Study Trip to South Africa: Part 2

By Choni Ome, Global MBA 2013-2014, Bhutan

On the last day of our week-long school trip to the beautiful city of Cape Town, we got the morning off to immerse in the experience of what Cape Town has to offer. Given Cape Town’s many tourist attractions, there was no dearth of interesting options to choose from. The difficult part was to decide how best to spend our 6 precious hours of exploratory time before catching our flight back to Paris. We considered the following options: a visit to Robben Island where the great Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for more than 18 years, shopping at the Waterfront Harbor, swimming with sharks, the hop on-and-off bus that takes you around Cape Town, and a visit to the Cape of Good Hope.

A visit to the Cape of Good Hope emerged as the clear winner for our 6 hours of fun time that day. As a nature enthusiast, I was excited at the prospect of cruising through the reserve against the spectacular backdrop of low mountains and Cape coastline. A nice comfortable bus was arranged for us to be transported from our hotel in Cape Town to the Cape of Good Hope, thanks to Claudia Pumarejo (a classmate in the GMBA program). We enjoyed our early morning scenic drive along the hills of Cape Town and arrived at the Cape of Good Hope reserve 2 hours later. We were lucky enough to sight baboons, ostriches, and zebras on the roadsides as we drove through the reserve. At the road end, we approached the Cape of Good Hope point, considered to be one of the most southern points of the African continent. It was an exhilarating feeling to be standing literally at the end of the world and looking out far into the merging of the Indian and Atlantic Ocean.

Our next stop before heading back to the city was Boulder Penguin Colony, home to a unique and endangered land based colony of African penguins near Simon’s Town. For a very reasonable fee, we were able to stroll down the wooden boardwalk leading to hundreds of adorable little penguins on the beach “sunbathing.” For many of us, this was a special experience because it was our first time seeing penguins. Afterwards, our fantastic driver finally dropped us off at the airport at 2:00 PM just in time to catch our long flight. We were ready to sleep all the way to Paris.

After a long and busy week with Stellenbosch Business School, this well-deserved excursion to the Cape of Good Hope left all of us fully satisfied and content. It provided an opportunity for us to go out, experience, and genuinely appreciate the country. I truly believe that a field visit to a new place is never complete without exposure to its cultural and historical aspects.

Destination: Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

By Santiago Hoyos, Global MBA 2013-2014, Colombia

Our trip to Cape Town started with two very long flights and a layover in Dubai. We finally landed at 11:40 am and were directly taken to our accommodation called Bellavista Lodge, very comfortable, and where the Stellenbosch University staff welcomed up with some snacks and drinks. After just one hour of rest we took off to Tabletop Mountain, the number one must do in Cape Town, it was definitely worth it! Beautiful views, spectacular weather, and magnificent scenery built up the energy to make this place very powerful and mind blowing. Not only did we get the opportunity to have a bird’s eye view of this gorgeous city, but also we started to get a glimpse of the social reality of this intriguing culture. After taking the cable car down we ventured to the Waterfront, a nice buzzing place full of locals where we had a tasty and soulful dinner.

The following Monday was when things really got started with a lecture at 8:30 AM with our wonderful host Johan Burger, who introduced us to the business climate of the country, followed by a lecture on economic trends and issues faced by the Republic of South Africa. Learning about a “first world country with third world country problems,” as Johan described South Africa, was fascinating. On one hand, South Africa is one of Africa’s biggest economies (currently in competition with Nigeria for #1); on the other it has significant structural unemployment of around 25%. This lecture gave us a better perspective on the opportunities and challenges facing South Africa’s development. That afternoon we were exposed to a major player in the construction sector called Power Construction, where we learned about the ins and outs of business, as well as the actions being taken to provide adequate housing to the thousands of people in the so-called “South African poverty trap.” To finish the day, we attended one of many welcoming dinners, where we had the chance to learn more about the people and food, which is a must-try here.

Tuesday began with a lecture from Mr. Sithole about the current political context of the country, touching on hot topics such as the electoral system and the corruption problems currently afflicting the nation. Later in the morning we went to the Department of Coffee in the “township” of Kayalitsa, one of the many marginalized neighborhoods of Cape Town, where people struggle continuously to earn enough each day to live on. This was a very emotional experience, as we heard from an entrepreneur about his experiences about what he has had to do for his business to survive for over a year in a difficult environment for his business model. For lunch we went to Kayas Coffee in this same township and had the chance to more local cuisine. In the afternoon we went back to the classroom where the directors of Engen, the South African leader in oil and fuel distribution, visited us.

This was an intense, back-to-back trip with magnificent experiences that helped us open our minds and acquire new knowledge about doing business in other cultures, which will help us later develop business between countries.

To be continued…

This Time for Africa!

By Claudia Pumarejo, Global MBA 2013-2014, Mexico

After over 20 hours of flight, we finally landed in South Africa. We cannot wait to discover this great country. For almost all of us this will be the first time that we visit here. For some people, it’s even their first time to all of Africa. Personally, I had been to Tunisia before, but never to sub-Saharan Africa.

Just a week and a half ago we were still in Singapore finalizing our academic sessions and professional activities over there. Thanks to the strategic position and unique culture of Singapore, which is a melting pot for a big part of Asia, we were able to get a clear understanding of its context and a sense of and how business is done in that part of the world.

Now, it's time for Africa. A couple of days before the departure date I couldn't take "Waka Waka" out of my head. It is a good time to be reminded about the last World Cup in South Africa, since the countdown is on for the next one in Brazil. In anticipation of the trip ahead, I read some websites and even watched the "Mandela" movie on the flight. The fight for freedom and equal rights for all races lead by Mandela and his party lasted for decades and was an inspiring movement.

To be honest, at the start of the program, when I first heard we were going to South Africa, I didn't quite understand the reason why. I wanted to go to South America, Eastern Europe or the Middle East. The answer came from my economist little sister. "It's so cool that you guys are going to South Africa!" she said. A friend of hers had been there for an internship and she was impressed by the speed, simplicity and volume in which business is being done. "South Africa is often overlooked as a world class business hub. Places on other continents are talked about much more.” The truth is that South Africa is the "S" in BRICS and the largest economy in Africa (though currently fighting for the position against Nigeria). It’s just booming!

The International Immersion Projects we're going to be working on during the summer have been announced. These are projects in several areas of expertise: marketing, supply chain and distribution, business development, entrepreneurship, etc. The location of the projects goes from Santiago, Chile to Pune, India, passing across Bolivia, Switzerland, Germany and - keeping strong on the African mood - Egypt, Morocco, Ghana, Senegal and Rwanda. Europe, Asia, Africa, America... we're on a truly GLOBAL MBA and enjoying every second of it.

As soon as we left the airport we took our rooms at Bellvista Lodge. We were greeted by Ms. Genevieve Fillis, Coordinator for Incoming Programs at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, our host in South Africa. It is a top Business School in the country, with all three international accreditations: AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA.

It didn’t take long for us to go on our first discovery trip to the Table Mountain, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and to the Waterfront, where we had dinner and enjoyed a lovely evening together. Cape Town is turning out to be much better than we expected. It is as bustling as it is laid back. There is something in the wind that makes it a very pleasant place to be.

What is waiting for us in South Africa? What is this experience going to show us? Stayed tuned!

Key Presentation Skills Learned from the Hult Prize

By Ingrid Cazalis, Global MBA 2013-2014, France

The Hult Prize was an amazing competition that I recommend not only for MBA students, but for all ESSEC students. It is open to all and a single school can present a team in all six regional finals. The experience of working in a team to create a social enterprise was a real challenge, not only for the group but on an individual level. Since my group members have already written about their experiences, as team captain I would like to take the liberty to offer some advice for future Hult prize competitors.

1/ Sign up in November and take the challenge! By November you will have three months to get to know your classmates, so be sure to pick a team with whom you can work well. You’ll spend over 100 hours working together! It’s also important to find the right balance between extroverts vs. introverts, creative vs. cerebral, etc.

2/ What you write in your first essay, for the initial selection among 10,000 applicants, can be different from the project you will finally create. We lost quite some time struggling on this part.

3/ Everything is in the storytelling. This is true for Hult, but for any presentation as well. How do you want to capture the audience? How do you create a connection? We created our own character, Maria, whose story we followed during our 12 minute speech.

4/ On that note, 12 minutes is really short. We recommend making 6-8 slides and speaking only 7-8 minutes in order to leave 4 minutes for questions. It’s key to leave time for the jury to ask questions, because they will support you if you make it to the second round.

5/ Don’t forget to present yourself; not just “we are from ESSEC Business School,” you have to find a creative approach to connect with the jury and present individually. It only takes 20 seconds, but it helps to give a good first impression. We personally decided to take a funny approach; Richard presented each of us with one adjective to describe our personality. I was lucky that mine changed from the “grumpy” leader to the “forceful” leader.

6/ As I mentioned, we are a team, so demonstrate it on stage. We saw too many teams with 1 speaker and 4-5 other members hiding behind the podium, not even smiling. There was no connection. Some people may advise you to have only 1 speaker, but we disagreed. One speaker is monotone and, after so many months of work, it is nice to get the chance to participate. If you decide to go with more than two speakers, make sure the transition is smooth. We got a super remote to click through our presentation so we could focus on the speech.

7/ Finally, some teams forgot to focus on the main subject. This year, the main question was clearly why you need USD $1 million and how you can reach 25 million people. Some teams did not answer these two questions and the jury asked them to stop on the first round before the end of the 12 minutes.

Our key advice for future Hult competitors, or for any other presentation situation: Storytelling, figures, and Power Point creativity. Keep it smart and simple.

Seeking Careers in Asia

By Claudia Pumarejo, Global MBA 2013-2014, Mexico

After taking several interesting courses focused on Asia, while also welcoming a number of guest speakers after class, we devoted our last week in Singapore fully to career events. This was particularly useful for those of us who want to make a career in Asia. For the rest, it is always good to meet new people, learn new things, and network. You never know how the dots will connect.

We opened grandly with a visit to Louis Vuitton Island, the largest Louis Vuitton store in South East Asia. We marveled by this very high-end venue and top quality products. This French Maison, whose DNA lies in the travel experience, has a wide range of offers, from watches to books, from purses to suitcases, all crafted for the most discerning clients.

In the afternoon, we went back to our National Library Building classroom to listen to a lecture on "Sustainable Development in the Construction Industry" by a representative of French conglomerate Bouygues. Unlike our French classmates, who are very familiar with this company, I thought their biggest business was in telecommunications. During the talk I found out that it is actually construction and that they have carried out huge projects in many countries, such as the new stadium in Singapore.

On Tuesday, we spent the whole day in a workshop lead by Alex Lanjri from Timeo Performance. Mr. Lanjri is a certified experienced recruiter, a personal coach and a professional trainer who gave us some valuable tips on how to manage the recruitment process and prepare for interviews.

The next day was a long one. It started out with a visit to KPMG Singapore, led by Leonardo Banegas, a Global MBA alumnus from last year and consultant at KPMG Singapore. As you may know, this is one of the big four auditing firms, along with Deloitte, Ernst and Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Leo gave us a tour around the KPMG offices, meeting rooms and work stations. He divided his presentation in two parts. He first discussed about the ever-changing nature of his job, which allows him the chance to apply his skills, while also learning new things. In the second half of his talk, he shared his first-hand experience looking for a job. Job seeking is actually a job in itself, involving a lot of research and even daily job applications, in his case.

We then continued to the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel, which is a landmark of the Singapore skyline. We got a tour around this breathtaking property, entered its very exclusive suites and casinos and even got the chance to speak to the Marketing Manager. We clarified a lot of doubts about the business and were very pleased to learn about the operations of such a renowned hospitality leader. Time was running out, so some of us rushed back to the National Library Building to listen to Vallourec’s Asia Pacific Corp representative, Mr. Eric Atton.

That day ended up with a birthday party for Arnault, Sangwon, Rene and Ingy – all those people having birthdays in March! – which doubled as goodbye party for our pal Dingqian, double degree student from prestigious Peking University.

Finally, on Thursday some of us had the chance to attend the “All Industries Get Together” for careers in Asia, organized by the Career Services on the Singapore campus.

Why should an MBA student study history?

By Claudia Pumarejo, Global MBA 2013-2014, Mexico

What do Yemen, Vietnam and Germany have in common? They used to be two countries and then became only one. The opposite happened to North and South Korea, Czech Republic and Slovakia and Sudan and South Sudan. What is known today as the European Union was a cluster of countries with different languages, cultures and currencies. What was known as the Soviet Union back in the days is now over 15 independent nations. Now we are closely watching the development of the Crimea crisis in an era when no one thought that the borders of Europe would be changing once again.

All these political changes have taken place over the course of history, but World War II was a real watershed moment. In our Geopolitics class, taken during our stay at ESSEC’s Singapore campus with Professor C├ędomir Nestorovic, we reflected on the past and its current day implications. Is the Second World War completely over? How has the post-war period differed in Asia and Europe and what are the causes for such diverse reconciliation processes in these two continents?

Did you know that a Harvard scholar had foreseen 9/11 more than a decade before? In “The Clash of Civilizations,” Samuel Huntington names the Islamic world and the Sino Civilization as the biggest future threats to the West. We may or may not agree with his conclusions, but his theories have had an undeniable impact on US foreign policy.

Professor Nestorovic is a reputable expert in history and international relations. His main focus of research is Islamic Businesses, for instance, Halal Food and Islamic Banking. We were very amazed by Professor Nestorovic’s knowledge, sometimes he knew more about our own countries we did!

Being such a diverse class, we had the chance to learn about some of the laws and regulations of countries across the globe. He made us think over issues such as how one obtains or loses one’s nationality. Do you know if your country is secular, theocratic or somewhere in the middle? Leaning towards what end?

Some people may ask: why do you learn about history, politics and geography in business school? It’s not only to develop our personal knowledge and culture, it is also very important for understanding how the world in general, and the business world in particular, works.

It was very interesting to realize how contemporary some of these issues are. Since we were in Asia, some of us had the chance to visit one of the four communist countries on the continent: China, Vietnam, North Korea and Laos (there are only five communist countries in the world today; four of them are here in Asia, the other one is Cuba).

Personally, I had the chance to visit Malacca, Malaysia. This place is very distinct. We wanted to go for its lively ambiance and its particular colonial history that made it UNESCO World Heritage Site. What we didn’t know - and finally learned in class - is that it was also famous for its pirates and the fact that nearly 90% of the world’s gas supply travels through the narrow Malacca Strait.