Vale Professor André Morkel

One of the best educators, mentors and human beings I have ever met passed away last month. He had a huge impact on my life…

Walking into my first MBA (Master in Business Administration) class at UWA in September 1997, I was a mixture of raw nerves and excitement.

The semi-circular main lecture hall was packed to the gunnels, as we anticipated the arrival of the Professor who would be taking us for Entrepreneurship.

Entering the room, Prof André Morkel raised an eyebrow and both arms as if to invite the first contribution. He needn’t say a word. Hands started shooting up in the air, and a lively case study discussion ensued.

As each new point was made, the Professor would make a point of adding it to a white board. He started with 3 massive side by side blank boards. Within an hour and a half, they were chock full of information. He barely paused for breath, as the contributions kept coming.

I was madly scribbling notes and trying to keep up with it all. It was vibrant, exciting, slightly nerve-wracking, and brilliant.

This was my first introduction to the ‘case study’ approach of learning business. Read the case study (they were typically 40 pages long, with loads of accounting and finance data), prepare some questions, analyse the case, be ready to contribute. As in the famous Harvard MBA, ‘air time’ mattered. Come unprepared, and you floundered.

It was dizzying, electric stuff.

If this is what the MBA is going to be like, then I’m, going to love it!’ I thought to myself.

Little did I know I had lucked out on my first unit. I had won the lottery of having André Morkel as my lecturer. And yet he never lectured. Not once. He facilitated discussion of deep cases, journal extracts and brought in top notch guest speakers. I learnt so much.

I was a school teacher myself, an educator of sorts. I marvelled at this fantastic approach to teaching and learning.

Although the other lecturers varied in skill and interest, none could top André – he walked away with ‘Best Lecturer’ prizes year after year.

At a graduation party I held in my house a few months after finishing the course, André attended as a guest. He walked right up to Nick – a fellow grad I’d got to know during the course – and said: “You need to stay here and do something.” He’d seen something in my fellow migrant friend Nick during those Entrepreneurship classes.

Nick replied: “Well, Charlie and I have an idea. Can we come and discuss it with you?

A few days later we find ourselves sitting in André’s study discussing the idea for an online real estate business that would become aussiehome.com.

Our idea was very basic, not well thought through, and André gave us some pointers. “Come back and see me when it’s a bit more developed,” he said.

Which we did, a few weeks later. At this point, he rose in his leather chair and became quite animated, talking through how the business could work, the revenue model and all the rest. He wanted to see spreadsheets, with assumptions, scenarios.

A few months later, he walked into our brand new office, a few days before our launch, with a cheque to invest. For years after, he always gave of his time, took our calls, listened to our crazed ideas, ran whiteboard sessions. He was patient, encouraging, open and honest.

Having someone like that on your side from the outset was a major boost for us. The business took a while to find its legs and become profitable, but when it did, we delighted in mailing André his first (of many subsequent) dividend cheques, and then a few years later, his sale proceeds.

It was sad to hear of André’s passing last month, but good to catch up with his friends and family (and Nick) again, after many years, at a beautiful funeral ceremony. André was 87, and leaves wife Barbara, four sons, many grandchildren, colleagues, friends and admirers. The chapel was packed. Standing room only. A fitting tribute to a wonderful man. A giant. He touched so many lives, for the better, and he will be missed by countless people, probably far more that he could have realised.

Incredible that it was 20 years ago (this week) that he invested (time and money) in us. Aged 67, when others would think of retirement, he was actively encouraging others and even having a punt on a couple of overseas born newly minted graduates with a business idea.

Thank you André. Rest in Peace.

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