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UJ awards first PhD in finance Print E-mail
12 October 2010

Mdu Gama’s PhD research is not just dry academia; it has useful applications to help businesses in the evaluation of IT investments.

SOWETO is one of the most famous places in the world. One man from this vast township, Mdu Gama, has ensured it is not only a tourist attraction, but is also a place where groundbreaking academics are born.

 

Mdu Gama, entrepreneur and scholar
Mdu Gama, entrepreneur and scholar

 

Gama, a 41-year-old entrepreneur and father of five, has made history by becoming the first recipient of a doctor of philosophy (PhD) degree in finance from the University of Johannesburg for his groundbreaking research into capital investments in information technology (IT).

“It’s a humbling experience and is a reminder that achievements are not only about monetary returns,” he says.

He will be celebrating his graduation at Mafahlakwane, his father’s birthplace, in KwaZulu-Natal. “I would like to celebrate in this rural area to give them hope and to inspire them that through education anything is possible.

“I will be celebrating along with a young man from the area, Zakhele Mathobela, who I sponsored to go to university and who has passed with a qualification in chemical engineering,” he adds.

A businessman as well as an academic, Gama has a passion for finding solutions in information technology. He discovered during his PhD research that in South Africa, more than R60-billion was spent on IT in 2009, yet decision makers often made those huge investment decisions without any clear idea whether they made economic sense or not.

“This is because decision makers rely on financial tools designed during the industrial era and these tools don’t necessarily work for the evaluation of IT investments. A recent study indicates that worldwide, 90 percent of IT projects go over budget, 98 percent change their original objectives or scope, 20 percent were inappropriate for users’ requirements and only 30 percent applied risk analysis when making the IT investment,” he points out.

“This is chilling information with far-reaching implications for business, but the good news is that this research has led me to tools that will be helpful in the evaluation of IT investments.”

His thesis started out in the pursuit of knowledge but has yielded information useful to business, “which makes me very satisfied because it has always been my desire to contribute to the body of finance knowledge at the highest level”.

Biography
Gama was born in Soweto and lived in Jabulani, where he did his primary schooling. From there, he moved to Madadeni in KwaZulu-Natal to complete his high school education. His father was a truck driver and his mother a housewife.

“Growing up in Soweto and Madadeni was like growing up in any township at the time with many obstacles to climb but also filled with love and happiness,” Gama says.

At the University of Lesotho, he graduated with a bachelor of commerce in accounting; he was also the top student in the department of administration and named the top accounting student by the Lesotho Institute of Chartered Accounts.

Before Lesotho, however, he attended a South African university that he refuses to name. “At that university a maths and statistics lecturer always told me science and maths were not for blacks but I persevered as I took that as encouragement enough for me to succeed in my studies,” he explains.

Gama also holds a masters in business administration from the University of Durban-Westville, attended a senior management programme at Henley University in Britain and went to Cornell University in the United States on a USAID scholarship.

Career
He started his working career at Smit Oosthuizen, a chartered accountants firm in Newcastle. He then joined Unilever in Durban as an investigative accountant. In 1993, he joined the Spar Group as a project accountant and was later promoted to development manager of Spar Natal, making him the most senior black executive at Spar South Africa at the time.

In 1998, he was headhunted by the Australian asset finance company, RentWorks, to help it set up a South African operation. “I was touched that they had confidence in a local person to set up their operations,” Gama says. He has since gained extensive experience working in New Zealand, Australia, France and Switzerland.

In 2000, he went out on his own, setting up his first business, Meeg Asset Finance. He founded Safika Asset Finance 2002, which now has Standard Bank and Liberty as fellow shareholders. He owns 74 percent equity in the business.

“Today’s children need to learn about entrepreneurship and not tenderpreneurship … They do not take education seriously but are on the lookout for a tender,” he emphasizes. “I support young kids going into business but they need to develop businesses that can be globalised and not look for businesses that are supported by the government and municipalities.”

Gama holds directorships in several companies:

  • Siza Water, a water and waste management company in Ballito in KwaZulu-Natal;
  • Mustek Limited, a supplier of computer hardware;
  • Comztek, a supplier of networking equipment; and
  • Safika Asset Finance, a technology finance company.

He is also a shareholder in and the chairman of the Johannesburg printing company, ContiPrint, and is the founder and shareholder of MduGama Investments.

“Even when my business career took off, I knew I would always be partly an academic, hence the PhD,” says the man whose next goal is a PhD in entrepreneurship.

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Last Updated on 15 October 2010