Balancing act – how STADIO Higher Education is creating value for all the members of its educational community

Chris Vorster, CEO of JSE-listed private higher education group, STADIO Holdings
Chris Vorster, CEO of JSE-listed private higher education group, STADIO Holdings

As the world of work changes and the role of technology increases, tertiary education institutions need to evolve – not only in how they teach, but also in terms of their operating models. Chris Vorster, CEO of JSE-listed private higher education group, STADIO Holdings, as well as higher education institution, STADIO Higher Education (STADIO), believes private tertiary institutions face both challenges and opportunities in this respect.

Vorster, who founded Southern Business School and grew it into a reputable and successful higher education institution before selling it to STADIO Holdings, has implemented several innovative initiatives at STADIO in his quest to broaden access to quality tertiary education in South Africa.

“There is so much more to be done in the tertiary education space. The need for quality higher education is only growing, and STADIO is the ideal vehicle to make a real contribution to the lives of individuals and to our country as a whole.” he says.

Before he could focus on the task at hand, Vorster needed to create a cohesive organisation. This, he says, has been the most challenging part of the job to date – merging the various former higher education brands and institutions that were acquired by STADIO Holdings, which had all been operating individually and doing things in their own ways, into a single comprehensive institution.

“Taking institutions that have been around for 20 or 25 years and getting them to move to a totally new way of thinking, has been extremely challenging and time-consuming,” he says. “I understand why nobody has attempted this before. There is still work to be done, but I’m very proud of what we have achieved. STADIO is going to be a fantastic institution that will be an asset to the country.”

Protecting the interests of all community members

“What I believe sets us apart at STADIO is our focus on creating community,” he says. “What I mean by that is that we serve three key communities: our staff, students (and their parents) and, – as part of a listed group, – our shareholders (and suppliers). It is so important for us to get the balance between these three right, and it’s not an easy thing to do.”

Key to balance this successfully, Vorster says, is sharing success with all parties. While shareholders obviously benefit from STADIO Holdings’ financial performance in the form of dividends paid and return on equity, Vorster has also spearheaded profit-sharing initiatives for staff and students through two share schemes.

Staff phantom share scheme

The STADIO Staff Phantom Share Scheme was rolled out for implementation in 2023, aiming to align staff with the overall growth strategy of the group, while rewarding their dedication and hard work. Vorster explains that to avoid diluting shareholders shareholding,  21.3 million phantom shares (2.5% of the overall issued share capital at the point of approval), were ringfenced for beneficiaries, which includes all staff who have been employed for more than a year and who are not active participants in the STADIO long-term share incentive scheme.

“The phantom shares attract ‘dividend payouts’ aligned with the overall Group dividend declared,” says Vorster. “So, for example, in 2024 the group declared a dividend of 10.0 cents per share to shareholders of STADIO Holdings and staff beneficiaries also received 10.0 cents per phantom share.”

Student share scheme

For students, the STADIO Khulisa Student Share Scheme has been in place since 2021, with any student who graduates from a postgraduate programme (NQF 8 and above) at STADIO receiving STADIO Holdings shares purchased by the group on the open market to a set Rand value.

“Students receive their shares upon graduation, which is our way of partnering with our graduates as owners of our institution, supporting them by investing in their initial steps to leaving a legacy for their own families, and introducing many students to the world of investing for the first time,” says Vorster.

“My message to all three of our community groups – students, staff and shareholders – is that collectively we’re building an institution that’s making a real change in this country. We, as an institution, cannot do it if all three of the stakeholders are not aligned. But together, we can create something we can all be proud of. Together we can make a real positive impact on the lives of many and on our county.”