At the end of the students’ week in South Africa, they prepared a proposal with recommendations for the businesses. Upon their arrival back in the United States, the student groups also prepared a full report for each business.
One student group worked with a laundromat in Diepsloot Township. Upon their departure from South Africa, they left the business owner with multiple recommendations to help improve her business: both urgent issues to take care of right away and longer-term goals to improve sales.
The owner of the laundromat was able to make enough money to take care of her family and potentially open a second laundromat. At the same time, she needed to overcome some challenges, like employee theft. The student group noted employees were creating fake receipts and skimming profits. Students recommended the owner purchase a rubber stamp to brand her receipts, making it more difficult for employees for create a second set of books. They also designed a way for the owner to keep track of how many clothes customers drop off, so no one can claim to lose garments and demand payment.
“The biggest takeaway for me was the reinforcement of not making assumptions, and to always ask a lot of questions,” explained Dave Smith, MBA’18. Smith is a sales operations manager at Roche Diagnostics. “Going into the township, there are some preconceived notions about the business owners’ aspirations and the environment they operate in. We found the people are very aspirational, even at low income levels. They want to create a better life for themselves.”
“This experience will help in my career here at home. It serves as a reminder: When you’re in management, you will always learn by getting your feet on the ground and speaking with customers and employees, not by sitting in your office. Never make assumptions.”
Another group worked with a hairdresser whose customers live on less than $5 dollars a day, and the business did not have electricity.
“This course in South Africa was eye-opening,” said Iris Wang, MBA’17, MSA’17. “Emerging markets have such a strong growth potential. We learned how to apply the business knowledge and skills we learned in school into the real market in South Africa.”
“For our business owner, we recommended she better document her transactions to have a better understanding of her revenue and profit. We also recommended coupons and rebates to attract new customers and retain old customers. When considering electricity, we suggested she look into options of installing solar panels: It may cost more to begin with, but in the long-term, it will be more profitable.”
Each spring, Professor Lyles leads the Evening MBA Program’s emerging economies course that takes students on business consulting tours throughout the world.
She also takes Evening MBA students on an annual two-week trip to China to consult with companies—which she has done for nearly two decades.
“A few years ago, we did a similar project in Liberia, where we went with several nursing students to consult for the hospital there,” said Lyles.
“My students worked to make the hospital’s business more efficient, to try to save them time and money. When we left, the administrator told me that the students’ plan could save them $30,000 or more.”
Evening MBA graduates who’ve traveled abroad with the program say their experiences were tremendous. Chrissy Vasquez, MBA’07, participated in the China study trip, traveling to Hong Kong, Wuxi, Suzhou, Beijing and Shanghai.
“Traveling abroad with the Kelley Evening MBA Program was an incredible opportunity that I’m so glad I took advantage of,” said Vasquez. “It took fiscal sacrifice and required use of personal vacation time, but with assistance of the Orie Fritz Scholarship, I made the investment in my personal and professional growth."