In the last few days, as we continue our EWMBA Seminar in International Business in Gauteng Province in South Africa, we’ve racked up a few more high-level meetings with local business executives. We met on Thursday with execs from Sasol, one of South African’s largest firms, and a leader in gas-to-liquid and coal-to-liquid fuel technologies. We then headed over to SAPPI, the world’s largest manufacturer of high-end coated paper products. Chances are, if this posting finally made it into some glossy magazine, it was printed on SAPPI paper. We were honored that the CEO from the company was present to talk about long-term challenges to the paper industry. Following SAPPI, we headed over to De Beers Consolidated Mines and talked diamonds. DBCM CEO Philip Barton gave us an excellent overview of De Beers’ recent shift in strategies to move more toward a branded identity, with the creation of Evermark, and the joint venture in jewelry retailing with Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. We also briefly touched on union relations, given the strength of unions (such as COSATU) in South Africa, and the country’s history of union involvement in the mining industry.
On Thursday evening we attended a lecture on African development with Dr. Greg Mills, author of “Why Africa is Poor: and What Africans Can Do About It” at the Gordon Institute of Business Science at the University of Pretoria. The presentation ended with a nuanced discussion with the business leaders in the audience that touched upon the role of foreign aid, NGOs, and democratization in Africa. Finally, to conclude an extremely busy Thursday, we were graciously invited to dinner at a local billionaire’s home, where we were introduced to impressive and inspiring individuals such as Fred Swaniker, a former McKinsey consultant who has moved on to start the African Leadership Academy, an organization to develop promising African youths into the next generation of leaders. We also met a Zimbabwean, who discussed the very real challenges of doing business in that country. The Haas IBD team we met at LoveLife also joined us (you’re welcome, guys, for the opportunity to tag along with your EW colleagues and enjoy a posh billionaire meal!)
On Friday, we had a factory tour at a brewery of SAB-Miller, where they produce all the Castle lager for Gauteng province. Operations nerds (and Homer Simpson) would have been in heaven, as we saw not only the brew house, but also the sophisticated bottling operation. We then left for the Ivory Tree Lodge in Pilanesberg, where we finally had a weekend to relax and do nothing. And by “nothing” I mean go on four AMAZING game drives, early morning and evening, where we saw impala, wildebeest, kudu, springbok, jackal, leopard (at night!), hippopotamus, a herd of elephants, and lions! We also had a great talk by the lodge managers, who spoke about the ecotourism business in Africa. This morning, we had our final game drive, and we saw/heard a male lion do a mighty roar. Essentially, we’ve been eating nonstop and seeing majestic animals all weekend.
This morning, as I write this post, we’re all packing up and getting ready to go back to Johannesburg airport, where we’ll catch a flight to Kaapstad (Cape Town). We’re all looking forward to being there. I promise another update from the Western Cape.