In 2007, Dr Hendrik Appelgryn (Henni) moved from his hometown of Brakpan, South Africa to China, changing the course of his future. However, his story begins when he decided to drop out of school at the age of 17.


At age 17, Henni dropped out of high school and got a job at a paper factory. After getting to know some of the other employees who had been working there for 30 years, he realized this was not the type of life he wanted for himself. He then decided to go back to school, so he worked during the day and went to school at night. He finished his high school diploma and finally received it in his early 20’s.

He then decided to go into electronics, which was now possible with a high school diploma. He got a job at an electronics company as a Technical Assistant helping engineers. From there, he continued with night school and started studying electronics. A few years later, he decided to go into computers. His background in electronics helped him to get into Xerox, where he began working on laser printers.

While he was at Xerox he won a trip to South America for being the best technician in the company that year. From there, he got a job with a British company called International Computers Limited (ICL). He worked there for many years doing Unix Support as a Technical Support Engineer. He worked in the same department for over ten years and was eventually promoted to Department Manager. Henni has a different management style than other managers and ended up being very successful in the management roles he held in South Africa.

In his early 30’s, Henni was given an amazing opportunity. His colleague had been asked to go to university to study management, but his colleague didn’t want to go, so Henni offered to go in his place. He was able to attend the University of South Africa in 1994 for management training, which was a one-year course he completed at night school. After that, he did an 18-month course which was a follow-up of the original course. Once that was completed, he was promoted to Area Manager. Furthermore, he was eligible to do an MBA, which he started working on part-time. Unfortunately, around the same time, ICL decided to close their South African branch, leaving Henni without a job.

Henni decided to register his own company in 1997, Micron IT, and during that time, Henni visited China numerous times. He bought products from China and installed biometrics in mines in South Africa. Henni was also a single parent at the same time, and he can remember studying after putting his son to bed and getting up early to study again.

While Henni was completing his final project for his MBA an unfortunate incident occurred and he had an armed robbery at his house. This shook him quite a bit, so much that he was unable to focus and continue his studies. He made the hard decision to postpone his research project, thus pausing his MBA.

After the robbery, he went to visit a company in Shenzhen and felt it was so comparatively safe and comfortable there that he decided to move to China. Getting back to the beginning of the story, Henni moved to China in 2007, and disbanded his company and signed over all his customers to his brother’s company. When he first came to China, Henni moved to Wuxi in Jiangsu Province to teach Business at Lambton College, which is part of Jiangnan University.

While in China, Henni decided to complete his MBA, deciding to focus on the culture of Chinese education as his research topic. He completed that and finally finished his MBA programme in 2009. A few months later, Henni felt he had a lot of free time because he was only teaching twelve hours per week, so he decided to be productive with his spare time and do a PhD with the Swiss Management Center University in Zurich, Switzerland.

Henni reduced

His PhD took him six years to finish as he was doing it part-time, and he finally completed both his Doctorate of Business Administration and Doctor of Philosophy in Business Administration in 2015. His dissertation was on the influences of Chinese Confucian core values on Chinese business culture.

When Henni saw that Wuxi Institute of Technology was hiring and specifically looking for a Marketing teacher, he decided to apply to work there. He ended up teaching at Wuxi for three years, and then saw a position at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China, where he did a one-year contract as a Visiting Teaching Fellow in Marketing and Entrepreneurship. At the end of his contract, he saw a position with UIC and was offered the job of teaching some of his favourite subjects, Entrepreneurship and Marketing, starting in 2014.

Looking to the future, Henni is interested in doing research on business simulations. It was something they used when he was teaching at Nottingham University. Business simulations are a fun way for students to get practical real-world business experience using a computer. It helps the students connect the theory from lectures with real-life examples in a realistic and easy to understand manner. It works like a computer game that simulates real-life business situations. He wants his research to focus on the students’ perspective and how much they think business simulations help them to understand what they’re learning.  

When Henni decided to start teaching, he really enjoyed it because it gave him the opportunity to share his business life experience. Due to this expertise, he is able to really fuse the academic and the practical business world in his teaching. Henni is currently teaching Marketing and Entrepreneurship at UIC. He says that it seems like a lot of his students are interested in entrepreneurship, and a degree in the subject is now being offered, so it is an important part of China. He finds he has adjusted well to living in China since he has now been here for ten years. In his spare time, he loves to travel, especially to nearby Shenzhen and Hong Kong. He remarked that China has changed a lot since he first came, and he is most impressed by the growth in infrastructure.

Along with China, Henni has grown a lot himself. From a high-school drop out to now holding a dual doctoral degree, Henni is a perfect example of how education can open up one’s world and allow them to grow in ways they never thought possible. In the words of Henni: “Life is changing at an incredible pace, and I believe continuous personal growth adds value to life and to society. Thus, there is always something new to learn as we continue our journey”.

Reporter/Photographer: Samantha Burns
Editors: Samuel Burgess, Deen He