Successful young woman brings softer touch to male-dominated education industry

Zweli Mokgata

Zweli Mokgata

The male-dominated world of academia can be very hostile for women, especially a young black woman looking to make her mark in the business world. But Regenesys Business School academic head Phici Mbatha managed to shake off her doubters and rise to the top of her game.

"From age 16 when I matriculated I wanted to be in business, but I didn't have a clear picture of what I should study. I took a one-year course in basic business management. I loved it immediately and I went to the University of Pretoria to study business management," Mbatha says.

Mbatha was born in Swaziland to South African parents living in exile. In 1995 the family returned to South Africa when democracy was established. At 29, Mbatha is the youngest person to head up a business school in the country.

"Age has never been an issue, but wherever I went people would make it one. Being a black woman made my situation somewhat of a triple threat to my success. However I have always been spiritual and I am somewhat of an old soul, so it did not affect me," she says.

At 23 Mbatha finished her masters degree with the hope of lecturing at the university, but was told that she would only be head of the business department in 15 years time. She reflects: "I was tired of the old stuffy world of academia made up of dusty old men with little actual experience in business."

A move into the publishing industry working for a major media organisation gave her the exposure she craved, but corporate culture with its glass ceiling stunted her development.

"People recognised my abilities, but they paid too much lip service to my abilities without actually providing meaningful opportunity. It was time for a change and I always had education close to my heart," she says.

Mbatha took up a lecturing position at Midrand Graduate Institute and Unisa. She had to take a pay cut to make the move, but says it was worth it.

"I started to take on more management responsibilities and ended up being headhunted by Regenesys."

Today she shapes people's lives in more ways than one. Not only does she impart business skills but she has also included emotional and spiritual intelligence in the syllabus.

"People are starting to realise more clearly that business is more than just about numbers, but people. You are a human being before a business person."