Former Dean and Department of Business Management stalwart Prof Johann de Villiers has decided to bring down the curtain on his distinguished career. And when he retires at the end of this year he will leave behind a legacy that has not only left its mark on Stellenbosch University (SU) but also on the people he leaves behind.
Prof De Villiers started his career at SU in May 1997 after a successful and happy 12 years at Wits University, which culminated in him being appointed head of its Department of Business Economics.
“There I was, at 43, sitting blissfully in my office at Wits when the phone rang. It was Prof Izak Lambrechts from Stellenbosch University. He was looking for someone to lecture on Investment Management in place of Prof Piet du Plessis, who had just been promoted to the head of Student Affairs.
“The idea of living and working in Stellenbosch seemed very appealing. And so it came about that my family and I sold our house in Linden and bought a house in Die Boord."
He says of his early years in the Department of Business Management: “I realised one day that I can't just sit back and wait for the good students to come to me; I'll have to work to get them to come to us. For this I decided to focus on the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) qualification. We needed to design a programme that would allow students to study further for the CFA.
“Looking back, it was a turn of events that resulted in major changes in how I would spend my time at Stellenbosch. Instead of sitting in my office writing articles, or lecturing, I had to participate in designing programmes.
“Later, Prof Estian Calitz (the then Dean of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences) asked me to chair a committee that had to review the programme structure of the Faculty and reduce the total number of programmes to 10, a goal we didn't quite get to."
During that time, Prof De Villiers was also appointed as Associate Dean (Teaching). When Prof Calitz was promoted to university management, he took over as the Acting Dean, a position he held for 15 months before eventually being appointed Dean.
“The job (as the Dean) had many advantages, of which the most important is that all the achievements of the subdivisions of the Faculty suddenly become yours, even if you had little to do with it," he says modestly.
With his appointment, first as Acting Dean and then as Dean, he saw it as his main task to maintain the momentum achieved by his predecessor. The two largest successes achieved under Prof De Villiers' leadership were the substantial increase in the Faculty's research output and the redesign of the undergraduate teaching and learning programmes.
The redesign have led to fewer programs that enabled students to move between specialisations as they discovered their real interests. Another success was to secure facilities for the growing faculty, especially the acquisition of the Old Conservatoire Building for the Bureau for Economic Research (BER) and securing a building for the Africa Centre for HIV/AIDS Management.
After his term as Dean, Prof De Villiers returned to the Department of Business Management for what he thought would be his last three years. Those three years eventually turned into eight years before he decided to call it a day.
“In the end, the work I did that I really enjoyed and that I think could evolve into something bigger, was the work on retirement provision that I did with Elze-Marie Roux.
“But now the next chapter lies ahead for my wife Maureen and I. We're moving to Kleinmond and we intend to enjoy the years that are left together to the fullest. Thank you to everyone who has been good to me over the last 25 years. I wish you all the best."
Prof Pierre Erasmus, lecturer in the Department of Business Management who has known Prof De Villiers as a lecturer, colleague, department head and Dean for the past 25 years, said: “Johann excelled within each of those roles. Not only as an inexhaustible source of knowledge and wisdom, but also as a person of integrity and incorruptible character. Johann never made a decision that would be to the detriment of his colleagues. Instead, he regularly put himself in the line of fire in order to protect the rest of us.
“He was willing to take the lead as chairman and Dean and to fight for what was right. As lecturer and academic, he was prepared to share our work load and frustrations. But most importantly, as a colleague and friend, Johann always had your back and made sure that no one had to fend for himself."
- Photos taken at the farewell party of Prof Johann de Villiers by MJ Brooks.