Elaine Viljoen: ‘‘Doing the MBA, whilst running your own business, requires strict discipline to adhere to the study plan. But it has some very beneficial advantages, too: I use my own business as the case study for my Action Learning Projects and other assignments. Our 2016 Tax Season results show a significant improvement on last year’s turnover.’
Running a business and doing your MBA at the same time? To some people, this might sound as the ultimate ‘mission impossible’. Yet, it’s not. Business School Netherlands has many students proving that it’s actually a very fruitful and doable combination. One of them is South African Elaine Viljoen, who started her MBA with BSN last year and has been running her own franchise of the Tax Shop since 2013. ‘Joining the Tax Shop Franchise as franchisor to more than 75 franchised outlets just over 3 years ago was my return to professional accountancy.’
Since qualifying as a chartered accountant, Elaine worked in the banking industry for more than 20 years in various roles, including Chief Financial Officer, Head of Market Risk, Project Manager and as General Manager in Finance, Treasury and Risk Management. She also operated her own consulting business providing specialist services to banks, as well as acting as a Specialist Financial Advisor to a nuclear project.
Elaine is currently a majority shareholder and Director of a professional services organisation operating national accounting and tax franchises in South Africa, with footprints in Namibia and Dubai.
What made you decide to sign up for the MBA?
“Although my extensive experience in commerce contributed to the direction setting and growth of the organisation, I soon realised that the world of accountancy changed and that it was no longer sufficient to be equipped with specialist accounting knowledge alone. In order for the business to stride into the future, we required to be up-to-date with the latest global thinking. My husband Nico motivated me to enrol for the MBA having experienced the impact of his MBA studies on his way of thinking and viewing the world.”
How do you find the MBA so far?
“The main goal of enrolling as a MBA student was in essence to get the toolset to boost my company’s profits and shareholder’s value. However, I have soon realised that there is no quick fix and that dimensions of the business, especially as franchisor of more than 75 franchised outlets, and its place in society are more complex. The MBA programme definitely lives up to my expectations and is in my circumstances a perfect example of Action Learning. Every assignment finds its practical application in improvements to the business as I am in a position to influence and direct decisions of the organisation. I use my own business as the case study for my Action Learning projects and other assignments.”
How valuable and beneficial has that been thus far?
‘‘Various improvements have already been recommended and implemented in the business. For example, the digital marketing strategy and plans have been improved, strategic dilemmas like strategic drift are receiving attention and the operations process is receiving a fresh look to increase efficiency towards becoming more client-centric and provide improved processes like client self-service functionalities.”
Has it already resulted in a profit for your company?
“Measurement is not easy as the areas of strategy, marketing and operations are affected. However, I can report that our 2016 Tax Season results show a significant improvement on last year’s turnover. This we contribute to improvements implemented relating to better segmentation, more effective digital marketing and an improvement in the processes and quality control systems of the organisation.”
What has been the greatest insight or eye-opener so far?
“The greatest insight so far relates to the impact of the knowledge economy on our lives. Disruptions on the way in which we conduct business will force us to become client-centric and re-think the way in which we operate. Some tough questions and decisions lie ahead!”
How do you find running your own business and doing the MBA in terms of time and how busy/challenging it is? Is it ‘easier’ or ‘worse’ than you expected?
“Running one’s own business and doing MBA is a real challenge! Personally, the balance between work and studies is not at a level playing field. The focus on utilising all knowledge gained for business improvement is detrimental to my own time allocation for studies. For example, I identify a problem in the business from the MBA studies and then go on to improve or rectify the problem in the business. A perfect outcome of Action Learning, but a disadvantage to my own study progress. This approach does not leave sufficient time for me to make adequate progress towards studies. Therefore, when doing the MBA, whilst running your own business, requires strict discipline to adhere to the study plan.”
Have you changed personally – as a person and entrepreneur – since you started the MBA?
“As a person, I think that I gained wisdom, becoming more mature in a sense, and developed patience to obtain a better understanding of other people’s circumstances and motivation for doing things in life. As an entrepreneur, I now have an even greater realisation about the significant impact that the knowledge economy is having on business in general, as well as on the accounting profession. This requires critical evaluation of the direction of the business, but also for my career as a professional accountant!”
The BSN MBA is allowing me: “Freedom to think, wisdom to learn and courage to act.” (author unknown).’
What advice would you have for peer entrepreneurs that think about doing an MBA?
“I encourage all peer entrepreneurs that are serious about the future growth and survival of their business and in making a contribution to a better life for all, to consider doing an MBA. You will need to utilise all learning opportunities and critically analyse your organisation to identify improvements. In addition, the support of your executive team and family are essential in the process. Overall, strict discipline is required to ensure balance between time