approach. I see it working very well, so I see a lot of value in the MBA.

What type of leader are you?

I had actually not really paid attention before as to what type of a leader I am and how open and connected I am to others. Going through the leadership journey on the MBA, I discovered that I am a high locus of control and am a person who believes that my own destiny is shaped by my own actions and my own decisions. I believed that as long as I work hard and I am in control I can make anything that I want to see happen, happen. However, as much as you believe that you are fully in control, you need to be able to work with others and to seamlessly integrate into your surroundings and learn from others. It has opened up so much to me that I never realized before. I am now at that point where, even though I think it is still going to be a long journey, I have learnt core leadership values and the character of a leader and how to always be aligned with your values. This has shaped the kind of leader I want to be and I am working to become. It is not an easy journey but it is a revealing journey where you get to learn about yourself.

What is your promise to UCT GSB?

My promise to UCT is that hopefully as a graduate, I will carry with me the values that I have learnt at UCT and use that in my future managerial and leadership positions. I will also uplift my community and always make sure that I contribute and pay back for everything that I was fortunate enough to receive. That is my promise to the institution.