Team Habanero Spices it up for EPI-USE!

Team Habanero (we’ll explain later) was recently in the United Kingdom, Australia, and South Africa working with EPI-USE on a project to build a forward-looking operational model to help senior leaders better understand regional performance and share best practices across EPI-USE, globally.

Our team was thrilled to learn that our International Business Development experience would be supporting a Haas alum, Quintin Smith.  Working with an alum was a privilege. Quintin went above and beyond to show us how important this project, and our professional development, was to him. Quintin is a 2008 FTMBA alum from Haas and joined EPI-USE upon graduating. This brought him back to his native South Africa, and more specifically, to his hometown of Pretoria which is also home to EPI-USE Global HQ.

A bit more on EPI-USE:  a technology solutions provider traditionally focused on SAP Human Capital Management products and implementations.  In additional to South Africa, EPI-USE has 3 other major Territories of operation: Australia, United Kingdom and the U.S. Luckily enough for our team, this meant we would have the unique opportunity to travel to multiple countries during our in-country stint.

Early on, the team realized that we had something big on our hands. Every week, we spent time with Quintin via telephone, bouncing ideas off of him and reporting on our progress.  Not only that, we held bi-weekly calls with Jonathan Tager, Group CEO of EPI-USE.  Jonathan was extremely engaged throughout our project, making sure that we had all the resources and access needed to build or model and understand the operations in each of the four regions.

The team spent a considerable amount of time scoping the project, making sure that our expectations were challenging, yet manageable.  This time proved to be crucial as we began to delve deeper into the nuances and differences in operations among the regions. Before traveling to the regions, we scoured their financial statements and held in-depth interviews with the leaders and head accountants in each region.  Our goal was to have a good understanding of the business before arriving in-country.  One key milestone we wanted to achieve was to have a working excel prototype of the model ready before our travel – and we did!


Berkeley > London & Sydney > Pretoria

As we mentioned before, in order to build our model with the level of accuracy required, we had to travel to each of the regions and uncover the drivers of revenues and costs.  Stephen and Kevin traveled to the UK while Rodrigo and I headed off to Sydney.  What we found there was no surprise: amazing people! An overarching theme of our IBD experience was the generosity, hospitality and kindness of each and every EPI-USE employee we encountered. Our team was taken aback by the level of caring showed by our hosts.  When we needed their time, they were there, no questions asked.  We cannot say enough about the unique culture at EPI-USE, where we learned ‘management’ is a verb, not a noun (thanks, Jonathan!).

So what did we do? After building a solid understanding of the EPI-USE business, including how the company earned and invested money, we iterated on our excel-based model.  These iterations made for some long days…


We worked long days…


…and long nights (Julio was the resident photographer. He actually did do some work)


Sleep? We got it however we could!

We certainly do not want to portray our IBD experience as all work. We played…a LOT! It was our first time in these countries, and we took full advantage thanks to our extraordinary hosts.


Rodrigo (left) and Julio (right) in Sydney


Kevin in London

South Africa was unbelievable. We rode elephants, went hunting, and helped save some rhinos. No seriously, we saved rhinos! In South Africa today, rhinoceros poaching has reached an all-time high, threatening the species. They are poached for their horns, which can fetch upwards of $250,000 USD on the black market. We had the extremely rare opportunity to participate in the transport of a number rhinos, which were being moved to platinum mine, where they would be heavily guarded against poachers.


Julio riding elephants.


Kevin (left) and Rodrigo (right) on safari


Stephen getting up close and personal with the rhinos.


This was basically dinner each night.


In the end, our project was a success.  Our model was well received and is being piloted in the UK.  We have memories to last a life time.  Thank you EPI-USE and a special thanks to Quintin!

Oh, and we were dubbed Team Habanero because Quintin always wanted us to go the extra mile in our analysis.  He encouraged us to be creative and think outside of the box.  He called it “making things spicy”!


The guys found some time to play a few holes before hopping on their flights back home.


Updates from IBD: South Africa – Lessons Learned, Part II

Hello again from Steph, Togay, Alex and me (Gloria) in South Africa!

Another week has disappeared but don’t fret, here are some more valuable lessons we’d like to share.

Lesson #1: One week is all it takes for a bromance to develop.

Alex has taken to calling Togay “brother” and they share all their meals. There is talk of marrying each other’s sisters so that they will be real brothers. We celebrated Togay’s birthday on Monday and Alex bought him a rose from a roaming rose vendor. Imagine the vendor’s confusion as Alex presented the rose to Togay instead of the two ladies on our team.

Lesson #2: Malls are in again.

Welcome to South African suburbia. Where do we hang out almost every evening? At the mall, of course. Rosebank, Santon City, Melrose Arch, the Randberg Waterfront – the malls are countless, huge, with endless stores and restaurants, and sometimes include full sized grocery stores. I fear being lost in one, but if I ever am, I’ll have everything I could ever possibly need!

Lesson #3: Weather is all about perspective.

People keep telling us that we chose a bad time to come to South Africa because it’s winter, it’s “cold,” and the weather is bad. Alex is from DC, Steph is from Michigan, and Togay’s hometown is covered in snow 6 months out of the year. This is not cold. It’s absolute perfection.  It’s so good, in fact, that it makes us jump for joy!

Lesson #4: “Don’t touch the sharks, for obvious reasons.”

South Africa’s southern coast is one of the few spots in the world where you can dive with great white sharks, and Steph and Alex decided to try it out during our weekend in Cape Town. Near a sea lion colony (10,000 strong!), the sharks will come right up to the boat and submerged cage, just inches from your fingertips. The skipper and crew aboard the shark diving ship will never explicitly tell you that you could lose an arm or a leg, but it’s implied in their warnings. “Keep your hands inside the cage, for obvious reasons!”

Lesson #5: Sunset in Cape Town is phenomenal.

Cape Town in general is one of the most gorgeous places we’ve ever seen. It’s a city sandwiched between amazing mountain formations and pristine beaches. It has a lovely waterfront area dubbed the V&A, and the view from the top of Table Mountain is breathtaking and completely unforgettable. The most used phrase during our weekend trip: “It’s sooo beautiful!”

Lesson #6: The Cape of Good Hope is not the southernmost tip of Africa.

It’s the south-westernmost! It’s still “sooo beautiful” though!

Lesson #7: Ostriches enjoy the beachfront and penguins hang out in bushes.

What kind of post about South Africa would this be without photos of animals?!


Lesson #8: District 9 is really District Six.

You know that sci-fi movie that came out in 2009 about aliens and segregation in Johannesburg? Turns out the movie was inspired by a real place – the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town. On Saturday, while Alex and Steph went shark diving, Togay and I visited the District Six Museum, which commemorates the history of a residential neighborhood near the city center. Forced removal of over 60,000 of its residents to a township 25 km away during apartheid left the area neglected and abandoned, with most buildings bulldozed. But the area is rebuilding and the museum stands as a lovely tribute to the once vibrant and thriving community that was home to generations of families from a diverse range of backgrounds.

Lesson #9: Political expression is alive in South Africa!

Following a week and a half of controversy surrounding a painting which depicts the South African president with his genitals exposed, several thousand protesters assembled at an art gallery located just down the block from the offices where we are working to demand the painting be destroyed or removed from public view. Ah, public protests – feels just like home.

Lesson #10: The last week of IBD is serious business!

We’ve had a wonderful two and a half weeks working with our client, ChemCity. We’ve interviewed numerous individuals at all levels of the organization and have greatly enjoyed learning more about the company, the people here and the country. We plan to present our findings on Friday to ChemCity’s executive management and have been working hard to finalize presentation materials and wrap up our project. The last two days have flown by and we anticipate some late nights before Friday rolls around.  But hey, we’re business school students – we can handle late nights!

Updates from IBD: South Africa – Lessons Learned, Part I

Hello from Johannesburg where Steph, Togay, Alex and I have been for the past week working with ChemCity, an enterprise developer/new business accelerator based here.

So far it’s been an amazing experience, despite the cold that I picked up on my first day here which is now making its rounds around the team (we’re close, what can I say?).  We just wanted to share some valuable lessons that we’ve learned since arriving here last Sunday.

Lesson #1: People drink a lot of tea.

The first question we were asked when we arrived at our B&B in Parkwood?  “Would you like some tea?”  Also, every conference room at our offices has a hot water boiler (akin to every Asian household in the world), tea bags, milk and sugar.  A secondary lesson: Steph, Alex, Togay and I are all tea drinkers!  Fate? Or did the IBD coordinators somehow factor this into team formation…?

Lesson #2: Don’t underestimate that man on the bike.

Those men in the fluorescent vests who ride around our neighborhood?  Don’t underestimate them – they’re probably packing heat!  They serve as local security, sitting in little wooden booths all day, and ride out to greet us every evening when we pull into our building.

Lesson #3: Stay on the left.

We rented a car.  STAY ON THE LEFT.

Lesson #4: Waiters are ridiculously nice.

My luggage was delayed a couple days in Frankfurt (did I travel through Frankfurt? No.) so a trip to the drugstore was needed during one of our first nights here.  We were late getting out of the office, so we decided to grab dinner first.  At the restaurant, I asked the waiter whether or not he knew if the local store was open.  He said he thought so and then proceeded to ask if I’d like him to pick up something on my behalf.  “The restaurant’s not very busy right now.  I can go get you whatever you need and you can continue eating your dinner,” he said.  SERIOUSLY? Yes, seriously.  I politely declined, but what a nice offer!

Lesson #5: The food is diverse and delicious.

We’ve eaten Indian food, Italian food, Chinese food, Serbian food, pizza, shwarma, pap, boerwors, ostrich sausage, springbok (or Bambi, as our client likes to say), crocodile, kudu, all sorts of great seafood, and numerous amazing desserts.  And look at these adorable tiny donuts!

Lesson #6: Crocodile carpacchio tastes like prosciutto.


Lesson #7: Hooting = honking.

No hooting!

Lesson #8: Cheetahs can be kept as pets.

This is Eddie.

We met him at the Rhino and Lion Park, where we saw zebras, buffalo, warthogs, ostriches, tigers, leopards, wild dogs, other cheetahs and of course, rhinos and lions.  We also saw gigantic strange birds, like this one.

Lesson #9: South African history is both tragic and inspiring.

We went on a city tour on Sunday.  After driving past both million rand homes near our B&B and shacks made of nothing more than rusted corrugated metal in Soweto, the South Western Townships, we arrived at the Hector Pieterson Museum, which commemorates one day in the history of apartheid when over 500 students were killed by police during a peaceful protest.  It was a sobering experience in the midst of all of our adventures, and reminded us of how lucky we are in the States and how far South Africa has come.

Lesson #10: People at ChemCity are awesome.

Much of our work here at ChemCity has involved speaking with employees to better understand the business.   The employees have proven to be a very diverse, friendly and helpful group of people who not only tolerate our daily interviews and constant pestering, but also have been more than happy to take us sightseeing, provide us restaurant recommendations, and invite us into their homes for dinner.  It’s been a pleasure meeting and engaging with people of all backgrounds, races, experience levels…and soccer team allegiances.  Go Pirates!

How to almost NOT be allowed entry into South Africa

Having worked for over 5 months back in Berkeley, we were all super excited to head to South Africa, a place which none of us had previously visited. The entire journey to JoBurg was fairly good, except for the Delta flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam. (try and fly another airline, if you have a choice!) Well, you may think we got into the country and all was well. Nah, that wouldn’t really justify a blog post. It wasn’t that easy. We had a bit of an adventure at the airport.

When I was about to exit immigration and basically enter SA, the immigration lady opened my passport and when she did, the lamination on my front page came off. It had been loose since a few days (12 year old passport; won’t be in the best condition, right?), but I never imagined it to come off entirely. Basically, when the lamination came off, it had my photo and signature stuck to it and other details below. This was, what the immigration officials termed “a case of a damaged passport” and this meant that I could not enter the country. I was pretty shocked to see that and explained that it had been perfectly fine until then and it came off when she opened it. But they wouldn’t listen. The official gave my passport to some other authorities and while the rest of the team were waiting at the other side of the counter, I was soon escorted to the “immigration chamber.”

Next thing I know, I’m in a room with few other (pretty shady) people who had various issues with entering the country. It was super late (10:15 pm), I was completely exhausted and jet lagged and the whole environment seemed very very sketchy. The person in-charge there was some lady, who probably had a fight with her spouse half an hour ago and was super unresponsive and for no logical reason annoyed at everyone and everything. She just said in her broken english “go and sit there and wait”. I waited for almost 35 minutes after which she said, this passport won’t work and just left. I said to myself, “Great, what now?” Then some men from the immigration department came and said that they’ll look into it. Through out this, barring a few moments where i was shocked and concerned what my next steps would be, I was pretty calm (a little bit surprising!) and thought rationally about it. Then Philip arrived there (to my great relief) with another officer who was a bit friendly. After some thinking, he told me that he wouldn’t be able to allow me to enter the country. I said, that’s fine, just tell me what my options are. Should I go back to India or to SFO; can I visit an Indian Embassy in SA? And in my mind I was thinking “No! I’ll miss Cape Town! The Shark Diving. Please let me in.” (Oh yeah the project was definitely important too, but was surprisingly the last thing on my mind then) He didn’t know what the protocol was, so he said, “let me talk to main supervisor and get back”.

After about 20 min (it’s been more than 2 hours now) his junior comes and says, “You. Come.” I was wondering what the next steps were and imagined catching a flight back home or to India. And this guy tells me “It’s all fine, you can enter the country.”

I was a bit surprised and felt it was pretty miraculous! No reason given at all for it. He said, make sure you go to an Indian embassy ASAP and get it fixed. So in a few minutes my passport was stamped and I was allowed to enter SA!

Whew! Strange start huh?

Next day I went to the Indian embassy and it was the most chilled out and laid back embassy I had ever been to. (Not that I’ve been to lot) They had a look at my passport and re-laminated the first page right away. And it was like a brand new one. Problem solved. Whew! I was free to travel across South Africa now!

So that’s my little adventure getting into South Africa. Of course, besides this one single little hiccup, the experience here has been AMAZING.

- Archit Bhargava

Packaging The Wild: Kruger National Park

Flee at dawn from the sprawling metropolis that spreads from glass skyscrapers in Pretoria to millions of ramshackle tin shacks in Soweto.Drive east into the sunrise, past the tree-lined Joburg suburbs with high adobe walls and electric fences that keep modern living nice and compartmentalized for the lucky ones.Loop along rolling golden hills that could be California except for factories in the background spewing coal into the sky, or steel mines dredging the earth, or paper mills churning out toxic exhaust, or townships choking in thick paraffin clouds.

Get past all that industrialism and find again the primordial bush.It seems elusive in a South Africa struggling with the bloodshed of the past while racing towards the gilded future.Yet in Kruger National Park the wild still clings to survival, awaiting international consumers of prehistory in bite-sized morsels conveniently packaged in football-funded asphalt.

The path to Kruger twists through land where water vapor hangs above rivers like ghostly Mohawks, where the red granite cliffs paint the hills with a thousand faces, where ancient valleys harvest every hue of green.In the Kruger, brush grows thick.Scrub and brambles hide troops of elephants stomping over saplings, or rare rhinos rambling to the next watering hole…

…or giraffes tongue-wrestling spiny acacias and contorting their gangly bodies just to sip a drink.

There the veldt is home to strutting warthogs, cunning jackals, endless birds and herds of grazing impala and kudu and nyala and zebra.Always do the grazers keep one eye open for predators, for the wild teems with packs of hyenas, hides cheetahs in plain sight, and nurtures leopards hunting at dusk (check out one we saw! – link to come when it doesn’t take over 12 hrs to upload a video).Even the big cats seem to prowl with open eyes, wary of the footprint of man.

South Africa seems destined to be sandwiched in change.Certainly, building a stable gateway into Africa will propel the regional economy with a pool of low-cost labor, a growing middle class and increasing global relevance.This economic growth will no doubt supercharge the fight against illiteracy, and political disparity, and pandemics like HIV/AIDS.

But courting development South Africa risks a tragic study in how the wild lands were lost.This is not an African challenge, it is a global challenge.Many nations – particularly developing economies – struggle with balancing the lust for growth with the fear of losing not only precious natural resources, but also a link to what humanity once was, back in the dreamtime.To this end, parks like Kruger are important conservation havens.When our children see Africa, these parks may be all that is left of a land lost in the undertow of progress, and help the next generation learn to live in awe of the wild.

—Stuart Kamin