When Hayley Pearson spearheaded a project on campus food, she considered how good food enables learning in the classroom, how to improve efficiencies in the supply chain, and even how many cups of coffee students, staff, and faculty consumed.
At the time, she worked with the dean of the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) at the University of Pretoria on special projects, including the MBA refresh and AACSB accreditation. Throughout her career at GIBS, Pearson has tackled a variety of challenging initiatives to improve learning and the learning environment, always with commitment and flair for innovation.
For example, she found a way to integrate 42 micro skills creatively and seamlessly into the full-time Post-Graduate Diploma in Business Administration (PDBA), which GIBS developed to better prepare new post-grads with no work experience for the workplace. The solution? Build a game, which she did. Throughout the six levels of the game, students in the program complete activities where they learn the key skills – they also can earn points for GIBS coins to purchase items. The initiative received the LearningSpace Business Education Innovation Award in 2021.
“It’s a fun program,” says Pearson, executive director, academic education, faculty member at GIBS, and EMBAC board member. “The students are just great. They’re so keen to be there, so eager to learn and fully dedicated.”
In her current role, Pearson oversees all degree programs at GIBS, including the EMBA Program. At GIBS, she combines her love for learning, academic administration and leadership, and teaching to help students succeed to support innovations in business and to have impact.
Pearson began her journey with an unconventional degree for a graduate who entered business education. She originally planned for her bachelor’s degree in zoology, information systems, and environmental science to take her into the field of biotechnology, but her travels brought her from South Africa to the United Kingdom and into education.
“People often said to me I should be a teacher,” she says. “When I went overseas, I didn’t want to stop studying and did what we call here a post-graduate certificate in education (PGCE).”
Essentially a degree in teaching, the certificate included a 10-week practical internship. As a young student, she needed to keep working and accepted a position as a science teacher. She quickly moved into school management as an assistant head teacher and ended her time in the UK as an assistant head teacher and head of Sixth Form in a large secondary school.
When she decided to shift into business, she pursued her MBA at GIBS, which in turn offered her an opportunity. She joined GIBS as a program manager in the Personal and Applied Learning division, later advancing into positions of increasing responsibility, including MBA program director, associate director, and interim executive director. As a faculty member since 2018 and senior lecturer since 2020, she also teaches.
Her first involvement with EMBA students came during the MBA refresh project. She also supervised EMBA students as they completed the required research component – a mini dissertation – as well as teaching EMBA students.
“I love our EMBA,” says Pearson. “I love teaching Executive MBAs because the conversation is always so rich.
“We believe that the knowledge and the experience sit in the room, and it’s about extracting that and facilitating the learning process. So, it’s great to teach executives who are really in thick of it and experiencing wonderful challenges.”
One of the EMBA Program’s strengths include horizontal and vertical integration of disciplines, where faculty collaborate to team teach with courses that cut across traditional disciplines. A leadership component also plays a role in each core course. For example, the decision-making course covers ethical decision-making for its leadership component. The program also offers personalization through the choice of focus areas. “There’s quite a lot of complexity in the program.”
While working at GIBS, Pearson again returned as a student to the classroom: “I’ve always been interested in learning and wanted to further myself through education. After my MBA, I took a short break and then enrolled in my PhD.” This year, she completed her PhD from the University of Johannesburg in the field of accountability. She researched the way individuals experience accountability across hierarchical levels with the aim of developing a theory of accountability and in turn helping managers apply the right mechanisms to drive performance.
As an administrator and educator, Pearson values the ability to make a difference in student’s lives and society.
“For me what makes the work so meaningful and so interesting is the higher purpose of the institution and the purpose of what we are trying to achieve through our MBA programs,” she says. “Knowing that we are teaching and enabling and building capacity and capability to take back into business to have real impact is so meaningful for me.”
Pearson first learned about EMBAC through a colleague. A long-standing EMBAC member, GIBS has supported the council for many years. “It’s always been a part of who we are,” she says. Her dean encouraged her to run for the board, and she was elected in 2022. This year, she leads the 2023 EMBAC Conference planning committee as committee chair and is enjoying expanding her connections in the EMBAC community.
“I’ve had such a phenomenal experience with board members. They have been unbelievably inclusive, welcoming, and supportive, and their willingness to share has been fantastic. I can’t wait for more of that, and I look forward to it.”
Pearson also shared the following insights with EMBAC Voice:
- My hobbies include: “Going to gym, running, reading, and cooking.”
- My favorite city is: “London.”
- I'm most proud of: “My family with three children, a 10-year-old son and twin girls who are six years old.”
- I’m reading: “Rethinking the MBA,” by Srikant M. Datar, David Garvin, and Patrick Gerard Cullen.
- I’m passionate about: “Learning, I’m passionate about deliberate learning interventions, learning experiences, the personalized learning journeys of individuals. I’m also passionate about individual-level accountability in organizations to drive performance. A side research passion is the future world of work, and skills of the future, and by the very nature of what we do, academic leadership, higher education.”
- My next project is: “Launching a well-being app for our students, which is a preemptive mechanism to support their well-being when they are learning with us, and automatic registration for classes using facial recognition. At home, my next project is to decorate my children’s rooms..”
- You may not know that: “Despite living in South Africa, I’m a very good snow skier.”
- When I think about the Executive MBA Council, I think: “Community, I think networking, I think thought leadership, and I think advocating for the industry and excellence as well.”