9 takeaways for Cohort 9

Stetson University Center at Celebration was buzzing with excitement last night, Aug. 10, as a diverse group of 14 women and 11 men from nine corporations gathered for the first time as Stetson University Executive MBA Cohort 9.

The Cohort 9 orientation dinner was an opportunity for the students to meet each other, members of the staff and a few alumni. The new students left with a little bit of inspiration, as well. Here are a few select pieces:

1. This program will be tough, but you will make it through. “Look to your right and look to your left,” said Dr. Stuart Michelson, dean of the Stetson School of Business and director of the Stetson University Executive MBA program, as he told students an anecdote from his school days. “That’s what my professor told my class as we were beginning our doctorate program. ‘Half of the faces you’re seeing won’t make it through this program,’ he told us. But I challenge you to look to your right and look to your left,” continued Michelson. “I expect that we’ll see everyone in this room tonight still together 19 months from now as Executive MBAs. You will get through this, and you’ll do it together.”

Cohort 9 assembled for the first time as a group at orientation, Aug. 10.

2. Help us help you. “We want you to succeed, and we want you to have everything you need,” said Wendy Lowe, coordinator for the Executive MBA program. “Help us help you. Tell me or Dr. Michelson if you want or need something,” Lowe continued. “We’ll do the best we can to accommodate you.”

3. Change your perspective. “What a journey you’re going to be on,” said Dr. Richard Pernell, a director at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and a Management and Leadership instructor for the Executive MBA program. “You’re going to change so much over these 19 months. It’s going to be super.” Pernell held up a photo of a lighthouse and asked what direction the light was shining. No one could tell. “From your perspective, you don’t know what direction you’re looking,” said Pernell. “So, change your perspective.” Once he moved the photo closer to the students, they could see that the title of the photo was Evening Light, so it was obvious that the direction was north. “You just had to change what you were looking at to get the whole picture. These are the types of things we’ll discuss in class, which begins Friday: leadership and management (which are not the same thing), and critical thinking.” Pernell ended with a question for the students to ponder that they’ll pick up discussion on tomorrow: If a turtle loses its shell, is it naked or homeless?

4. This is your program; shape it. Michelson and Lowe started preparing the students for their international trip, scheduled for June 15-24, 2012. “You get to help select the destination,” Lowe said, and Michelson asked for a quick vote by the students on where they’d like to go. Among the top spots were Brazil, Chile, Shanghai and Morocco.

5. You are more capable than you think. Denise Edelmaier, an executive in Cohort 8, told the new students that time management and prioritization are extremely important, and sometimes your three “buckets” (personal life, work and school) require a demanding juggling act. But, she said, “You are way more capable than you think you are. You can do this. I realized I had a lot more strength than I knew before I started this program.”

6. Use technology to your advantage. Shariq Khan, a classmate of Edelmaier’s, said it’s best to relax and enjoy the program. The best way to do this, he proposed, was to organize yourself and manage your time. “Use technology to your advantage,” said Khan. “Use Blackboard and Skype for meetings. Manage your schedule online. Make sure you make time for all the parts of your life.”

7. Pay attention to those who matter. Walter Kurlin, a graduate of Cohort 7, said to be sure to pay attention to the needs of your significant others and spouses. “They’ll be one of the most important parts of your program,” said Kurlin. “You’ll need their support.” Cohort 8 student Khan agreed, adding that students should be sure to not neglect their families during this rigorous program. “If Mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy,” Khan said, joking about the stress of keeping everyone in his home comfortable while also maintaining his duties at work and in school.

8. Focus on the concepts, not the grades. Whereas you may have focused on getting good grades in undergraduate studies, spend time now on learning the context, said Tyler Reed, a graduate of Cohort 4. “I would have done better in the beginning of my program if I had worried less about getting a good numerical grade and more about understanding the meaning and application of what I was learning,” she said. “I did figure it out, though, and then the program was much more fulfilling.”

9. Enjoy the routine. “You’ll find yourself planning your life in two-week increments,” said Craig Feldman, a graduate of Cohort 5. “It’s like a video game, with each weekend being a new adventure and progressing through stages to reach a new level, earning knowledge and gaining success along the way.”  Feldman also echoed Dr. Pernell’s sentiments about change: “The experiences you’ll share with your cohort are life-altering, and you’ll come back from the international trip a different person with a more global view and with more business confidence.”

In less than 24 hours, members of Cohort 9 will begin their journey. As they build their network, strengthen their leadership skills and increase their career versatility, these students will change their perspective on business, life and their day-to-day work. And one year from now, some of them likely will be giving pointers to the incoming Cohort 10.

Cohort 8 visits seniors in South Africa for philanthropic experience

Denise Edelmeier, left, visits with a resident named Denise at Oakhaven Home for the Aged in Cape Town.

Members of Stetson University Executive MBA program’s Cohort 8 wanted to give something to the South African people in return for their adventure in the nation. After careful consideration, the cohort selected a retirement home as the best place to visit and provide support. This decision was made in part because of the age of residents who could share what it was like to live through Apartheid during this evolutionary century of change.

The cohort visited Oakhaven Home for the Aged, coordinated with the assistance of Francis Chamarengah of Cross Cultural Solutions. “Oakhaven is not a place for old people to live before they pass, but it’s a place for the living,” said the local director, Ms. McPherson, “It’s their home. We work tirelessly to provide an environment that allows residents the freedom to go about their day in a manner that feels most comfortable to them.”

At Oakhaven, residents can participate in organized games, exercises and movie viewings. Oakhaven provides total care (health, emotional, spiritual) for its residents, including medication, meals, laundry and hygiene services. Oakhaven houses more than 100 residents, 50 years of age and older.

Victor, age 84, is a retired carpenter who built one of the first skyscrapers in downtown Cape Town. He said he loves living at Oakhaven. He doesn’t have any family in the area, so he relies on his friendships at Oakhaven to provide company and support emotionally.

McPherson said Victor’s situation is not unusual for Oakhaven residents. Few have consistent visitors, and the students’ brief time visiting will not only be incredibly stimulating for the residents, but it will boost their morale for days and weeks to come, especially upon learning about the students and their lives in the United States.

Residents gave members of Cohort 8 a tour of their home at Oakhaven.

Cohort members mingled with the residents for more than an hour. Student Denise Edelmaier was captivated by a resident, also named Denise, who was born and raised in Cape Town and in earlier years was a seamstress making dresses in a factory. Jason Plas and some fellow students spent time with light-hearted residents Christine and Gloria. And resident Sam was a very sweet man who was more than happy to share his smile. He seemed very content to be a father of four, but it was sad for the students to see that he struggled to remember his children’s names.

“I could see that visiting with the seniors meant a lot to them,” said student Eric O’Leary. “The fact that they do not receive visitors is sad, and sharing time with the seniors was very rewarding.”

During the cohort’s time with the retirees, many residents requested photos, which the students gladly took and shared. At the conclusion of the visit, Cohort 8 presented Oakhaven Home for the Aged a donation equivalent to $200 (U.S.), a portion of which was raised at Stetson Executive MBA’s Alumni Event.

“You forever made a positive impact on Oakhaven and its residents,” said McPherson to the students upon their departure. The students concurred after leaving that they too had been forever changed by the conversations they had there and the time they spent with the retirees.

SPAR executives teach Cohort 8 how efficiency keeps the company competitive

Cohort 8 students visited wholesaler SPAR in Cape Town on June 23.

Members of Cohort 8 from Stetson University’s Executive MBA program visited wholesaler SPAR Western Cape for their second business tour of the day, June 23. The executives who guided the students through SPAR were Solly Engelbrecht, distribution director; Brenton van Breda, finance director; and John Warren, IT director.

“The entire SPAR company was gracious during our entire visit,” said Wendy Lowe, Executive MBA program coordinator. “We walked the distribution floor. We saw first-hand how inventory is stacked five stories high, and how produce is kept at temperatures to ensure freshness and quality. Brrr … the below-25-degree Celsius cooler was frigid, but it does keep the perishables in the best condition for the stores.” After the tour, the directors treated the students to a light lunch and a bottle of Cape Town red wine.

SPAR’s core business is wholesale and distribution, with the buying power directly at the store level. SPAR has had a successful run in the retail market for more than 45 years. It has 850 stores across South Africa and beyond, servicing more than 60 million customers per month.

SPAR purchases goods in bulk and uses state-of-the-art technology to distribute these items to various store locations based on specific requests. SPAR is driven by relationships; therefore the distribution centers have a vested interest in delivering first class service and products. SPAR store owners remain 85 to 90 percent loyal to SPAR distribution centers for the acquisition of items to sell.

One of SPAR’s competitive advantages is that one truck delivers both frozen and dry goods, rather than various trucks delivering based on product type. Each SPAR store allocates 70 percent of its retail space to product displays and only 30 percent to storage of extra stock.

Student Raul Herrera asked if new items are picked up based on geographic or cultural needs. “Absolutely,” said van Breda. “We track items carefully, and once the thresholds reach a level that sensibly we can buy for multiple stores, we do.”

“Technology is a critical piece,” added Warren. “The stores use the SPAR technology systems to place orders, track progress and communicate with the distribution center actively.”

Students learned about SPAR's efficient product delivery system, which sets it apart from its competitors.

SPAR invests in its stores’ success, including helping finance new stores, assisting with store design, employing and training workers, and collaborating on marketing efforts. SPAR does not set franchise fees; instead, store owners select their pre-approved location and join the SPAR “family” like a one would join a golf club, explained Engelbrecht.

SPAR is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and has six regions in South Africa. The Western Cape distribution center, the site of Cohort 8’s visit, is the company’s third-largest. SPAR offers different types of stores, such as the Super SPAR (Kroger) with aggressive pricing, SPAR (neighborhood-based) with competitive pricing, Kwik SPAR (convenience-based), TOPS (liquor-focused), Build-It (building materials-focused) and Pharmacy at SPAR (in or near SPAR stores).

Although SPAR can start out in a less populated area, SPAR remains competitive even when the area’s density grows, and it is not being pushed out by its larger rivals. In the West Cape region, Checkers/Shop Rite has 34 percent market share, Pick & Pay has 32 percent market share, and SPAR comes in at 29 percent, which is an astounding figure compared to overall corporate size.

Student Denise Edelmaier asked the executives if they were concerned about Wal-Mart coming to South Africa. “We don’t anticipate a major effect,” answered Engelbrecht. “We don’t underestimate Wal-Mart’s overall power; however, we are far ahead logistically in South Africa, and our focus again is being a wholesaler and delivering to the retail market.”

When student Wesley DuBose inquired about SPAR’s efforts in reducing its carbon footprint, Warren said SPAR has quietly participated in many cost-saving and environmentally friendly initiatives, such as starting a school recycling program, which has recycled 500 tons of plastic combined from all SPAR stores in the past year, recycling cartons used in their distribution center, and obtaining oil from all store locations to reuse in trucks for future deliveries.

Stetson students asked about the corporation's relationship with its employees. The executives said the employees love working at SPAR, and SPAR makes it worth their while.

Engelbrecht said his goals for 2011 and the near future are to enhance the skills of SPAR’s employees, increase the use of technology, obtain a closer cooperative with suppliers, reduce lag time across the total supply chain, and build trust in processes and controls that focus on cost-drivers. Student Lofton Barnes asked if these goals support the South African “human-model” of a life-work balance. Engelbrecht commented that SPAR employees have great pride and ownership in the company’s success. “Employees who stay two years retire here,” he said. SPAR provides competitive salaries, training and excellent working conditions for its employees.

This visit provided the cohort a clear understanding that unique business models can be extremely successful and that creativity and openness to provide service and support to a company’s “internal” members and “external” customers can reap rewards both in the short-term and the long-term.

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.”

Cohort 8 student introduces new Disney character

Denise Edelmaier, EMBA student at Stetson University at Celebration, successfully juggles both school and her full-time job as the Plush and Doll Product Developer for Disney Parks and Resorts Merchandise. Denise started the EMBA program Aug. 13, 2010. Since then, she has managed to launch a successful new product line around a “beary” new Disney character named Duffy the Disney Bear.

Duffy officially launched at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim on Oct. 14, 2010, to rave reviews. Duffy’s merchandise assortment includes 12-inch pre-dressed bears, a 17-inch bear with more than 10 unique costumes to choose from and dress him in, a 28-inch Duffy that is so huggable you won’t be able to put him down, a keychain, a magnet and more.

In addition to the expansive product line around Duffy, the parks launched a fully integrated strategy that includes a meet-and-greet Duffy character in Epcot and California Adventure, food and beverage treats, children’s activity placemats, and a create your own Duffy activity in Epcot where Guests can take him to each country and decorate him any way they choose. If you happen to be in either park, you will find Duffy dressed in his signature sailor attire as we welcome him back from world travels with his owner, Mickey.

Disney Bear was originally created by the Disney Design art team here in Orlando using Mickey as the inspiration; Duffy has a Mickey Mouse shaped face and a Mickey-shaped birthmark on his hip. Two years later, Tokyo Disney Resort adopted Disney Bear to be fresh content for Tokyo Disney Seas Park. The story behind the bear was: Minnie made a bear for Mickey to keep him company on his world travels. Mickey named him “Duffy” because Minnie gave him the bear in a duffel bag. Eventually Duffy became a character in the Tokyo Disney Seas park, and over a 5-year period, Duffy became one of the most sought-after souvenirs in the Japanese resort and a coveted collectible by Japanese women ages 20-35.

Duffy is going global as part of the “One Disney” strategy. Disney Parks Entertainment, Marketing, Food and Beverage, Tokyo Disney Seas, Hong Kong Disneyland and U.S. Disney Parks are all leveraging the same company-owned intellectual property.

Duffy’s success is a great example of successful marketing synergy and globalization which Denise is learning more about as part of her Stetson EMBA curriculum. Denise says she has one of the most fun jobs at Disney, getting to dress and play with bears. But her role also requires influencing strategic direction and leading a team, which are both good reasons to further her education.