Cohort 8 students arrive in Cape Town

Students boarded a bus to the airport in Johannesburg for their flight to Cape Town.

On Wednesday, June 22, members of Stetson University Executive MBA’s Cohort 8 travelled to Cape Town, the oldest city in South Africa. It is regularly heralded as one of the most beautiful cities on Earth. Their arrival coincides with that of First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters, who landed on the Cape on their South Africa journey from the United States.

The weather has been inhospitable, but the South Africans have not. The people in Cape Town have been charming and welcoming to the students. “We can see why this is the country’s No. 1 tourist destination,” said Wendy Lowe, program coordinator. The students checked into their hotel, located in the heart of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront district.

With a few hours of free time, several members of the cohort went to the Greenmarket Square, a lively flea market surrounded by coffee shops and cafes, a must for local wares. They found the area to be an interesting cultural crossroad, with a lively atmosphere and amazing architecture. Jacob Walters said he enjoyed negotiating with local vendors to get the best price for his souvenirs. Juliana Trujillo found impressive African animal carvings and equally enjoyed the bargaining system, paying less than half the original asking price. “I wish shopping was like this in the U.S.,” said Trujillo.

Torrance Johnson was fortunate enough to spot First Lady Michelle Obama’s motorcade during his spare time. Mrs. Obama visited the District Six Museum while she was in town.

In the evening, the cohort planned to celebrate student Raul Herrera’s birthday at Balthazar, the largest wine bar in the world with more than 600 wine selections. Herrera received this recommendation from one of his wine suppliers where he works, at Disney’s Jiko in Animal Kingdom Lodge. Balthazar boasts the biggest wine-by-the-glass bar in the world as well as fine foods, and the students thought it would be the perfect spot to celebrate this wine connoisseur’s birthday.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Billion Group teaches Cohort 8 that relationships yield success

Mike Rodel, Chief Operating Officer for Rebosis Property Fund and Billion Group, greeted Stetson Executive MBA students in Cohort 8 to a lavish boardroom Tuesday afternoon. Rodel shared information about his company’s prosperous business in South Africa, specifically regarding the recent merger with Rebosis Property Fund.

The combined company has two main lines of business, the Property Development Group, which is private, and the Rebosis Property Fund, which is traded on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. The Property Development Group is the development pipeline for Rebosis Property Fund. Rebosis’ business is based in Johannesburg with an eye on the rest of the South African market.

On May 17, 2011, Billion Group merged with Rebosis for $1.66 billion. The rationale for the listing was to “prepare to scale,” explained Rodel. Rebosis Properties officials wanted to be positioned for growth and to be flexible enough to capture sensible opportunities.

Rebosis Properties is the largest and first black-managed, black-owned company on the stock exchange, even though the government approvals have been in place for such an act for more than 16 years. A black company with black ownership gives the company distinctive advantages, such as partnering with other smaller firms that don’t have black representation and hence can’t be a player on their own. By joining Rebosis Properties, smaller companies can participate and have opportunities, too.

Rebosis owns eight properties, which are valued at an estimated at 3.6 billion Rand (about $500 million U.S.). This organizational structure is 60 percent retail and 40 percent office space, in which Rebosis currently holds a 97 percent occupancy rate.

Student Shariq Khan asked Rodel what makes Rebosis Properties appealing to buyers. “We are attractive because our income stream is tied to strong fundamentals.” answered Rodel, “We have a current 8 percent growth rate and are quickly reaching double digits in the next few years with an expectation to stay increasingly strong for a minimum of seven years. We got ahead and now are positioned for great opportunities and success should we stay focused and determined on our core values.”

Rodel said one reason Rebosis’ payments are consistent and efficient is that government and large retail entities occupy the space. Another reason, said Rodel, was the combined experience of the company’s senior leadership, including CEO Sisa Ngebulna. The combined talents and resources of the managers have improved the success of the company’s decision making and innovation.

Rodel said Rebosis is poised to become even more successful with more than $14 billion worth of projects in the pipeline ready to develop and deliver.

Cohort 8 student Larry Flory asked Rodel if the global economic crisis had a detrimental effect on the company’s strategic plans. “Retail was in its final stages,” said Rodel, “and national chains took the burden.” He added that South Africa was fortunate to not have the challenges that the United States faced. The failures that Rebosis experienced were locally based, he said, and would have happened regardless of the economic challenges the world faced.

Securing local talent and professional contractors is not an issue, according to Rodel. Johannesburg offers plenty of available resources, and Rebosis’ leadership can play to the strengths of investors because the company has earned the investors’ trust repeatedly since 2003. “Investors feel comfortable with us,” said Rodel, “and if there is anything we know from our U.S. experiences, it is that relationships, security, comfort, expertise and dedication undoubtedly yield success.”

Cohort 8 tours huge diamond mine

Cohort 8 executives experienced a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at Cullinan Diamond Mine on Tuesday. Hosted by underground engineer, Pat, the students toured the mine, which is one of the leading producers of “large” diamonds in Africa. The company’s general manager and supervisory staff joined them on their tour. The mine, which is located in Pretoria, produces 1 million diamond carats a year that range in color, quality and size.

Cullinan officials described the mining process in detail and the role of the miner, then let the students observe the process. It all begins with Kimberlite, a rock with minerals and diamonds embedded. The miners at Cullinan Diamond Mine extract 9,000 tons of Kimberlite each day over rotating nine-hour shifts.

Student Alexandra Mandell asked Pat about the four C’s — cut, color, clarity and carat — that distinguish diamond quality and price point. Pat showed the group different examples by way of a chart and introduced the students to the special “blue diamond,” the rarest form found at Cullinan Diamond Mine. Cohort 8 students held replicas of these very large, multimillion-dollar diamonds — which only had the students wishing the diamonds were real!

After members of the cohort suited up and grabbed their head gear and protective wear, they traveled 763 meters down into the Diamond Mine to see the production process first-hand. They observed the drilling, extracting of Kimberlite, the transportation of rock to the crusher, and the greasy conveyer that sifts and separates the Kimberlite from the diamonds. The Kimberlite and diamonds are mixed with water on the conveyer. Because diamonds won’t absorb water, they drop to the bottom and the grease is removed through a heating process, then the clean diamonds are left for final polishing and tender.

A highlight of the underground tour was speaking to a few of the miners directly. Two miners addressed Cohort 8 student Torrance Johnson in their native tongue while waiting for the shaft elevator. When he indicated he didn’t understand the language because he wasn’t African, the miners were delighted to meet someone from the United States and asked if they could hug him. “That is a moment I will never forget,” said Johnson.

Another miner told student Denise Edelmaier that he prefers mining diamonds over gold any day. Why? “It’s less dangerous! We’ve had no fatalities for years here,” said the miner. “Fatalities happen in gold mining because the conditions are unbearably hot.” Pat explained later that diamond mining is “gentleman mining” because it’s a much safer and cleaner environment than mining gold or platinum.

The conversations with these miners reaffirmed the Cullinan executive team’s position that employees and the safe extraction of diamonds are critical to the company’s success and therefore have the highest regard at the mine, even more so since the 2008 acquisition by Petra Diamonds.

Johnson asked Pat about government regulations and laws pertinent to the workforce. “The miners are so respected that several benefits are provided,” explained Pat. “A free car is awarded monthly to the miner with the best safety idea. If a diamond is discovered by a miner, the miner receives 10 percent of its market value. And employees received a salary increase with improved benefits as a result of the Petra Diamond buyout.”

Additionally, miners said they feel secure in the fact that the mining operation is not expected to change, based on the success they’ve maintained over the years in the production of diamonds. Pat said a recent geographical evaluation revealed that 200 million carats of diamonds are still available for extraction in the mine, further securing the jobs of more than 2,000 employees in Pretoria.

Pat told the group that risks are inherent in any successful endeavor. In diamond mining, the risks include water reaching the Kimberlite making it difficult to extract, overdrawing or unevenly removing Kimberlite from a block in the cave, or not supporting the infrastructure correctly. “These can all be avoided with proper attention to detail and training,” said Pat.

Jason Plas asked Pat the process from extraction to sale. Cullinan sends diamonds for proper valuation, packs the diamonds in parcels for sale, and then sends them off for purchase — of which 25 percent are gems and 75 percent are used for industrial purposes.

The Cullinan Diamond Mine has a large footprint in the market, providing the company sustainability and relevance in the community and environment. The company stays connected to its community by funding local parks and conservation, school learning materials, a sports complex and a band.

A few students are bringing home desirable Cullinan Diamond products to share with loved ones back in the United States, but we won’t mention names so we can avoid ruining any surprises!

Cohort 8 learns commodities, stocks and bonds in South Africa

Cohort 8 students learned the differences between U.S. and South African stock exchanges when they visited JSE.

The Stetson University Executive MBA program’s Cohort 8 visited the Johannesburg Stock Exchange today and got great insight into how the JSE’s operation works in the global economy.

South Africa is a major agriculture export earner of maize, wine, fruit and wool, said Chris Sturgess, Director of Commodity Derivatives. Infrastructure plays a major role in getting the goods from their origin to their final destination. Agriculture is so important in the country that 40% of South Africa’s population is dependent on it and its economic impact.

Dealing with stocks and bonds is always managing risk. Graham Smale, Director of Interest Rate Products, shared the bond market operation and strategy with members of Cohort 8. He explained that working with agents, dealers and interdealer brokers is very complex. “Personal relationships and direct contact with users is still a fundamental aspect of doing business in South Africa,” said Smale.

The cohort learned that South Africa is not a market for retail. However, after viewing several statistics, Dr. Stuart Michelson, director of the Stetson Executive MBA program, pointed out the buyer has changed in recent years and the pie is getting larger. Smale explained that, fundamentally, the job of exchanging and facilitating the price point between buyer and seller hasn’t changed.

Denise Edelmaier, a Stetson Executive MBA student, asked Smale if the recent economic crisis had an impact in South Africa the same way real estate took a tremendous hit in the United States. Smale said the GDP is spread across the board, so nothing hit a toxic zone, but some securities just dried up. “My role,” said Smale, “is to help keep the Johannesburg Stock Exchange locally relevant in a global game.”

Students Jason Plas, Juliana Trujilio and Shariq Khan worked in tandem to address questions they had after reading about JSE in recent media reports and in the company’s financials.

The cohort embraced the differences between the stock exchange system in the United States and in South Africa. Students will compile their findings for class upon their return.

Cohort 8 meets with communications giant Vodacom

Communications provider Vodacom was the first business stop for Stetson's Cohort 8 in South Africa.

Vodacom was the first stop on the Stetson University Executive MBA students’ business tour of South Africa, and the cohort’s visit was well-timed. Only three months ago, Vodacom underwent a large rebranding initiative. Vodafone acquired Vodacom in 2008, and Vodacom’s new look and new purpose were just unveiled April 1, 2011.

Vodacom is the leading phone provider in South Africa and has been a known player in the data and communications industry for more than 17 years. It was recognizable by its blue logo, which is now red. The company also introduced its new mission, according to Chief Operating Officer and interim Managing Director, Vuyani Jarana. “Connecting you, creating possibilities and changing lives” is the company’s purpose now, said Jarana. “The goal was to have a customer-focused experience by keeping the message clear — with speed, simplicity and trust.”

The rebranding included ads on TV, radio and print, and also used social media. Familiar characters, famous influencers and entertainers in South Africa were embedded into Vodacom’s messaging to keep the established customers while attracting new ones, especially youth. To reach the growing demographic of youth, Vodacom’s ads incorporated trendy music. Ads were linked to promotions which were key differentiators in the market. One of Vodacom’s goals is to give the customer top priority, and personnel now smile during their entire experience with the customer.

Students Denise Edelmaier, Larry Flory and Aziz Alessa tapped into their knowledge from their recent marketing course to ask questions pertaining to Vodacom’s new branding strategy and the company’s return on investment from the rebranding. The result, explained Vodacom executives, was that internal personnel had buy-in and renewed enthusiasm in their work. Externally, Facebook users soared, sales peaked, and the new red logo captures Vodacom as the “hot” player in the data and communications space in South Africa and moving globally quickly.

The Stetson team expressed gratitude to the entire Vodacom leadership team and executive department leaders for spending their morning educating Stetson University Executive MBA students on their unique, growing and evolutionary company.

“Vodacom has set the bar extremely high for what we hope to see and learn in our other South Africa business appointments,” said Flory. Eric O’Leary concurred: “The enthusiasm and passion that they have in their work and new direction is inspiring and gave me several ideas applicable to my line of work.”

Photos from Cohort 8 in South Africa

Cohort 8 goes on safari

Students doubled the amount of time they spent on their safari because they were enjoying the sights and sounds so much.

Today, members of Stetson Executive MBA’s Cohort 8 went to Pilanesburg on a safari. The cohort’s guide, Gunther, acclimated the students to the region and all the interesting aspects of the volcano that has now collapsed and created one of the most natural habitats in the world, featuring thousands of the rarest species.

“We were traveling down the savannah and were within reach or close eyesight of elephants, a giraffe, a leopard, various indigenous birds, rhinoceros, ostrich, impala, hippos, and much, much more,” said Wendy Lowe, Stetson Executive MBA program coordinator. “One of the most exciting times was parking our 4×4 vehicle within a pack of elephants.”

Zimbabwe native Lewis Chidziva, the guide from MBA Vista who will be with the group throughout their trip, said he was beyond thrilled when he saw a leopard within feet of the group’s viewing area. He said it was a first for him, even though he’s been on hundreds of safari rides since he was a boy. The safari guide, Gunther, explained this is only the third spotting of a leopard this year. “It’s extremely rare!” he said.

“If you have to be away on Father’s Day, this is a memorable way to do it,” said Raul Herrera, a student who lives in Hunter’s Creek, Fla. “We are experiencing the sights and sounds of Africa within steps of our 4×4.”

After a morning on the safari, the group feasted on a delicious buffet meal at the safari Sun Resort and then unanimously requested to stay on for the afternoon with Gunther to spot all the animals they hadn’t seen.

“Instead of staying in the savannah for three hours, we ended up staying for six and enjoyed every moment of it,” said student Wesley DuBose of Salt Springs, Fla. “There is nothing like hearing a lion’s roar in the distance or learn how the animals such as an elephant or impala communicate and send messages from a far distance to their pack. Astounding!”

Tomorrow, the cohort begins the scheduled business visits. In the morning, the students will meet executives from Vodacom, and tomorrow afternoon, the group will visit the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

Cohort 8 students immersed themselves in South African culture

The UMOJA dinner show taught the students of Cohort 8 about South African music and dance, and illustrated the country's rich history.

Students in Cohort 8 experienced South African culture first-hand yesterday when they visited the Apartheid Museum, rode through Soweto, and attended an UMOJA dinner show.

Their day began with a guided tour of the Apartheid Museum, where they participated in exhibits that communicated the atmosphere of the troubled era into present time. They learned about the political upheavals and the move to the transition from a racist state into Africa’s beacon of hope for the future. “The journey to understanding, freedom, and equality were important lessons,” said Wendy Lowe, Stetson Executive MBA program coordinator.

Their next stop was Wandie’s restaurant in Soweto. It’s a converted home in the heart of Soweto, where home-cooked local cuisine and local musicians entertained them as the students learned about the evolution of change in this densely populated area.

The best way to experience this change from very poor, to middle class and rising prosperity was to take in the sights and sounds on bicycle. As they navigated the hilly terrain, the guide stopped at key destinations where he explained to the group about local people’s habits and way of life. Locals were very hospitable, and children ran up and down the streets celebrating the cohort’s visit and requesting photographs. “Soweto proved to be a place where the community bonded together to improve their way of life,” said Lowe.

Later, the group went to UMOJA for a dinner show. The show used music to illustrate the change in South Africa from oppression and segregation to peace and liberation. It was an energetic show that had the students up on their feet, enjoying the music and dance depiction of South Africa evolution.

Today, the cohort is going on safari!

Cohort 8 students get their first “taste” of Africa

This bartender made sweet & sour drinks at Cohort 8's table at Carnivore. The drink was called Dawa.

After arriving in Johannesburg, the cohort had lunch in Nelson Mandela Square in a fabulous cafe called Balio’s, overlooking the Nelson Mandela bronze statue.  After an afternoon of sightseeing near the hotel and/or taking a brief nap, the students headed to Carnivore for the Welcome Dinner and an authentic South African meal.

Carnivore specializes in 13 different meats that come to your table on large skewers or tribal spears for your tasting enjoyment. Cohort favorites included common fare chicken and beef, zebra, antelope, venison and a variety of sausages. Members of the cohort were adventurous and tried many new meat selections, plus the side dishes prepared in local sauces and spices. The Welcome Dinner was a perfect way to set the stage for the African way of life.

Tomorrow, the group heads to the Apartheid Museum, Soweto for a bicycle tour, and in the evening, dinner and a broadway show called UMOJA.

Cohort 8 arrives in South Africa

Members of Cohort 8 arrive in Johannesburg, South Africa, June 17.

Stetson University’s Executive MBA Cohort 8 group has arrived in Johannesburg!

The group of 15 passengers departed Orlando International Airport yesterday at 7 a.m. After a 1 1/2-hour layover at JFK, the group flew 15 hours across the Atlantic Ocean to Johannesburg, South Africa.

“We arrived this morning at 8:40 local time,” said program coordinator Wendy Lowe. “We met up with our academic guide, Lewis Chidziva of MBA Vista, and Dr. Stuart Michelson, who has been in ‘Joburg’ and Durban since Tuesday on university visits. All of us arrived safely, including our baggage!”

When Dr. Michelson arrived earlier in the week, he wasn’t so fortunate. His bags didn’t make it, so he had to buy apparel locally in order to make his business appearances.

After landing and checking in at their hotel, the group is off for lunch in Nelson Mandela Square.

More updates to come!