When a project becomes a career
Project work on the MBA at IMD is invariably impactful. In a few examples, it is life-changing. One such example is the Team Initiated Enterprise (TIE) consulting project in 1996, led by Adam Craker and his colleagues, which devised a plan for a social enterprise in South Africa using internet technology to expand learning opportunities for people on low incomes.
Craker’s subsequent career has been dedicated to the region, where he has focused on the twin themes of digital technology and business as a force for good.
South Africa is not his home country, however. Born in the UK, he 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 added, “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.”
A taste for social entrepreneurship
Together with colleagues from South Africa, India, and Italy, the TIE 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. Primarily targeted at adults with limited primary education, the partnership offered basic IT skills training – Microsoft Windows and so on – through television and the internet.
To set up an internet-based training enterprise in 1996 was relatively farsighted. Craker made three visits to South Africa in his MBA year, and by the time of the third, he had started to receive job offers.
Jan Kubes, Professor Emeritus of Strategy and Business Policy at IMD, was an inspiration, but Craker 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, he 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 combining digital technology and business for a positive social purpose.
He pays tribute to his IMD grounding, saying, “Business schools have been critiqued over time for creating a very elite group of leaders who are simply value- or profit-motivated; IMD was a leader in terms of embracing purpose beyond profit, and the need to really consider the social and environmental impact that businesses have as well as the role and responsibility I believe leaders have.”
Since 2010 he has been CEO of IQbusiness, a purpose-driven consultancy that serves sub-Saharan Africa and is the largest B Corporation in the whole continent. In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic struck, prompting lockdowns, Craker 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.
His background in digitalization and knowledge of South Africa made IQbusiness, which is now a subsidiary of South African industrial group Reunert, the perfect partner to help IMD grow its Business Innovation Hub in Cape Town. Already up and running, the hub aims to provide support services to enhance the customer and employee experience through digital transformation, learning innovation, and communications.
“There are many parallels between IQbusiness and IMD in terms of our respective ethos and culture – in large part due to what I learned through my MBA and the many learnings and exchanges over the past 27 years,” said Craker.
Services will be delivered through local Cape Town-based team members and individuals will collaborate with colleagues from all over the world. Drawing on the experience IMD gained when it established its Singapore campus, the hub is expected to grow quickly depending on IMD’s needs and requirements.
Despite Kubes’ concerns all those years ago, Cape Town has grown to become an attractive base for many international companies thanks to its well-educated and skilled English-speaking workforce and competitive labor costs. The Cape has secured a number of high-profile organizations in addition to IMD, including Amazon, which established its African headquarters in Cape Town, Johnson & Johnson, with a pharmaceutical production facility, and Microsoft, with a data center, as well as many others.
After all these years, Craker feels the decision to relocate to South Africa has worked out for him – even though it meant going against Kubes’ counsel. “I’m not one personally to run away from a challenge, although Professor Kubes was right about the situation in South Africa,” he said. “For myself, my wife, my family, and my business, it has been, and continues to be the most phenomenal, life-enriching experience.”