EMBAs: profit in South Africa is about more than finance

Professionals from the Executive MBA and Global Executive OneMBA programmes at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) explored business in an emerging market by visiting companies, townships and guest lectures in Cape Town and Johannesburg in July 2017. The week-long study trip opened their eyes to the challenges firms face, and what business opportunities South Africa offers.

The study trip to South Africa, which is part of the EMBA’s curriculum, allowed participants to learn about the nature of business in an emerging market context in general, and about business in South Africa and the region in particular. The students investigated development opportunities to conduct business in South Africa, and strengthened their analytical skills, while faced with strategic decision-making in a very different environment.

Social and cultural influences

“When you do international business, you need to analyse and understand the country’s economic environment, politics and legal system,” says Yuanyuan Zhou (EMBA 2018), a managing director for Delight International in Amsterdam. Zhou added that she learned that the business situation of a country is closely related to its social and cultural environment. “We experienced a new culture and interacted with local people who differ from our own cultures, languages and business practices.”

‘The bottom of the pyramid’

A group of 56 students travelled to Cape Town, where they were hosted by the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business (GSB). In addition to learning from entrepreneurs in townships. The EMBA candidates visited several local companies: CiTi Woodstock Exchange, Allan Gray, Vodacom, Pick n Pay, Philippi Village, and Villiera Wines. In Johannesburg, 64 students from RSM’s Executive MBA and OneMBA programmes were hosted by The University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS). They explored business in the city’s Alexandra Township, and visited companies in Johannesburg: Royal HaskoningDHV, City Year, Dimension Data, African Leadership Academy, Finmark Trust, and Nielsen.

In both cities, the students explored the South African cultural and business contexts, and the opportunities that lay at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ if companies are willing to take the time to investigate and tailor their products to that aspect of the market.

Profit: community, planet and finance

“In South Africa, financial profit is not the main motto; companies are reporting community, people and planet profit together with the financial statements,” observed EMBA student Jara Pascual. The entrepreneur and senior manager innovation labs at Ecco Shoes explained that she was impressed that Villiera Wines are hosting a children school and a medical centre for the field workers, in addition to recycling waste from the wine production and reusing rain water into the wine production process. 

Opportunities through technology

“I also noticed community and family relationships are very important in South Africa to do business,” Pascual said. She added technology has improved people’s lives and business opportunities. “Every family has a mobile phone or tablet with an internet connection. People use WhatsApp, Uber or mobile payments very easily even if they had no education or are unable to read. People even prefer to pay data for their mobile devices than having dinner.”

Students and co-ordinators said the study trip was ‘mind-blowing and inspiring’ and ‘a real eye-opener’. “You visit an emerging country like South Africa, thinking that with your expertise and professional richness you can change the country and do something good for the people. But, when you leave South Africa you have learned that the country and its people have profoundly changed you and the way you look at your own environment,” said Mariapia Di Palma, project/programme manager for RSM’s Global Executive OneMBA.

Executive MBA

RSM’s 22-month, part-time Executive MBA programme is for motivated, experienced mid-career professionals aiming to improve their career opportunities in preparation for a senior management role. The internationally focused degree programme develops managerial skills in a challenging setting with like-minded professionals, and includes many opportunities for experiential learning, networking and personal leadership development.

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Marianne Schouten, communications manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at

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