Guest Post: South African Seminar in International Business

Jennifer: Here’s a guest post from Jamie Aaronson (2013) who spent two weeks in South Africa for the Seminar in International Business. These seminars are designed to introduce the participants to the culture, history and business environment in various countries. Each 3-unit course is a combination of lectures and seminars at Haas, a one or two week study tour of the regions of interest and a major research project undertaken by each participant.

Safari sunrise on Pilanesberg Game Drive

I’ve just returned from my first Seminar in International Business (SIB). We visited Johannesburg for one week and Cape Town for the second, meeting with local and global businesses from McKinsey South Africa to ‘Silicon Cape’ entrepreneurs. Throughout, I was struck by the excitement surrounding Africa’s untapped potential as an emerging market.

Companies like Standard Bank, one of the big 4, were piloting new programs to reach the previously unbanked. One of the most interesting programs was a bank shop initiative in which informal branches were set up throughout Africa via small grocery shops already in place. These ‘Bank shops’ were on the heels of M-PESA, which, similar to PayPal, had successfully moved banking mobile via text-enabled money transfer. One entrepreneur used a phrase that particularly struck me – ‘In Africa, airtime is currency’ – implying that money and connectivity had literally converged into one.

Lerato (LoveLife) dancing with Soweto restaurant musician
Lerata (LoveLife) dancing with Soweto restaurant musician

Despite these emerging trends, it is clear that Africa still struggles with incredible resource and infrastructure constraints particularly around Internet, water, food, housing, and power. It is hard to imagine a thriving business economy when something as ‘low-tech’ as a Webinar, as we heard from one business owner, is simply avoided due to unreliable connectivity.

Two inspiring individuals we met were Fred and Loreta. Loreta was a young woman from Soweto (Johannesburg township) who could not afford university, but was rising up as a community leader within LoveLife, the AIDS prevention organization. We met Fred at a billionaire’s dinner party (just your everyday SIB); he had started the African Leadership Academy to identify and groom future leaders across the continent.

In addition to business meetings and networking events, we made time for Robben Island, the Apartheid Museum, the Mandela house, wine tasting, and safari game. While on Robben Island, we had the privilege of meeting one-on-one with Ahmed Kathrata, one of eight anti-Apartheid activists imprisoned with Nelson Mandela.

Shark Dive
Mike Romano, Jamie Aaronson, Joseph Rehrmann & Jason Lin on Great White Shark Dive, Capetown

We closed with an awards dinner (a.k.a. classmate ‘roast’) complete with traditional food, dancing, and music. Then we were let loose for one last weekend in Cape Town to shark dive, surf, watch rugby, and hike Table Mountain. The hike turned into extreme rock climbing but we luckily made it down the mountain with no more than a scratch. All in all we had an amazing trip learning about the business climate, BBE (Black Economic Empowerment) affirmative-action movement, union relations, government, culture, and the historical end of Apartheid in 1994, less than twenty years ago. As a student visitor, my hope for South Africa is that it will continue on a path of improved socio-economic conditions through effective leadership and sustainable policy enactment, enforcement, and implementation.

Sleep MPAR’ed (impaired)

Wow, what a great trip Deanne had over the winter break! Exciting things have been happening, and the International Business Seminars are definitely amazing opportunities. I’m looking into the China trip for this Summer myself.

In the mean time, it has been quite a Winter. I had been swamped in December all the way through with “regular” work. But come January, I spent two weeks in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan on my own having a blast for my first extended vacation in two years.
I did get to meet up with one of my pals from the Haas program out there, as the Haas Finance Club also did a turn in Hong Kong to meet up with Investment Banks like Goldman Sachs and others as part of a joint program with other business schools. Several people interviewed for Summer internships, which are highly competitive.

Here’s a pic of me (sporting new glasses made in Hong Kong in less than two days– how are we not able to do that in the U.S.?) and my buddy, Asad Baheri (our current EWMBA Association Vice President) and his son, Kian, in Taiwan.
Asad joined the Finance Club in their Hong Kong tour before heading over to Taiwan. Several of the Finance Club folks (and myself) also got custom tailored suits in Hong Kong, since they are well-known for fine tailoring at an affordable price and with very fast turnaround (also only took two days). Never know when you’re going to need another suit– and it never hurts to have one custom fitted with your name stitched in the inner lining (grin).
I returned from Asia two days before MPAR started and am now back from our weekend extravaganza. For those of you that are not familiar with it, MPAR is our Haas Mid-Program Academic Retreat— a Fri thru Sun adventure where we try to put together a lot of the learning from the previous year and a half AND get an opportunity to again meet with our full class (Go, Class of ’11!). Simulation exercises in quick successive rounds kept things rolling, and it was great to “party on” at the Seascape Resort in Santa Cruz. The current first-years are definitely in for a treat next year!
To give you a taste of the less formal side of things, many late-night “informal networking events” (read: parties) went on, including poker (big winner: Jimmy Q.– I broke even basically), and beach bonfire socials (along with glowing, luminescent algae in the area–weird– people lightly dubbed this phenomenon: “Avatar“). With all the late night events, coupled with jet lag, I totaled roughly 7-8 hours of sleep across the two nights– though I’m sure there were others who were worse off. The Program Office and our illustrious Frank Schultz (of OB, Leadership and Competitive Strategy fame) pulled off making it a fantastic experience. Maybe Div actually brought his camera and can share some photos later..
Sleep impairment (MPAR-ment) aside– it was a blast, and I was so glad to see old and new faces. Looking forward to the new semester. Go Haasketeers!
– Tim