We would like to extend our sincere congratulations to Dr Welcome Kupangwa, who graduated at the recent December 2021 graduation ceremony with his PhD in Business Management. Not only is Dr Kupangwa an alumnus of the Department of Business Management, but he is also an active member of the Nelson Mandela University Family Business Unit and a lecturer in the Department of Management Practice. He has shared some wonderful insight about his PhD journey.


Dr Kupangwa’s academic career began twelve years ago at the then Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University when he commenced his BCom degree, majoring in Business Management and General Accounting. Upon graduating in 2013, he proceeded to attain his BCom Honours in Business Management before completing his MCom in Business Management (Cum Laude) in 2015. Having focused on South African small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) for his MCom studies, Dr Kupangwa assumed that he would simply continue to focus on this subject going into his PhD. However, things didn’t quite work out how he had imagined. Rather, he was introduced to the field of family business research.


Admitting to not know much about the topic of family businesses prior to commencing his PhD research proposal in January of 2016, he was intrigued by what the field had to offer. “It felt like it was not my space, and it was intimidating to focus on something that I knew nothing about, despite the fact that my MCom supervisor, Prof Shelley Farrington, is one of the best family business experts on the continent,” said Dr Kupangwa. He recalls asking Prof Farrington about her desire to conduct research on family businesses and what makes them so significant. Drawing on Prof Farrington’s and Prof Elmarie Venter’s research proficiency and passion, he had gained inspiration, ignited an inquisitiveness, and manifested a desire to know what these firms were all about. He explains, “Although I do not come from a family that has a family business, I knew that there are two things in common between myself and the field, which are ‘the family’ and ‘values’ - that all people, no matter the form and shape come from a family and possess values of some degree”. It was these two commonalities that are present in almost everyone, on which Dr Kupangwa then based his PhD study.


Dr Kupangwa’s thesis is titled “A framework for transmitting and entrenching values in indigenous Black South African family businesses” and it focused on the nature and role of values in these businesses. The study investigated how values are transmitted from one generation of the family to the next, as well as how these values are entrenched and incorporated into the organisational activities of indigenous Black family businesses. The framework developed in the study highlighted several types of value sets, namely: personal, family, cultural, and business values, which are found amongst the families and their businesses, with these value sets operating at both individual and group levels. The value sets of the participating business-owning families and their businesses tend to overlap and are mainly collective, ethical, and humanistic in nature. In addition, these values were found to be influenced and shaped by their African culture, which is premised on the philosophy of Ubuntu. In understanding the nature of the transmission of values from one generation to the next, the study also found that parents were the most influential familial socialisation agents. The study further highlights that the values of the founder and/or current leaders influence the values found in their family businesses and these values are institutionalised into the business through influencing and shaping several business functions and processes. Values were found to influence the strategies, identities, cultures, employees, governance, innovation, and operational decisions of the participating family businesses.


Undertaking a PhD study does not come without its fair share of direct and indirect challenges, and Dr Kupangwa definitely faced a few. Around the middle of 2017, his health started deteriorating and he was later diagnosed with tuberculosis and diabetes within the space of two months. While this briefly slowed his progress, he would still keep busy by reading one or two articles each day and slowly drafting one paragraph after another. Then in 2018, he was involved in a car accident, which while left physically unharmed, the experience has left him with psychological trauma to this day. “I remember thinking to myself that I might not complete this PhD journey, as it felt like I was going to die during the process,” said Dr Kupangwa. He also pointed out how challenging it was to find willing and committed participants to engage with for the purpose of data collection. After spending many tedious months searching for suitable indigenous Black South African family businesses, which were applicable in his study sample, he learned that it is important for researchers to create meaningful networks, especially when dealing with notoriously private family entities. While reflecting on the challenges he has experienced, Dr Kupangwa has realised that they are not only there to prevent one from achieving their goals, but they are sometimes necessary to prepare and strengthen you for life’s difficult journey. “It is because I went through these experiences, that I now know the value of perseverance, hard work, and determination – it is these values that contribute to one’s success.”


While it would be ideal for one to focus solely on their studies, Dr Kupangwa also had many other commitments that he had to focus on. Before he began his PhD studies in 2016, he was (and currently still is) a lecturer in the Nelson Mandela University Department of Management Practice. This means that in addition to being involved in the learning and teaching function within the department, he also spends time representing the department in committees associated with the Faculty of Business and Economic Sciences (BES). For example, he has been a member of the Research Ethics Committee – Human (RECH) since 2019 and a member of the Faculty of BES Corporate Social Responsibility’s showcase task team during a period in 2020. In addition, Dr Kupangwa has been involved in various professional bodies, such as the Southern African Institute of Management Scientists (SAIMS), Southern African Institute for Business and Accountants (SAIBA), and International Council for Small Business (ICSB). His involvement in these bodies sees him offering his time to review conference papers and attend webinars presented by experts in different fields of business. Dr Kupangwa is also the Treasurer for the Nelson Mandela University Alumni Association Executive Committee.


Given the challenges associated with completing a PhD, one cannot overlook the role of certain individuals. Extending sincere gratitude towards his supervisors, Dr Kupangwa said, “I regard myself as being privileged and truly honoured for having both Prof Shelley Farrington (supervisor) and Prof Elmarie Venter (co-supervisor) as my supervisors and mentors. I believe that they are truly the best supervisors that Mandela University has to offer”. Both of these remarkable Professors have continuously believed in Dr Kupangwa’s academic potential and have shown him unwavering patience, support, and commitment over the years. “I will forever be grateful for the time and effort they have invested in my research, as they have both moulded within me the value of being a scholar that cares about critical thinking when undertaking research,” said Dr Kupangwa. The two of them take their work extremely seriously and have an undeniably impressive work ethic, which has, in many ways, inspired Dr Kupangwa to try and follow in their footsteps. “Without the guidance, encouragement, support, serenity and grace from both Prof Farrington and Prof Venter, undertaking my PhD study would not have been possible.”


In conclusion, Dr Kupangwa expressed the unique nature of qualitative research, with the process of data collection and analysis being truly iterative and time-consuming. “You may sometimes think that you have everything under control and then many things come up along the way, so I learned that one needs to be flexible with their research process, particularly when undertaking a qualitative study.” Finally, Dr Kupangwa advises that anyone who is thinking of pursuing a PhD themselves should create a meaningful relationship with their supervisor(s), seek training and development through attending research workshops, and READ, READ, READ!


Once again, congratulations, Dr Kupangwa. We look forward to seeing what your academic career has in store for you in the future!

Contact information
Prof Shelley Farrington
Professor in Business Management
Tel: 041 504 2203

Prof Elmarie Venter
Professor in Business Management
Tel: 041 504 2204

Mr Welcome Kupangwa
Assistant Lecturer
Tel: +27(0) 415041212