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St Gallen MBA Students Innovate Supply Chains For Unilever

A group of MBA students from Swiss business school St Gallen have developed an innovative supply chain model for consumer goods giant Unilever.

Thu Dec 11 2014

Rishaad Webster, a former corporate banker in South Africa, came to Switzerland for its prosperous financial services industry. But an MBA program at a Swiss business school has opened him up to a world in which companies seek to generate a social impact. This includes brands goliath Unilever. He has just finished developing a sustainable supply chain model for the consumer goods group.

As more companies seek to create value for their consumers, innovative solutions are needed to ensure impact is felt for all stakeholders.

Supply chains in particular have felt the effects of increased competition, environmental damages and resource scarcity. Companies are also under pressure develop new digital solutions as disruptive tech begins to impact logistics.

Rishaad, a student at the University of St Gallen HSG, analysed and iterated an innovative business model developed by Unilever for hard-to-reach markets, which employed young people in African countries to distribute products to rural areas that lack infrastructure. Despite robust economic growth, many African nations have high youth unemployment levels. Unilever is considering whether to use the model in a live setting.

He demonstrates the way MBAs can benefit from the networking opportunities brought by guest speaker series and company visits to business schools.

It is something that St Gallen prides itself on, but many schools are criticized for being too long on theory and too short on practical experience.

As well as presenting to Unilever executives, Rishaad is developing international growth strategies for a leading Swiss chocolate maker, part of a live case at St Gallen.

He will present to the company’s CEO and executive board this week, all being well.

“I value this type of opportunity immensely,” says Rishaad, a former team leader at Standard Bank of South Africa.

“It gives you an added advantage to speak with someone who understands what you’re working on,” he says of developing contacts at Unilever. “It does make a difference.”

His sustainable supply chain model, developed with a group of MBA classmates, in November won best group presentation at the oikos Conference, an annual event focused on sustainable economics and management.

The group included Rikin Kataria, Markus Studer, Berfu Gueney and Andrea Rado, says Rishaad. 

The team adapted the “Shakti” entrepreneurship model, which is used in India to empower women who are utilized as disruption networks, says Rishaad, to the African markets of Nigeria, Kenya, Gambia and Ghana.

The team assessed factors such as population size, GDP growth as well as the entrepreneurial mind-set exhibited in these countries. They pivoted the model to target youths in Africa to make a greater social impact.

Rishaad says that he has personally benefited from having corporate leaders come into the MBA classroom by both developing a network within large global companies and broadening his horizons.

Other St Gallen MBA projects include developing talent management platforms and market analysis on big data applications.

Students have completed such projects in companies including UBS, the investment bank, engineering group Siemens and Infosys, the tech outsourcing company.

Like a growing number of MBAs and despite coming from a corporate banking background, Rishaad has vested his efforts in social impact and entrepreneurship.

“Doing business while generating social impact is becoming more and more important for businesses, and finding solutions for these issues,” he says.

“Generating the social impact is something much more interesting for me,” says Rishaad, adding that he wants to explore MBA electives such as impact investing.

For Rishaad, the MBA has opened up a wide breadth of new opportunities outside of financial services, but it is the provision of company networking opportunities that been of most benefit.

“Getting the opportunity to understand or to develop interest in a specific direction – you only [get] if you have the opportunity to meet with these executives,” he says, “and understanding what they’re trying to achieve over and above pure financial [results] to creating shareholder value by the impact they have on their consumers.”