When A Project Becomes A Career
Project work on the MBA at IMD is invariably impactful. In a few examples it is lifechanging.
Adam Craker and his colleagues on the Team Initiated Enterprise (TIE) consulting project in 1996 devised a plan for a social enterprise in South Africa, using internet technology to expand learning opportunities for people on low incomes. His subsequent career has been dedicated to the region, and to combining digital technology and a positive social purpose.
South Africa is not his home country. He grew up in the UK, was orphaned at a young age and received a sponsorship for his first degree from his then employer, the utility company British Gas. After graduating he was hired by Andersen Consulting, later Accenture. When he was appointed to the strategy advisory practice he discovered that he was the only one without an MBA.
“I really saw myself in the IMD alumni with whom I was working, and it sparked an interest for me to learn about the business school, that at the time wasn’t very well known in comparison to others. It became my choice.”
He boldly declined an offer of sponsorship from his employer, opting for independence. The MBA itself was, he found, “a phenomenal experience”. He adds: “From day one of arriving in Lausanne the experience of working alongside 80-odd participants at the time, from 30-plus countries was such a cultural immersion, with an 11-month program, which was so intense … It was a life-changing experience in so many ways.”
For the TIE project, together with colleagues from South Africa, India and Italy, the team created the social enterprise Surf Shack. They negotiated partnerships with Absa bank, which had bought some old TV broadcasting facilities, and IT firm Dimension Data. The partnership offered basic IT skills training – Microsoft Windows and so on – through television and the internet. The service was particularly targeted at adults with limited primary education.
“I really saw myself in the IMD alumni with whom I was working.”
To set up an internet-based training enterprise in 1996 was relatively farsighted. Adam made three visits to South Africa in his MBA year, and by the time of the third, he started to receive job offers.
Professor Jan Kubes at IMD was an inspiration, but Adam went against the professor’s advice not to work in South Africa as he judged the economic and social situation to be not the most favorable. Sensibly, however, Adam did take note of separate advice he had received at IMD – that it is unwise to change geography, sector and role simultaneously. Accordingly, he accepted an offer as an expat with Andersen Consulting in South Africa, to smooth the transition. After two years, he moved to Dimension Data, the largest ICT firm in the country, and since then his career has been devoted to the twin themes of digital technology and business as a force for good. He pays tribute to the IMD grounding.
“Business schools have been critiqued over time for creating a very elite group of leaders who are simply shareholder value- or profit-motivated, and IMD was a leader in terms of embracing a purpose beyond profit, and the need to really consider the social and environmental impact that businesses have, and the role and responsibility I think leaders have.”
Since 2010 he has been CEO of IQbusiness, a purpose-driven consultancy which serves sub-Saharan Africa, and is the largest B Corporation in the whole continent. In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic struck prompting lockdowns, Adam and his partners responded by setting up a network called COBRA (Covid Business Rescue Assistance) – which in two years provided direct help to nearly 600 businesses in South Africa on a pro bono or shared value basis. Later he helped form the digital ecosystem SAtion, with similar objectives “to drive digitaliSAtion”.
SAtion is partnering with the World Economic Forum, Microsoft, the country’s leading universities, the UK’s Henley Business School and Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), which is the country’s apex business network. He has been appointed CEO of both COBRA and SAtion, in addition to his role at IQbusiness. SAtion provides direct training and support to leaders of small businesses. There are also funding options for qualifying businesses and national engagement on digital initiatives.
After all these years, he feels the decision to relocate to South Africa has worked out for him – even though it meant going against Professor Kubes’ counsel.
“I’m not one personally to run away from a challenge … although Professor Kubes was right about the situation in South Africa; for myself, my wife, my family, and for my business it has been the most phenomenal, life-enriching experience and continues to be.” There will be many business owners and other citizens in South Africa who will be thankful for his choice, also.
Excerpt from ’50 for 50, Inspiring leadership journeys from half a century of the IMD MBA’