A Week In South Africa



South Africa is the country that I have always dreamed to visit once in my life. One year ago, I still questioned if I would ever have a chance to be there. One year later, I found myself sitting on the deck of The Water Front, in the centre of Cape Town, enjoying the bright sunshine and fresh breeze. Like a dream. I got this wonderful chance thanks to the International Study Tour which is part of the UCD Smurfit MBA Programme. Although, the trip was only one week, but I, along with my MBA peers spent a fruitful time in this amazing country. The first destination was Johannesburg, a rapidly changing city and the vibrant heart of South Africa. Being the biggest city of South Africa, Johannesburg also plays the role of the major commercial, financial, and industrial hub. Here, we not only visited big companies like Coca Cola and Old Mutual, but also got a chance to go to Soweto, a historic ‘township’ area, Hector Pietersen Museum and Nelson Mandela’s old house which helped me to understand more about history of this country.


Coming from Vietnam, a country experiencing the same terrified pain of war, I feel that I can really relate to South Africa’s long history of struggling for freedom and equality, and also amazed by the fact that the country has quickly rebuilt and developed to become a member of BRICS within just 20 years. The next destination was Cape Town, the capital of South Africa. It is such a beautiful and lovely city which easily makes you fall in love with. We visited a lot of companies, start-ups, social entrepreneur and non-profit organizations, as well as having a great time on a sunset cruise and wine tasting trip to the winelands.

Sunset Cruise
Sunset Cruise







Through this trip, I have learned a lot of new things. What impressed me most is that although being an emerging country, South Africa pays a lot of attention to policy measurements that improve the environment, income gap and social equality. Especially, to me, the idea of BBBEE is very interesting and I think this can be applied to other developing countries. Other than that, I also had a chance to experience the culture of South Africa which is mixture of African and European influence. In just one week, I fell in love with South Africa’s unique culture, beautiful landscape, and nice people. Everywhere I went, I always saw bright smiles, I was warmly welcomed, and treated with friendliness and great hospitality. I will definitely come back to this country. Thanks to the Smurfit MBA for giving me this memorable experience.

Thao Nguyen ~ Full-Time MBA

MBA International Study Tour 2016 – An SA Essay


As an Exec MBA, it’s quite a decision to go on the international study tour. Between expense, college workload, work commitments, annual leave and further time away from general joy, it’s easy to see why my classmates found the decision less than straight forward. As one put it: “it’s a bit of a hard sell to the wife, to trek off to South Africa for a jolly while I’m not even taking her out for dinner.” Fair point. Although I bet she still hasn’t got that dinner.

I made the decision to eventually go myself for three reasons: i) you can always earn more money, but you might not always find great experience; ii) South Africa posed an incredibly unique learning environment (fairly different to Room N204, at least) and iii) it hadn’t been sunny in Ireland for 471 days. I did hesitate when only 5 of my own classmates were going – everyone else was from the full-time MBA stream and while I had caught a name or two in the handful of classes we shared this term, I really didn’t know anyone else. So to say I was nervous was an understatement, though presumably you’re not supposed to admit that, as an MBA student (who doesn’t love networking? It’s the BEST.). But it felt like an escalated version of that awful feeling you get when you first walk into a networking event – see absolutely nobody you know – and so look desperately for the biscuits.

​Regardless, it was easy to get excited about what was ahead. The educational theme of the South African trip was loosely mirrored to the Business & Society module – which I now realise is the same module that inspired a previous blog post of mine. It’s definitely a topic of personal interest for me; the delicate space between the responsibilities of business and the complexities of societal need. Post-apartheid South Africa provides a very unique socio-economic environment in which to explore the subject – but while I was expecting some interesting insights and the occasional key learning, the spectacular programme we received far exceeded my expectations. Expertly designed to allow the gradual build of a narrative of the country over the course of the week, the quality of the content was surpassed only by the passion and open sincerity of the speakers. While I can’t possibly give a complete overview in a single blog post (“over-enthusiastic MBA student breaks internet”), I would like to offer a brief window into just two organisations.

In Johannesburg, we visited Raizcorp, a phenomenally successful entrepreneurial incubator, spearheaded by Founder & CEO Allon Raiz. There is nothing like listening to a speaker who is so wholly assured that they are doing some simple, unadorned good in the world. Wincing at a roomful of MBAs’ subtle (and not so subtle) demands for the “real success” stories, he stressed to us that there is success beyond the bottom line in the context of the entrepreneur. His account of the multi-million success story was equal in enthusiasm and vigour to his telling of the local plumbing business which now thrives in the township of the owner, providing the luxury of financial independence and educational security for her family. Furthermore, Raiz’s basic framework for entrepreneurship completely contradicts the principles of what we have learnt so far in our study of entrepreneurial theory. His outward distain for anything resembling an ROI calculation is the kind of thing that goes through my mind on a daily basis in class, while I wonder if I should really be taking medieval lit or jam-making. Author of “Lose the Business Plan” he tells us that his company invests in people, not business models – for the simple logic that business models are so liable to change and reconfiguration in their initial stages that they must be immediately rendered obsolete. But the PERSON? It is their very susceptibility to flux and change that will ultimately create value – shaping the business, and indeed themselves as leader, for years to come. So why place your faith and investment in anything else?


As we moved on to Cape Town, it was hard to imagine the trip continuing at the high standard it had been. However visiting some of the not-for-profits in the region was so inspiring. One in particular, Velokhaya, has lingered for me. Working with the young boys of the township of Khayelitsha and beyond, the organisation aims to keep children in education for as long as possible through the simple discipline of owning a bike and participating in cycling tournaments. We even had the opportunity of a quick demonstration from some of the young talent enrolled today – their pride in performing for their visitors was just a showstopper. Throughout our trip, the dismal truth of the South African educational system was a prominent feature in how the racial imbalance of opportunity in the country is maintained; the continuing commitment of organisations to correct this inequity, in both great and small ways, is profound.

Coming to the end of a two-year stint on the MBA, I have to admit that I had become very ready for the close of the programme. But following the South Africa trip, I remembered what makes this experience truly special – throwing yourself into something new, uncharted and literally and figuratively outside of your world. The intellectual exhilaration of that is fairly unparalleled in day-to-day living and I know I have witnessed things on this trip that will stay with me for the rest of my life. And to be fortunate enough to share those experiences alongside an absolutely stellar bunch of people is all the more exceptional – as it turns out, I didn’t even need the biscuits.

Ruth Cranks ~ Year 2, Executive MBA

MBA International Study Tour 2016

Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai

Last night (for the ninth year in a row), we had Lyndon Worrall from Legacy Ventures join us for the Pre-International Study Tour Briefing Session. We are just four weeks out from the Study Tour so we were all eagerly awaiting Lyndon’s presentation and left the session feeling very excited after hearing all that is in store for us!

Lyndon Worrall – Legacy Ventures

During his presentation, Lyndon explained how the Study Tour allows participants to immerse themselves in the business environment of a specific country by taking them on an intensive exploration of local business practices, challenges and cultures, using company visits as the ideal setting for practical learning. The Study Tour combines a variety of high-level company visits, presentations and panel discussions from leading executives, government officials and entrepreneurs, all relevant to the core management disciplines being studied on the ‘Doing Business in International Markets’ MBA module.

Cape Town Overview
Cape Town

On March 12th, 61 MBA students will depart for the annual Smurfit MBA International Study Tour. 39 students will be traveling to South Africa, accompanied by Dr. Virginia Stewart, Lyndon Worrall and myself. 22 students will be going to UAE & India, joined by Professor Karan Sonpar, Professor Pat Gibbons, Sze Von Lam and Roisin O’Loughlin.

The South Africa trip will include visits to both Johannesburg and Cape Town while the UAE & India group will be going from Dubai to Mumbai.

Along with the academic aspect of this module, there are three main outcomes that we aim to achieve throughout the week:

Career Development: To develop a deeper understanding of doing business in an international context and an opportunity to network with senior executives from various backgrounds.

Skills Development: Practical exposure to innovative business case studies relevant to the core courses studied and enhance team working skills through group challenges.

Personal Development: An intensive social networking opportunity. Build strong relationships. Challenging experience – “get you out of your comfort zone”.

View from below the world's tallest building, standing at almost 830 metres and 160 stories high. Illuminated at night.
The Burj Khalifa – View from below the world’s tallest building, standing at almost 830 metres and 160 stories high. Illuminated at night.

There is a strong networking and social element to the Study Tour and Lyndon has lots of exciting adventures lined up; dinner at Atlantis, The Palm Dubai, a visit to the world’s tallest building The Burj Khalifa, a sunset cruise around Table Bay in Cape Town and lots more.

Keep an eye on the MBA Blog next month to hear how we get on in South Africa, UAE & India!

Avril Donohue ~ MBA Alumni Relations, Marketing & Events 

Click here find out more about the Smurfit MBA

Study Tour to South Africa – Fostering the Spirit of Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Vodacom Visit March 2015

It was a couple of weeks back when we had commenced our journey to South Africa for our 8-day intensive Study tour, as part of the ‘Doing Business in Emerging Markets’ MBA module. Though, we were looking forward to whole new world of learning and experiences, we never thought that it would be such an amazing experience. The companies we visited ranged from well-established MNCs viz. Vodacom, Old Mutual plc, SABMiller plc to highly successful innovative and entrepreneurial organizations viz. Raizcorp, Synexa Life Sciences, Pick n Pay etc. The interactions with entrepreneurs and top managerial personnel helped us in understanding the nuances, challenges and opportunities of doing business in South Africa in general, and in emerging economies in particular. We also had the opportunity to interact with students of GIBS, a leading business school of South Africa and share mutual perspectives. We had Networking events with ‘Enterprise Ireland’ and ‘Business Ireland’ in Johannesburg and Cape town, which gave us an opportunity to interact with numerous successful and dynamic entrepreneurs, who have established their businesses from scratch in South Africa and today they had become a living inspiration for the aspiring entrepreneur.

South Africa was seen by our group as one of the most enterprising nations and it has therefore earned its place in BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) association of emerging economies. During the tour, we also visited a few South African communities to understand cultural perspectives of the country.

It’s really amazing how much an international study tour can transform you and can foster a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. The diversity of the South African population and their determination to collectively work together for their nation’s progress, despite differences in languages and cultures (South Africa has 11 official languages) can be observed in its workplaces. It helped us to gain extremely useful insights about leading effectively in cross-cultural teams, inculcating teamwork and collaboration.

The Study Tour definitely gave us valuable understanding about the business opportunities in emerging markets and challenges being faced by them. This also gave us a toolkit to overcome those challenges which can be applied not only in emerging economies but also universally to foster the spirit of innovation, teamwork and entrepreneurship in the organisations we would be working in throughout our future careers.

Ashutosh Singla ~ Full Time MBA