Local business woman receives top award

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East London business woman Poonam Harry-Nana, a full-time MBA graduate of the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) has been awarded with the USB Director’s Award for the top student in any programme who excels in both studies and leadership.

USB Director Prof Piet Naudé said not only did Poonam graduate cum laude, but she arranged all the social activities and ensured that the class had a good balance between academic work and outside activities. “She has a passion for communities and she will continue to leave her mark through various levels of social engagement,” he says.

Poonam, meaning Full Moon in the Hindu language, has always aspired to be a light shining on the world according to her namesake. She works for the family business, Harry’s Printers Group based in East London, which celebrates its 90th year of existence this year.

“The Harry’s Printers Group of companies now consists of four companies in four locations throughout South Africa with five branches and employing over 200 employees. I currently manage and oversee the expansion of Harry’s Photos and Copies which is the digital print, communications, advertising, signage, branding and photo imaging leg of the business. The company has been running since 2009 but we have just launched our first retail concept customer experience store in March 2019 in East London aimed at the business to consumer market.”

“We have just launched our grand opening with the aim to add this arm of the business to our others stores with national expansion planned within a three to five-year period which I will be overseeing and managing.”

The company was founded by her great grandfather and first operated as a General Dealer. The business then added a shoe repair facility and it was at the back of this that her grandfather bought a handheld press to share the work of his father who had become a spiritual guru and philosopher. It was here that the printing started and has since grown into what it is today.

Her MBA research paper entitled Exploring the perceptions of the value of reflective learning in the leadership development of MBA students, focused on how and if students felt that reflective learning techniques and interventions aided their leadership development. The paper is currently being prepared and submitted for publication in the Teaching in Higher Education journal due to some unique insights that surfaced from the study which could possibly assist Higher Education practitioners in designing future reflective learning interventions in leadership and other curricula.

Poonam joined the MBA programme as a full-time student in 2018, relocating for the year to Cape Town, drawing on the support from her sister and family living in the city. She says that the support of her husband, family, friends and mentors worldwide were critical to her survival for the year as to her attitude of “work hard, play hard”.

“The MBA was one of the most challenging and toughest experiences of my life, but also the most liberating, life enhancing and amazing journeys. Deciding to dedicate the year to discovering the true Poonam also meant that I left my husband in China and lived on my own for the first time ever having grown up in an extended family, and staying in res and dorms during my undergraduate degree studies. The MBA year pushed me at all levels - personally, emotionally, spiritually, academically and career wise.

“My classmates were phenomenal and we had a fantastic group of people from various backgrounds and cultures with a unique diversity that truly set our class apart from other full-timers which truly enhanced the experience. Being a very social person, I often organised and facilitated social events, ensured birthdays and other special milestones were marked and celebrated. I became the ‘cheerleader’ of the class and garnered the nickname ‘Sunshine’ as I always strive to have a positive mindset and optimistic attitude.

“Being able to immerse myself fully into the course over a one-year period was challenging, but allowed me to gain the growth I needed and still be able to have a student life to alleviate the pressures. The disadvantage was definitely the intensity level and not always being able to engage with the content enough, hence one had to quickly learn the art of working strategically and prioritising the demands of the course based on time and resources available.”

The highlight of her MBA journey has been the Leadership Development component of the programme.

“My journey of self-discovery from reflective learning interventions such as our life story, autobiography reflection assignment where we had to analyse our lives from birth to present day, peer feedback, personality tests and a 360-degree Leadership Profile, were truly eye opening and liberating. I came to understand the person I have become and aspire to become, and realised that the mere fact of me wanting to make a difference and leave people better off than when I found them, makes me a leader.”

She says she has learned the value of teamwork and collaboration, found a new sense of confidence and ability to tackle almost any challenge, realised one should never be afraid to ask for help, the importance of a healthy work life balance, and how important it is to align one’s personal values to that of the business world.”

“By being true to one’s self and developing your own true authentic leadership style and embracing it, you can be a responsible leader that impacts change in society at large and to view this as a gift and responsibility in creating a better and sustainable future for all.”

Poonam is married to Oomesh Nana and they first met when he came to work in their family business as a Graphic Designer. A qualified chef he was a Graphic Designer by day and in the evenings or weekends they would run cooking classes together for the general public and for team buildings. Accomplished, he has published two books and is currently working on this third.

“We are both passionate about travel, food, art, culture, history and life! In 2016, after we both reached piques in our careers, we deviated from the norms of societies giving up our jobs, lives and leaving our families to go abroad and live and teach English in China. We were based in the ancient capital of China, Xi’an, where the Terrocotta Warriors are and the beginning of the ancient Spice and Silk route. This was a phenomenal experience and set me on my path and journey of self-discovery leading me to pursue the MBA. My husband stayed in China for the year of the MBA and currently still resides there.”

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