Cohort 8’s South Africa trip makes national news

The New American Colleges and Universities News picked up a story about Stetson University’s Executive MBA program and distributed it to the organization’s national audience. The article it selected was the one composed for Stetson’s The Lynn Letter about Cohort 8’s recent trip to South Africa.

In addition, The New American Colleges and Universities News posted the following video welcoming Stetson University’s incoming class of undergraduates:




The New American Colleges and Universities is a national consortium of independent colleges and universities dedicated to the purposeful integration of liberal education, professional studies and civic engagement. The New American Colleges and Universities collectively and individually are often cited as models of the intentional integration of teaching and learning, scholarship and service. The organization was founded in 1995.

Business intelligence now more valuable to employers

Screenshot of KNIME

Converting raw data into information that managers can use to make decisions is becoming increasingly important. Image via Wikipedia

A shift in the world of marketing has led to a new appreciation for the analysis of data.

A report in The Wall Street Journal, “Business Schools Plan Leap Into Data,” discusses an emerging trend among graduate and undergraduate business schools to add classes, certificates and degrees geared specifically toward business intelligence, or data analytics.

The article says that as the use of analytics grows, companies will need employees who understand the data. The authors cited a study that found that by 2018, the United States will face a shortage of 1.5 million managers who can use data to shape business decisions.

“Analytics is certainly in the Top 5 things [executives] are worried about and investing in actively,” said Scott Gnau, president of Teradata’s Teradata Labs, told The Wall Street Journal. “Industry is going to demand it. Students are going to demand it.”

Kim Ruggiero, a Cohort 7 graduate of the Stetson University Executive MBA program, said she has witnessed firsthand the business world placing more value on the ability to decipher the numbers.

“Data analysis is vital, especially in the social media space, because as a marketer you need to know who to message to, what to message and how much to message,” explained Ruggiero, an associate marketing manager at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “Digital tactics such as online advertising, QR codes, website activity and social media sites are much easier to track than traditional media like radio and TV. It allows us to determine which tactics performed well and what the level of engagement was among our consumers to help influence decisions in the future.”

One of Ruggiero’s classmates, Darcy Clark, agrees. “Data is critical,” said Clark, who works in digital marketing at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “I use data on a daily basis, most often as it relates to our social media and Facebook strategies. We can measure the impact of a particular post and tell how many people engaged with the content, how many clicked through to get more information and how many ultimately purchased (if it was tied to an offer).”

Clark added that many people in her organization are tasked solely with data analysis, each working on a different piece of the puzzle. “It’s that important,” she emphasized.

But as much as data analysis is key in the marketing field, both Ruggiero and Clark say they believe most business schools don’t prepare students for the practical uses of data analysis.

“The base knowledge we gained from the Stetson Executive MBA program set the foundation for later learning that can only occur on the job,” said Clark.

Students in the Stetson Executive MBA program take several classes that focus on the subject, including Fundamental Statistical Management Techniques, Marketing Concepts and Analysis, Managerial Decision Analysis and Marketing Decision Making.

“Dr. Ted Surynt’s and Dr. Ram Subramanian’s classes were great in opening up my mind to think creatively about how all the pieces of a puzzle fit together,” added Clark. “That is critical when you’re looking at numbers and data and how those things fit into the larger marketing and overall business picture.”

Cohort 8 does some sightseeing before heading home to Orlando

Stetson's Cohort 8 executives visited Cape Point on their last full day in South Africa.

Students in Stetson University Executive MBA program’s Cohort 8 departed a bit after sunrise Friday, June 24, to go to Table Mountain National Park and see Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, the farthest tip of the Cape Peninsula, a protected reserve that horns its way into the ocean.

“The coastal drive was absolutely breathtaking,” said Wendy Lowe, Stetson Executive MBA program coordinator. “It was mountainous, the water had rolling waves, and the area was full of wildlife, including baboons, elands and ostriches.

A rainbow greeted the students as they reached the Cape of Good Hope. The vehicle pulled over at various scenic stops, where students’ cameras flashed nonstop. “We strolled up and down nature trails, leading to cliff views of the ocean or to the lighthouse. It was a picturesque setting in all directions, and baboons were running all around!”

“Seeing the natural beauty of South Africa was awesome and breathtaking,” said Jacob Walters, an executive in Cohort 8.

Penguins covered the beaches at Boulders.

The students’ next stop was Boulders, where penguins scattered the beach and roamed freely. “They weren’t the nicest smelling bird,” said Lowe, “but they were incredibly cute as they waddled to and from the ocean and frolicked in the waves.”

A gift shop owner told Cohort 8 executive Larry Flory that in the summer months, locals swim in the ocean with the penguins. “That I would like to see,” said Flory, “but not today! It’s winter here in South Africa in June.”

Dr. Michelson and the students all got their faces painted at the farewell dinner.

The group’s last cultural activity was the Farewell Dinner at Moyo in the Winery Region at Spier, which means Heart. The buffet was spread around the outskirts of a large tented area. Inside the tent, entertainers danced, played the African drums and painted each student’s face in a local design.

“The dinner and African ambiance was a perfect way to end our week-long international trip,” said Lowe after the dinner was over. “The cohort has memories of a lifetime and can’t wait to share the South African way with others.”

The students left South Africa Saturday afternoon and are scheduled to return to Orlando on Sunday morning. A handful of cohort members have made a pact that they will return to this country with their families because of the hospitality the students received and all of the educational opportunities.

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 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.