Internationally acknowledged for conducting capacity-building projects to empower individuals through Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Business Sustainability, alumna Retha Wiesner, Professor of Human Resource Management and Entrepreneurial Behaviour at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) in Australia, has made a massive contribution to small business sustainability and entrepreneurial behaviour development. Currently leading a major research and capacity building programme on advancing women through entrepreneurship, her goal is to keep connecting with her true purpose of “helping others grow in their lives and businesses and to create a legacy through personal dedication, hard work and meaningful contribution”. Below, read more about her sterling career, the source of inspiration in her life, her hopes and her advice for current students.
Q: Briefly summarise your studies and your professional career, with special mention of specific highlights/milestones.
A: My academic career commenced at the University of Pretoria (UP), where I worked as a Senior Lecturer in Industrial Psychology at the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences (EMS). Prior to that, I completed my studies (BCom, BCom Hons, MCom and DCom) at the same Faculty and worked for three years as an industrial psychologist at a large transport organisation. I was the first woman in South Africa to be awarded a doctoral qualification in my field. I examined the topic of quality of work life as represented in new trends in Industrial Psychology.
After working at UP for five years, I was offered a position at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia, where my career advanced to the highest level of Professor of Human Resource Management and Entrepreneurial Behaviour.
My expertise and research focus are upon the human side of organisational performance, or more specifically, how the performance of people and organisations can be improved. I work in the domains of high-performance management, organisational behaviour and entrepreneurial behaviour, and I have a significant track record in designing and disseminating best practice to facilitate high performance in entrepreneurial people and organisations.
I conduct research consulting in a wide spectrum of organisational contexts: (1) from working with blue-chip or Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) companies to helping them develop and implement innovative/entrepreneurial people management strategies that improve their triple bottom-line (financial, people and environment); (2) to working with Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to help them become cutting edge through their people and business sustainability strategies; and (3) to working with early entrepreneurial firms to grow them.
I am blessed to have an international reputation in conducting capacity-building projects to empower individuals through Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Business Sustainability. My entrepreneurial research leadership and reputation have been recognised at the national, state and industry level through more than $5m in externally funded research grants, and at USQ through more than $1m in internal USQ research grants. These programmes are conducted with a number of national and international partners to facilitate pathways to small business sustainability and developing entrepreneurial behaviour.
I am currently leading a major research and capacity building programme on advancing women through entrepreneurship (see www.wireprogram.com
Since 2001, I have published extensively in Australia and overseas. I have co-authored eleven books in Management discipline.
Q: To what extent did your studies at UP benefit you in your career and contribute to your success?
A: Studying at UP has provided me with a strong academic foundation that helped to set me up in life. It opened doors and created opportunities throughout my career and personal life. My studies at UP taught me to be adaptable to change and to harness my problem-solving skills and creativity. The confidence I gained through my studies and early career at UP, enabled me to deal effectively with new problems and helped me to develop a positive outlook on life in general.
Q: Can you single out a special mentor/trusted advisor who played an indispensable role in your life/studies/career?
A: I would single out my previous Department Head, Professor Leo Vermeulen at UP, as a special mentor and trusted advisor. As the supervisor of my doctoral thesis, he taught me the skill of critical analysis in research and encouraged me to follow my career dreams.
Q: Given your academic experience at UP, what advice can you pass on to current students?
A: 1. Keep your main goal in mind;
2. Focus your energy on goals that energise you;
3. Stay focused and persevere until you reach your main goal;
4. Take the initiative to pursue your education to the highest standard; and
5. Work hard and be organised.
Q: What really inspires and motivates you personally?
Creating and exploiting opportunities to help others grow are what inspire me most. This is especially demonstrated by my work over the last 10 years in facilitating the entrepreneurial growth of women in Australia and internationally. My current programme, the WiRE Program (see www.wireprogram.com
) is an example of my work in this area.
Q: What, in your opinion, is the foundation of a successful business/company/consultancy/organisation?
A: Find a way to exploit specific knowledge gaps; focus on relationships, not revenues; sell results, not services; employ a flexible structure; and always focus on positive impact.
Q: Which business/trade-related publications (magazines/newspapers/blogs, etc) do you enjoy reading?
A: Favourite podcasts:
Q: If you could have a face-to-face meeting with an inspiring person – in any domain – who sets an example in transforming the world and inspiring others to do the same, who would it be and what would you like to discuss?
A: Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand. She was elected as the world’s youngest female head of state just after she gave birth to her first child. She’s an inspiring leader who taps into her maternal instincts and femininity, which have helped her to lead causes like unity and social change.
She has taken quick and decisive action against gun violence, and her strong leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic led to only 25 New Zealanders dying from the virus. I’d love to discuss her decision process with her, as well as the advice she would give to anyone who wants to create positive change in the world.
Q: Going forward, what are your professional/business/personal goals?
A: To keep progressing towards my goal of having a positive impact on the lives of my students and participants in my capacity-building programmes. Also, to keep connecting with my true purpose of helping others grow in their lives and businesses and to create a legacy through personal dedication, hard work and meaningful contribution.
Q: In 2020, COVID-19 turned the world upside down. What is the biggest ‘lesson’ you’ve learnt from this pandemic and to what extent did it change your mindset?
A: The notion of “agility”, i.e. how to immediately find opportunities despite challenges and do something even better than the original idea, was a game changer for me personally in staying on track with my own goals and in creating more innovative capacity-building programmes during difficult times.
Q: What are your hopes and aspirations for South Africa and its people for the rest of this decade...and beyond?
A: I love South Africa and my family and many friends live in South Africa. My hope is that everyone should look deep into themselves and draw on their own personal power to be positive change agents in advancing causes that create positive educational outcomes. This includes developing innovative ideas about who they are and what their innovative capabilities are.