We interviewed BSN Alumnus Pascal Bohulu Mabelo. Pascal has worked as a design engineer, project manager, project consultant and was the head of the Project Management Centre of Excellence in South Afirca. He is currently heading his own consultancy: E 6 Project Consulting and contracts on diverse assignments in the public and private sectors.
1. How did you first hear about the BSN International MBA?
Back in 1998 a friend of mine has been investigating which “good” MBA programme he should join; while chatting to him, he mentioned BSN and a few other business schools. What particularly attracted me to BSN was their international profile and that they were targeting aspiring leaders.
2. What was your motivation behind doing an MBA?
At that time, I had just made a decision to step back from my engineering background (i.e. dealing mostly with steel and concrete) to explore something broader, more holistic where one would deal with financial and other human-related matters. It was frustrating merely designing engineering structures, but not knowing why (which purpose they shall serve) and who might benefit from them. This frustration led me to resigning my engineering job to start a career in project management.
A few months later, when I was to further my studies, the logical decision was to pursue an MBA rather than a Master in Engineering, which would have brought me back to the trenches of engineering. By embarking on an MBA journey, as a commercial degree, one would be exposed to domains of knowledge (such as strategy, finance and accounting, marketing, and human resources management), apart from engineering design. In a nutshell, the choice was more about personal aspirations and fulfilment than about positioning oneself for job opportunities.
3. Share some of the highlights of your time studying the MBA at BSN
For somebody who had spent most of his life sharing classrooms and office space with aspirant and devoted engineers, it was a “positive” shock attending lectures with non-engineers and people from all walks of life – from junior managers to senior company executives. It helps you grow as a person.
Furthermore, the small but eclectic classes (of male and female, black and white, from relatively young to mature students) created a “cosmopolitan” atmosphere; the fact that lecturers (at that time) came from different backgrounds probably inspired a further sense of belonging to students. However the real “wow moment” came when I received the highest mark in Financial Management; a similar score in Information Management did not surprise me – I was a trained engineer, after all!
4. What were some of the changes you made to your management style or role at work because of Action Learning?
Having come from the traditional engineering background, one might have underestimated the “metamorphosis” an MBA programme will entail. From the attitude of “doing my job on my own, and to perfection”, I quickly learned the value of cross-pollination and the appreciation of input from other “sources”, meaning, from non-engineering disciplines and from other professions.
Soon after the MBA, my engineering colleagues could not bear that I gained so much appreciation for financial, human capital, and even legal matters. The reality is that I got “capacitated” to discuss and understand the concerns of colleagues from other departments. This made our interactions smoother and, thus, more cordial. Even within ‘project management’ as such, my perspective has changed as I definitely shifted the emphasis from ‘project’ (i.e. getting work done) to ‘management’ (i.e. producing beneficial outcomes). Moreover, every assignment turned into a learning opportunity for me – and the greatest learning has been: “Everything is connected”. Projects and operations, for example, cannot work without finances, and finances cannot succeed without sales and marketing.
5. How has your career evolved since completing your studies?
I did not pursue an MBA to qualify for lucrative job opportunities, but mostly for personal aspiration and fulfillment – having realised that there is more to learn, and to be learned beyond engineering. However, after completing my MBA many job opportunities literally came knocking on my door.
After two high-profile appointments, I tried launching my own business (banking on my MBA brain-power) but things failed to materialise according to my expectations. I had to bend my knees and took up a relatively humble position as a programme manager in a public organisation. It was not long before rumours started spreading that I was “being promoted every month”. The truth was that management could not help but trust me with more and more responsibilities, to the point that I eventually occupied a key project management position in that organisation and was to work closely with the C-suite executives. Thereafter, having left that company, I also was offered a HoD position in another large institution.
Currently, I am the principal consultant at my own practice specialising in large and complex infrastructure projects. The company established its footprint in the industry through the “overseas” publication of two of my seminal books (i.e. ‘How to Manage Project Stakeholders’ and ‘Operational Readiness’); they are both based on the Systems Thinking approach. Furthermore, our project management methodology (the SE-PLM) and its MasterClasses are growing in popularity and might be poised to make a meaningful contribution in the delivery of large infrastructure in the future.
6. What advice would you give current; and future MBA students?
The value of the MBA, I shall think, resides in how much of its learning one is committed to putting into practice. I have personally met people with a nice MBA-speak, but they could not add value to anything for their “all-round” understating of issues and their problem-solving abilities were lacking.
Secondly, the phenomenal growth that follows (not accompanies) the MBA effort takes some time to materialise. From my observations, the curve looks more like a hockey-stick: (1) during the MBA journey, you may seem a bit confused and your work performance may actually drop; (2) two years or so after the programme, your MBA-worth will start to crystalise (that is, as you turn learning into actions, and in turn learn from them); (3) after that period of moderate growth shall come the take-off, when you no longer need to tell people about your MBA – they shall see it and will tell you that! Lastly, I do not want to advertise BSN but the quality of your lecturers and “co-students” will matter.
Pascal’s latest publications are available on Amazon, Kindle and Hardback
How to Manage Project Stakeholders: Effective Strategies for Successful Large Infrastructure Projects (2020)
Operational Readiness: How to Achieve Successful System Development (2020)