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New-York based IE Global MBA Describes His Trip To Africa, The Last Frontier

Sawubon’ everyone! I'm Ajay Swamy from IE Business School, Global MBA, 2012, based out of New York, NY. So I just got back less than 2 weeks ago from ...

Sawubon’ everyone!

I'm Ajay Swamy from IE Business School, Global MBA, 2012, based out of New York, NY. So I just got back less than 2 weeks ago from Johannesburg, South Africa and what an experience it was! Sawubon’ is Hello in isiZulu – a language spoken throughout South Africa and neighboring countries. Spoken by around 10 million people, it’s readily understood by almost everyone in South Africa. The trip was organized by IE Business School in conjunction with Wits Business School. The week long certificate program “Doing Business in South Africa” organized by WBS and IE – meant a packed, busy schedule but we did manage to have some fun. Colleagues from our Global MBA class were also joined by a few colleagues from the International MBA program.

Our first day was an in-depth look into Johannesburg and Soweto. Our guide for the day was Garth Klien, a lecturer from WITS Business School who showed us around Johannesburg from the shacks of Alexandria to the skyscrapers in Sandton to the new communities in Soweto. This allowed us to get an in-depth glimpse into how cultures, people, landscapes have transformed Johannesburg as a city. South Africa is still recovering from a long period of apartheid and this is readily visible across the city – in people, in neighborhoods and work places. One word that stuck out to me as I the day progressed on was thriving. Jo’Burg really is a thriving city with people from all avenues trying to make a living. We even came across a job board ala Craiglist, except this was hundreds of pamphlets with job listings on the side of a supermarket. Thriving.

The next couple of days involved lectures at WITS and visits to local companies. One of the lectures that really stood out was on the issue of HIV/Aids in South Africa led by professor Murray Cairns. It was moving and informational to learn about the epidemic which is prevalent in a little over 20% of the population in South Africa. We had a good discussion of management challenges when trying to manage people with HIV and the effect on productivity. We visited companies like Nando’s, the Wilderness Safari Group, Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Rand Merchant Bank and AngloGold Ashanti – a mining company. At Nando’s we witnessed firsthand the global success of entrepreneurship from Robert Brozin one of the founders. Johannesburg Stock Exchange demonstrated the immense potential of South Africa. JSE, with market capitalization of 898,407M USD (March 2011) was ranked 20th in the world – a testament to South Africa’s growth and growing investor confidence. We learned from the visit to Rand Merchant Bank – a large investment bank in Africa, the resiliency demonstrated by the South African financial markets during the Global Financial Crisis. Banks in South Africa escaped unscathed from the GFC – a strong case for the effective regulations the banks adhere to.

We also had a chance to network with current WITS Business School students and professors. One of the mornings was dedicated for a live negotiation session based on case study about SuperGroup – and whether the company should be liquidated or resuscitated. The effectiveness of sessions like these can’t just be summarized. Here’s what a couple of my Global MBA colleagues had to say about the negotiation and networking sessions – Collin Lee “The negotiation session was a great opportunity to meet and network with other MBA students from a new and exciting economic environment and further our experience in the practice of negotiating and bargaining. The real benefit I found comes not from winning a negotiation (since the case was actually a pre-negotiation meeting context) but from being introduced to a new set of personalities in which to develop my own interpersonal skills as well as my ability to function positively with varying degrees of cooperation or competition”, Tony Tabet – “Negotiation session was good IMO. Although the topic was complex, it was efficiently handled by the mediator who focused on the negotiation process and organization, and the different teams who expressed complete willingness to listen to each other and ability to make suggestions and to find areas of agreement”. All in all, a learning experience that cannot be replicated – you had to be there, I know it sounds cliché – but that’s the truth. The week ended with a lecture about the strategic challenges of doing business in South Africa (led by Mark Peters from WITS) followed by a visit to SAB, the beer behemoth – a fitting end after a very busy week.

This short exchange really exposed me to the last frontier that is Africa. Africa’s collective GDP and Consumption is projected to increase 60% over the next 8 years. What’s astonishing is that on the labor side the number of eligible Africans for employment is slated to number 1.1Billion. South Africa as a regional hub has an ever increasing educated, youth population with an emerging middle class. The market in South Africa has a strong regulatory framework with financials being one of the biggest sectors next to telecomm, mining and energy. South Africa now is a strong influential member of BRICS and has a definitive comparative advantage when it comes to mining and along with its strong financial sector the country is poised for a very prosperous future. Sub-Saharan Africa is poised for immense growth and according to the IMF 6 out of 10 of fastest growing global economies are African. Sure there are social, political and racial hurdles to overcome but Africa the once dark continent is perhaps the only bright light of hope in the midst of the global economic slowdown.

Presential programs like these from IE Business School help you learn first-hand the economic environment of a country. You meet new people, get exposed to new cultures and learn the crucial work-life-MBA balance (yes, we still had to keep with all our regular classes and associated workload during this trip!). It’s meant to transform you into global citizens. You form new relationships and deepen the already existing ones. Throughout the program we also made time to have dinner together at different places in Jo’Burg and enjoy the culinary options Jo’Burg offers. My only regret was that I only had 8 days to spend. Next time, it might just be for longer considering the abundant opportunities.

Special thanks to Charisse Drobis (WITS Business School) & Louise Amoedo (IE Business School).