Meet the Boss: Professor Elmarie Venter, from NMMU Family Business Unit (FBU)

AUGUST 24, 2016

Born and bred in Upington, in the Northern Cape, Professor Elmarie Venter (EV) began her journey in academia with a BCom and BCom Honours at the Free State University before enrolling for her MCom at the University of Stellenbosch, where she later became a junior lecturer.

She then jumped at the opportunity to further her studies at the Ghent-Leuven Business School in Belgium, where she did her MBA, before returning to South Africa  to do her Doctoral studies with the then University of Port Elizabeth – now the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in 2003, and, as they say, the rest is history.

In June, she won the Government category of the 2016 Businesswomen’s Association of Port Elizabeth (BWA) Investec Regional Business Achiever Awards (RBAA) for her work – in particular at the one-of-a-kind NMMU Family Business Unit (FBU), which she helped to establish.

Here is what Business Link (BL) also found out about her.

BL: What does this award mean to you?

EV: It was a privilege just to be nominated as a finalist and I see this as a great blessing and celebrating women’s hard work and dedication.

BL: How did you end up at the NMMU and NMMU FBU?

EV: I am now 25 years in the academia.  My first seven years were at Stellenbosch University and I have now spent 19 years at the NMMU. I married into the Eastern Cape…  

My doctoral studies were on how to manage succession in South African family businesses. I then had the opportunity to travel around the country and even some parts of the world doing research on and being a motivational speaker on family business issues, especially succession.  

Five years ago, I was the co-founder of the NMMU Family Business Unit (FBU) – the first and currently the only one of its kind in Africa.

BL: What have been some of the highlights in your career to date?

EV: I had so many highlights and see myself as extremely blessed. Highlights include travelling all over South Africa and internationally, lecturing overseas every year, working with young people every day of my life and consulting to families and family businesses all over the country. 

I have also been privilege to be the Faculty of Business Economic Science’s Researcher and Emerging Researcher of the Year three times. Being a regional BWA achiever award winner is definitely also a big highlight of my career.

BL: What would you say was the best or worst business advice that you have ever received?

EV: Best advice is to go and think how much my time is really worth. It helped me tremendously to prioritise my workload. Other good advice was for me to go into family business consulting. Worst advice is to be always “nice”.

BL: Tell us more about your work at the NMMU and especially the NMMU FBU

EV: The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Family Business Unit (NMMU FBU) is the first and only of its kind in Africa and strives to achieve academic excellence and practical relevance in the field of family businesses.

The unit has been established to assist family businesses in managing the challenges they face, to solve complex family issues, and to plan for changes in a dynamic environment. The unit takes a strategic, growth-oriented approach and as such strives to assist business families in creating an ongoing legacy of entrepreneurship. Worth noting is the unit’s involvement in the global Successful Transgenerational Entrepreneurship Practices (STEP) project, a project that is putting the Eastern Cape and South Africa on the “map” in terms of the field of family business.

Members of the unit work closely with leading scholars and family businesses to provide excellence in family business research and teaching, and to be a valuable resource for family business owners, advisors to family businesses and policy-makers interested in the field.

The unit’s “family business consultation training” short course, which is offered biannually, specifically assists in training service providers in dealing with their family business clients. The NMMU FBU website (http://fbu.nmmu.ac.za) can be consulted for upcoming events and more details.

BL: How would you describe your leadership style?

EV: I am a people’s person so I would like to think I am a participative and servant leader.  But I will not hesitate to take a stand and be firm if there is deadline and a job needs to get done.

BL: What is it that separates the NMMU FBU from the other players in your industry in our region?

EV: We have the only Family Business Unit currently in Africa and I am one of only a handful family business consultants in South Africa.

BL: What are some of the challenges that you think women executives are facing locally?

EV: To get the same opportunities as male executives and to balance home and family life.

BL: When you are out of the office, where are we most likely to find you?

EV: Driving around the children!! If there is time, I like to go out and have breakfast or dinner with my husband two children or go to the movies. When I was still training for Ironman, you would have found me on a bike, in the sea swimming and running.

BL: As a working woman, how do you juggle the office and your family?

EV: To be honest, sometimes with great difficulty and to have a work/life balance is probably my biggest personal challenge. What helps is to have a good support structure and a supporting husband.

BL: What advice would you give to other women in business out there?

EV: Be prepared to work very hard; even if you do not get recognition right away.  Eventually people will value and even pay for your expertise and efforts. Also be yourself and do not compare yourself with other people, but learn from them.

BL: What do you think or hope will be your legacy, one day when you leave the NMMU and its FBU

EV: That I took family business consulting, training and research to a new level in South Africa and that government and other stakeholders realise it is an independent field of study and research.