U.S. Ambassador to Sweden Mark Brzezinski Visits Darden

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski visited Darden last week in order to speak with a variety of students, faculty members, and Darden leaders. The Ambassador has been a wonderful supporter of Darden and particularly the Global Business Experiences in Sweden. Read more in this post from this spring.

The Ambassador presented an address open to the entire U.Va. community about the relationship between the United States and Sweden.  He described modern diplomacy as “global approach that is not just about burden sharing, but is instead focused on engaging and consulting with others around the world.”  He emphasized the importance of people to people connections and his, and other diplomats, role in reaching and inspiring young citizens of the millennial generation.

Social media is one of the key platforms the Ambassador uses to communicate with the people of Sweden: “I use Facebook, I use Twitter, I use YouTube to digitally connect with and to bear witness to the people within my jurisdiction. . . using social media as a vehicle for transparency, bringing folks inside the Embassy walls, getting them to engage with us in a respectful, mutual conversation about the challenges of our time, whether it is foreign fighters or the arctic or overseas development assistance.”

Watch Ambassador Brzezinski’s community address here:

A U.Va. undergraduate student, Will Evans, with a strong interest in economic and environmental policy, enjoyed meeting the Ambassador after his community address. Will shared his thoughts on the Ambassador’s comments with the Cavalier Daily in this piece.

During his visit, the Ambassador spoke passionately about his environmental concerns, efforts to raise awareness and to bring the Arctic countries together to combat climate change.  He discussed the work that he has done to increase sustainability and to address the issues facing the Arctic to the Net Impact Club at Darden.  After the presentation, students engaged the Ambassador in a question and answer session, sharing their perspectives and delving deeper into the challenges facing the Arctic.  The students were also curious how the Ambassador’s education and time in Virginia serves him in his career.  The Ambassador, who is a graduate of the U.Va. Law School, explained that, “I love the Virginia outdoors and that is something that I brought to Sweden with me. My strong commitment to the natural resources started in Virginia and really became part of me.”

Watch this short clip to learn more about how the Ambassador’s time in Virginia influenced his perspectives and career:

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Darden and Insper Football Match

Darden welcomed a group of 18 Executive MBA students from Brazil last week for an international partner program, Extensão Darden Insper 2014. In addition to learning about “Networks and Narratives,” the group had time to meet current Darden students, visit Monticello, and play a soccer match with full-time Darden students and faculty.

Click on any photo below to enlarge it and then click the large photo to move to the next one in the series.

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Scandinavia and U.S. Businesses: Is Mutual Imitation a Good Idea?

The Darden Institute for Business and Society just posted an excellent piece on their blog by guest writer UC Berkeley Haas School of Business’ Robert Strand.  Read about Dr. Strand’s concerns about the Americanization of Scandinavia in preparation for the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, Mark Brzezinski’s, visit to Darden on October 15.

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Darden in Shanghai Fall 2014

Curious about Darden’s recent and upcoming engagement in China?  Check out the latest version of the Darden in Shanghai newsletter.

Also, please save the date for the second annual Darden Shanghai Investing Summit, which will take place on May 8, 2015. More soon!

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Leadership Lessons From Normandy Invasion

By Abena Foreman-Trice

Lessons in leadership are gleaned from the way in which wars are fought and won.

But they aren’t just for the enlightenment of military personnel. B-school students and business leaders benefit a great deal from these lessons as well.

Listen to commentary from Gordon Rudd, dean of academics and professor of strategic studies at the U.S Marine School of Advanced Warfighting…

… as he explains the important connection between military history and business leadership.

First Year MBA students and alumni of the University of Virginia Darden School of Business explored the historic battlegrounds of Normandy, France this past spring in search of leadership lessons that applied not only to the world’s largest seaborne invasion, but that also resonate in the business word.

Normandy exploration

Darden’s First Year Students on the Normandy Ride

The pilot program, called the “First Year MBA Normandy Global Leadership Ride,” challenged Darden students to examine the components of the Allied sea, air and land assaults of D-Day and draw parallels between the leadership actions displayed by soldiers on the battlefield and the leadership actions that the students can take into the boardroom.

The Normandy invasions, which began 6 June 1944, required extensive planning, including military strategy development, the use of communication technology to fool the enemy and lots of practice. Ultimately, the preparations led to the successful execution of a plan to overcome Nazi Germany’s stronghold over France and much of Europe.

The first portion of the program took place on Darden’s Grounds, where students studied the command structure, leadership and operations the invasions required. The experiential learning portion took place over three days in Normandy. Students visited:

  • Omaha Beach, St. Lo
  • Utah Beach, Cherbourg
  • Arromanches and the British Sector

At each location, two students provided a briefing of the events from the Allied and German sides, followed by a 20-minute discussion on leadership and how the actions translated into business.

Full-time MBA student Sonja Pedersen Green led a discussion with the group at St. Lo.

“Hedgerows limited visibility for the Allies and prevented them from seeing the snipers who were firing at them,” said Pedersen-Green. “To improve visibility, an infantryman came up with the idea of attaching devices onto tanks to cut down the shrubbery and improve visibility for the Allies.”

Pedersen-Green, whose summer internship will involve work in strategy and business development, believes this type of bottom-up creativity shows the value in getting ideas from people working on the front lines.

“Getting firsthand accounts is important in business and vital in determining and implementing business strategy,” she said.

She also noted inflexibility as a contributor to Germany’s ultimate failure in the war.

“There were big differences between the Germans and the Allies,” she said. “Allies could make quick decisions on the ground, whereas the Germans had to go through their bureaucracy before they could pivot in a new direction. The Germans operated with more of a hierarchy, and the Allies had a more streamlined reporting structure.”

Normandy cemetary

A moment of contemplation and respect

Not only did the experience evoke lessons in business leadership, but the visits also awakened the students’ senses and allowed them to imagine the dangers that the soldiers faced.

“Looking at the shrubbery and imagining gunfire coming at you that you can’t see allowed you to feel a sense of fear,” said Pedersen-Green.

“We did all the right advance work by diligently studying the extraordinary challenges facing leaders at all levels of the Invasion of Normandy. But being in the field with experienced military leaders and scholars made all the difference,” said Peter Rodriguez, senior associate dean for degree programs at Darden. “The enduring imprint of being engaged at the key touch points of history can’t be replicated anywhere else.”

The pilot program was created through collaboration with Darden faculty members and Gordon Rudd, dean of academics and professor of strategic studies at the U.S Marine School of Advanced Warfighting.

Normandy walking

First-hand experiences leading to greater leadership understanding

“I have had an interest in MBA programs in general for some time and the Darden School in particular due to its reputation. MBA programs are about a great deal more than business and have application to other endeavors involving leadership and management critical to military planning and operations,” said Rudd.

“I think the overriding theme was that events do not always go according to plan, and the questions is: What, as a leader, are you going to do about it? The American attack at Pointe du Hoc emphasized this point,” said Gaither Shaw (MBA ’71), one of the two Darden alumni to attend the pilot program.

Shaw explained that the commander for this particular mission, Major Cleveland A. Lytle, spoke against the campaign and was under the influence of alcohol the night before the attack. Against orders and in the face of seemingly impossible odds, Lieutenant Colonel James Earl Rudder took command and went ashore, leading his men to accomplish the mission.

“Also, the importance of trained, lower-level commanders stepping up under duress was repeated time after time,” said Shaw.

As in war, business is filled with surprises and uncertainty. Darden strives to develop leaders who can make decisions while dealing with unforeseen challenges.

Normandy beach

Darden students and faculty leaders explore the Normandy beach

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Ugandan MUST Lecturers Share Insights on How Health Affects Business in Africa

Bernard and Student Chat

MUST’s Bernard Kakuhikire chats with students

“Working within the community has helped me to learn lots of things, but the most important is that it takes time for understanding and understanding is key to effective progress,” shared Bernard Kakuhikire, Director of the Institute of Management Sciences, Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), while speaking to Darden students last week.

While UVa and MUST have benefitted from their relationship since 2007, collaborations have largely focused on medical initiatives.  MUST’s Bernard Kakuhikire and his colleague Geoffrey Bwireh’s visit to Darden last week allowed time for many discussions to take place about potential collaborations between the business schools.  The guests came to learn about new business models, agribusiness initiatives, sustainability and entrepreneurship and also spoke to students both formally and informally.

Bernard presenting

How Health Affects Business in Africa

The Emerging Markets and Development Club organized an evening event for Mr. Kakuhikire and Mr. Bwireh to present their thoughts on healthcare to students.  The guests spoke about the impact that healthcare challenges have on business within Uganda and Africa as a whole.

Mr. Kakuhikire, as principal investigator of two donor funded projects related both to business and health, and Mr. Bwireh, as a Red Cross Society volunteer and national logistics strategy manager, provided insider perspectives on the cyclical nature of illness within a population:  “Sickness decreases productivity, discourages investment and tourism, which results in decreased taxes flowing to the government. Sometimes children are required to drop out of school to look after their siblings or parents” said Mr. Kakuhikire.  He went on to explain that while approximately 60% of the health system in Uganda is public, and 20% is mission or faith-based (with the remaining 20% being privately funded), the mission or faith-based facilities are by far the most effective.  With corruption in the government, Mr. Kakuhikire estimated that only 20% of the public health systems are actually effective, meaning someone who needs medical care is able to receive it by going to a clinic or a hospital.

One student, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in a neighboring African country, mentioned that she had observed that access to good healthcare depends largely on effective infrastructure systems. Mr. Bwireh and Mr. Kakuhikire agreed that without bridges or usable roads, it is impossible for trucks carrying medical supplies to get through. They established that in order for the healthcare system to function, the supply chain between system between the provider and the patient must become less complicated and fraught with logistical challenges.

Geoffrey talking to students2

Mr. Bwireh makes a point

Mr. Bwireh explained another challenge: Ugandan healthcare workers often leave to work in other countries.  “Uganda has a good training program for healthcare workers, but employee morale is very, very low. The government does not pay them enough to keep them in the country and we’re losing a resource we need.” Mr. Kakuhikire added that “For proper [disease] management, it has to start at the household level. Some of the diseases should be manageable, but people do not know what to do so they go to a hospital, which is often already overcrowded, and risk the chance of picking up something else.”

In large part, Mr. Bwireh and Mr. Kakuhikire discussed healthcare challenges in terms of greater infrastructure and societal issues that lead to either the inability to distribute and use resources effectively or a lack of knowledge or concern about basic best healthcare practices that would otherwise be manageable. The challenges around healthcare involve questions related to a much broader scope of activity than simply a patient receiving care. In order to be effective, the system must be able to manage money appropriately, have infrastructure systems in place to support transportation, and be able be able to support flows of information.  Even though none of these systems are directly related to healthcare, without them the task of reaching those in need or establishing preventative measures becomes increasingly difficult and complex.

Yichen Feng (MBA ’15) remarked after the discussion that “we study business problems at Darden through the traditional business plan framework of identifying a problem and providing a market driven solution. Our guests showed us a deeper way of thinking about problems that often don’t have straightforward solutions. Social issues involve addressing root causes, providing community support and thinking well into the future. Learning about what they’re doing with HOPENet was fascinating and we have a lot to learn.”

Group Photo after the talk

Emerging Markets and Development Club representatives with Mr. Bwireh and Mr. Kakuhikire

First Coffee

The Center for Global Initiative’s Executive Director, Marc Johnson, introduces Mr. Kakuhikire and Mr. Bwireh to a student at First Coffee

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Darden GFE Helps Students Combat Human Trafficking

By Jacqui Lazo and Abena Foreman-Trice

With Fall 2014 classes in full swing and Second Year students excited to begin working on their global field elective projects, it is worthwhile to remember the incredible impact the pilot GFEs have had during the last two years.  The Freeset project serves as an example of the kind of social contributions students can make with communities around the world and the learning that takes place when students have first-hand experiences.  Darden’s Center for Global Initiatives has moved the GFE program out of its pilot phase and formalized it as an ongoing program as a result of students’ desire to work towards solving real, complex, pressing challenges in the world today.

“We’re in the business of freedom,” said Annie Hilton, co-founder of Freeset. In 2001, Annie and her husband, Kerry, started Freeset, a fair-trade business operating out of Kolkata, India, that addresses the growing problem of human trafficking by employing women trapped in the Sonagichi red-light district. The women manufacture custom bags, shirts and other garments, and in turn are able to provide a better life for them and their children.

“I can’t tell you how old I am. I don’t know,” said Shurti, who came to work at the Hilton’s company to support her family. “Before I started working at Freeset, life was very tough. Day after day I would stand in line. On the days when customers didn’t come, I didn’t eat.”

Shurti’s story is one of the many shared by the company on its website.

“There are some 10,000 women in Kolkata alone working in a one square-mile brothel,” said CJ Jain (MBA ’14), who initiated the relationship between Darden and Freeset as the President of the Emerging Markets Development Club during his Second Year. The Hiltons have come to Darden twice in the last two years to speak with students about their venture, and this past year, Jain collaborated with the Center for Global Initiatives to develop a Global Field Elective (GFE) experience. Four students participated in the inaugural Freeset GFE, where they had the opportunity to consult to Freeset.

“Our business is about women being set free. It’s about new girls not being born and sold,” Annie said. “We need to multiply, we need to grow. We’re excited about the partnership we have with Darden because the students have the expertise we don’t have on the ground.” Darden students conducted research to help Freeset develop new relationships, find new products to manufacture and expand its marketing strategy.

Unrestricted funds raised by the Darden Annual Fund supported more than 13 of the pilot GFEs around the world for the 2013-2014 academic year, giving Darden students the opportunity to apply the business skills they’ve gained from the classroom to impact lives such as Shurti’s and her 200+ co-workers employed at Freeset.

“Freeset is interesting to me both as an MBA student and as a person,” said Jain. “The issue the company deals with is so fundamentally huge. We’re talking about basic human rights for women.

”What’s astonished me about Freeset is it tells a very different story about business. As a business person, it’s inspiring to think about how I can use my profession to change the world around me.”

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Creating Opportunities in Sri Lanka: A Win-Win Business Venture

“I wanted to be loyal to the customers and the employees” stated Shaun Jayasundera (MBA ’93).  By strategically building his company, Monthly Warranty, from the ground up, Jayasundera has been able to do just that. He employs six software programmers in Sri Lanka while Jayasundera and his partner focus on business development from Austin, Texas.  Their business systems and processes work so seamlessly that customers do not realize that Monthly Warranty relies largely on employees based primarily in the former civil war-torn city of Jaffna, rebuilding their own community and lives.

Shaun Jayasundera of Monthly Warranty

Shaun Jayasundera of Monthly Warranty

The ideas of Monthly Warranty and Jayasundera’s dedication to taking good care of his employees were born largely from his 12 years working for Dell.  After finishing his degree at Darden, Jayasundera started working in finance, held various executive positions in marketing, and finally led Dell’s South and South East Asia’s Small, Medium Business (SMB) and Consumer divisions.  During his time at Dell, he helped the US Consumer division reach the number one market position though innovative pricing management and monthly payment plans, and expanded Dell’s markets in Asia, including launching SMB units in India and Taiwan.  Upon returning to the States, Jayasundera found himself frustrated dealing with internal challenges rather than going to market.  He came up with the entrepreneurial idea of Dell offering extended warranties to customers on a subscription basis.  Upper level executives at Dell, including Michael Dell, loved the idea but Dell’s internal IT department did not have the resources to support the new initiative. Jayasundera decided that while he benefited greatly from his experiences at Dell, it was time to prioritize his own initiatives and found his own company.

Both Jayasundera and his wife are originally from Sri Lanka, and in the summer of 2005 when Jayasundera left Dell, he and his family spent a couple of months in Sri Lanka and South East Asia where they visited relatives and former Dell colleagues, introduced their children to their roots, and Jayasundera thought through his business ideas. This time was critical because Jayasundera saw a market full of talented technical workers who were not being utilized to their full potential.  Sri Lanka was still engaged in a three decades old civil war, which limited multinational companies from recruiting or investing there.  Jayasundera saw an opportunity and set a goal to access that talent when he started his company, which would also leverage the country’s lower cost of living and help contribute to re-building his native economy.

In 2006, Jayasundera hired his first Sri Lankan programmers and worked with them to develop the new software platform his company would use to offer and manage subscription-based extended warranties, from sales through service.  Over time, they added capabilities that included automatically displaying warranties on e-tailers’ web sites during customer product purchases and enabling customers to request service on their products from their online portal.  With his mechanical engineering and software development background, Jayasundera took an active role in designing the monthly warranty system.  The software went through rigorous testing, both internally and externally by Dell which was a potential client “looking under the hood” to make sure the software could handle the volume of activity required.

The 12 hour time difference between Sri Lanka and Texas benefitted the young company because someone was working at any given point in a 24 hour period.  The developers worked while Jayasundera slept and then Jayasundera and his partner conducted tests and made suggestions while the Sri Lankans slept.  The team touched base every morning and evening so there was never more than a 12 hour period without contact, a practice they maintain to this day.

Monthly Warranty's Jaffna Team

Monthly Warranty’s Jaffna Team

The Sri Lankan programmers “appreciate getting  to work during the daytime hours, unlike typical off-shore opportunities originating in the U.S. and Europe” explained Jayasundera.  The two programmers Jayasundera hired to get Monthly Warranty off the ground are still with the company today.  “They perform at the level of four or five new programmers because they know the system so well.  I really value their loyalty and internal knowledge. I want them to know that the company values their loyalty, and loyalty goes both ways” said Jayasundera.  He takes care of his employees by being flexible and promoting a healthy work-life balance.  When one of his top programmers, who was originally from the Northeast part of the country, where the civil war caused the greatest damage, asked to return home at the end of the war, Jayasundera not only agreed, but also decided to hire more people from that part of the country.  He promoted his top programmer to manager, opened an office in Jaffna, and hired from a talent pool that lacked opportunities because of their direct proximity to the war.  He commented, “I feel great that we’re able to provide employment to people in Sri Lanka.  But had I not gone to Sri Lanka, we might have not have been in business after the first few years, when we were still developing the software and establishing the business.”

Though the deal with Dell did not ultimately pan out, the focus on creating an excellent software system from the beginning opened up a new market that Jayasundera did not initially identify as part of the Monthly Warranty plan.  In addition to being the only warranty company offering subscription based, pay-as-you go warranty options through retailers, other warranty companies became interested in the software. Within the first five years of starting, Monthly Warranty competitors became clients by hiring Monthly Warranty to customize and implement the software as a service, in their own brands.  Jayasundera noted, “It’s all very exciting. We get paid based on the results of our partners. We are motivated to execute flawlessly so their sales are maximized, as are ours.”

Monthly Warranty is currently growing at about 50% a year, which Jayasundera attributes to customer expectations being repeatedly exceeded by the software implementations as well as the growing network of small and medium sized retailers and e-tailers Monthly Warranty now supports.  Jayasundera expects to hire two more programmers to work in the Jaffna office by the end of the year to meet increased demand.

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Sweden Global Business Experience – an evening focused on Sustainability & Social Entrepreneurship hosted at the U.S. Ambassadorial Residence

Twenty-two Darden MBA students, led by Darden faculty member, Andrea Larson, spent a week on a Global Business Experience (GBE) in Stockholm, Sweden in May 2014, investigating the theme of  “Sustainability, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Scandinavia.” Students gained insights into the business successes and opportunities associated with products, products, systems and services informed by sustainability principles. Swedish companies and municipalities have pioneered these principles, inspired by realities and parameters of pollution limits, ecological system laws and the conscious human aspiration to reduce if not eliminate social inequities, creating a seedbed of innovation that has influenced markets worldwide.  

On the first night of their GBE program in Stockholm, the group had a very unique opportunity to be hosted by the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, Mr. Mark Brzezinski, and his wife, Mrs. Natalia Brzezinski, for a panel discussion on “Sustainability & Social Entrepreneurship “at the Ambassadorial Residence.  The Brzezinskis arranged for a wonderful panel of successful Swedish entrepreneurs to have a dialogue with our students. The panelist included:

  • Sarah McPhee, CEO of Storebrand SPP
  • Martin Lorentzon, co-founder & Chairman of the Board for Spotify
  • Sebastian Siematowski, founder & CEO Klarna
  • Carolina Sachs, Secretary General for Axfoundation
  • Ben Gorham, founder and CEO Byredo

In her role as part of an Ambassadorial couple, Mrs. Natalia Brzezinski  has worked in collaboration with the U.S. Embassy team to promote women’s empowerment in business, youth engagement on diversity issues and entrepreneurship. As part of these efforts, she has explored in detail Sweden’s high-tech startup scene and innovation ecosystem.

She frequently speaks publicly on the value of both ethnic and gender diversity in business, women’s leadership and how the values of the millennial generation will shape the future workplace. She recently visited Darden in January 2014 to speak with our various student groups on these topics.

Natalia began an interview series with The Huffington Post focusing on Swedish female leaders in politics, business and the arts. She also co-writes with her husband a personal blog on U.S. State Department’s web site, geared to sharing their experiences in Sweden.

Natalia recounted the fantastic evening with our Darden students in her Brzezinski’s Blog.  Please read her full blog post here. 


Photo courtesy of the Brzezinski’s Blog.

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South Africa Global Business Experience 2014–Student Reflections

Over spring break, 80 Darden students went on Global Business Experiences (GBEs). Students took these on-site courses led by Darden faculty in Shanghai, China (Prof. Marc Lipson); Barcelona, Spain (Prof. Jeanne Liedtka); Cape Town/Johannesburg, South Africa (Prof. Mary Margaret Frank) and Copenhagen, Denmark (Prof. Elliott Weiss).

RohanGupta First Year student, Rohan Gupta, recently shared his reflections on his South Africa GBE in our Darden student newspaper, The Cold Call Chronicle.  The South Africa GBE was comprised of thirty-one First Year and Second Year students and led by Professor Mary Margaret Frank. Rohan’s article is re-posted below.

Its 4:30 AM, I am out of bed and I am already late. I quickly change my clothes, brush my teeth, grab my camera and run out of the cottage towards the reception where everyone is hopefully waiting for me. It’s still dark so I stumble a couple of times. Thankfully everyone is still here, I get in one of the jeeps and we are off!

This was my first morning on the South Africa GBE in March 2014. We were in Kruger National Park, one of the largest and most famous game reserves in Africa. That morning we saw a leopard, giraffes, elephants, rhinos and hyenas. We saw these animals closest to their natural environment. It was a truly remarkable experience. Once on that jeep, I quickly forgot about my struggle getting out of bed in the morning.

If I start describing the amazing experiences I had in South Africa, I would need this whole newspaper! So I am going to tell you about the three main reasons why I loved this GBE. The first was the sheer variety of experiences we had. It all started with a couple of days on safari. In the next seven days, we learned about South Africa’s history with a focus on apartheid and its impact on the country. We visited nine companies in industries as varied as boat building, wine making, telecom and the Department of Agriculture. And we found time to climb Table Mountain, take in a sunset cruise and explore Cape Town in the middle of it all. There was not a single minute to get bored!

The second reason I loved this GBE was the people – our hosts in South Africa, the people we met over there from various companies, and the most amazing group of people from Darden. We were hosted by the Stellenbosch University, which basically meant that they helped setup a lot of the logistics and meetings for us in South Africa. Someone from the university was with us throughout the journey and their local knowledge and anecdotes made us feel at home. I was totally floored by the friendliness and openness of South Africans. We asked lot of questions and received honest replies and reflections. Sensitive issues such as race were energetically and openly discussed. Given South Africa’s painful history of apartheid, it looked to me that South Africans have learnt to tackle these issues head-on. Hearing about and discussing these unique challenges was very different from the USA or other parts of the world. Before I went on this GBE, I probably knew only five of the thirty students who were with me on the trip. By the time we finished, I knew all of them.  Ten days of intense learning and fun bought us together.

And lastly, I took away some important lessons of doing business in a global context. Multi-national companies face unique challenges in serving local customers. Africa has a very different customer base than USA and Europe. They also have different environmental, socio-economic and regulatory conditions. The difference is perhaps most apparent for a cosmetics company. We had a conversation with the CEO of Elizabeth Arden South Africa. The typical customer for them in USA is a white, relatively older female. But their typical customer in Africa is the black young female. For the first few years, they did not have the r south africa gbe 2014
equired color products to serve this local customer! They were convinced that what sold in USA will sell in South Africa. We learned that even for a company like them, it was difficult for the South Africa managers to convince the HQ managers in USA to innovate products and processes to specifically serve the local customer.

South Africa’s rich history, diversity and natural beauty were a treat to explore. Though we only scratched the surface, it was an experience to remember. It has inspired me to visit South Africa again in the future, this time for much longer than ten days.

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