When people hear that I’ve just returned from South Africa, they always ask “How was it?” It’s hard to think of just one word to describe the trip but one tends to come to mind – amazing.
20 hours of travel time later, we arrived in Johannesburg Thursday September 29th around dinner time and headed to our hotel – the Fire & Ice Hotel. We had free time for the evening, and woke up bright and early the next day to start our adventure.
Our first visit Friday was to MultiChoice – the leading satellite television operator for the African continent. It was so interesting to hear about the companies business strategy and how it is influenced by the unique consumer base within Africa – because the customers are very emotionally engaged with the product, which can create both advantages and disadvantages. It was also the perfect day to visit, because South Africa was playing a game in the rugby world cup and almost every single person in the office was wearing a rugby jersey and evidence of the passion the country has for sports and exhibiting patriotism.
From MultiChoice we headed to Deloitte, where we learned about the history of South Africa on a deeper level and also heard from an Audit Partner about the country’s recent transition to IFRS and the implications of that transition. The transition will hopefully bring benefits of universal comparability and consistency to the financial statements of companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, and help continue to draw foreign investment to the country and to the continent as a whole.
Friday afternoon we went to the Origins Centre – a museum that explores the history of humankind and contains an extensive collection of rock art. From the Origins Centre we went to Moyo’s for a group dinner, which features African cuisine from across the continent. We got to hear and see the mbira – a finger xylophone and the group had their faces painted.
Saturday morning we woke up and headed to the Ivory Tree Game Lodge which is located on the Pilanesberg Game Reserve (about 3 hours from Johannesburg) until Monday morning. We checked in and got settled in each of our cabins, and then met for high tea and headed out for our first game drive. We met again for 3 more game drives after that, and saw the most incredible animals – elephants, lions, hippos, rhinos, giraffes, zebras – you name it. On our last evening game drive we saw a giant male lion and the last drive we saw a huge herd of elephants.
Monday, after our morning game drive, we headed back to Johannesburg and had the pleasure of meeting with both McKinsey & Company and with the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. At McKinsey, we learned about the company’s role in helping private, public, and governmental organizations solve challenges through management consulting and learned a little bit more about the unique consumer base we heard about at MultiChoice. At the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, whose securities regulations are the highest in the world, we learned about the different sorts of companies that list with the JSE and the challenges the exchange faces in a globally competitive market. That evening, we headed to the airport and flew to Cape Town and checked in at The PortsWood Hotel – right across the street from the V&A Waterfront.
Tuesday, we had a cultural tour of the Cape Region of South Africa. We headed down to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope – the two most southern tips of the African continent and about 2 hours drive from Cape Town. From Cape Point we headed to see the penguins at Boulder’s Bay. From Boulder’s Bay we headed to a location of Grassroots Soccer – an organization that uses soccer as a tool to deliver HIV prevention and life skills training to youth. Cape Town’s role as a host of the 2010 FIFA world cup allowed Grassroots Soccer to form an alliance with FIFA as part of the “Football for Hope” movement.
Wednesday started with a company visit with the Cape Town Stadium, the site of the 2010 FIFA world cup. Security was a little tricky that morning because Coldplay was playing a concert that evening – but we didn’t mind because we got to listen to the soundcheck once we were inside! The stadium was beautiful and lucky for us, has an open roof, so we were all able to hear the concert that night from our hotel rooms. That afternoon,we headed to visit Ernst & Young in their Cape Town office, an integral part of E&Y’s “Africa Business Center”. We were lucky to hear from 4 different partners about a variety of issues. The interactive presentation gave us greater insight into the increasing attractiveness of Africa for foreign investment and the need for investors to be specifically focused in a “bottom heavy” consumer pyramid with increasing power due to increased growth.
Thursday was our last day together as a group. First, we visited the V&A Corporate Headquarters – who specialize in Development, Property, and Asset Management. The V&A Waterfront is Cape Town’s most visited destination, so it was really interesting to hear the background on the development of the site and also the business strategies for the future. The waterfront saw 3 million visitors in 1 month alone during the World Cup! From V&A, we headed to Stellenbosch for lunch (South Africa’s second oldest city) and on to Diemersfontein Winery. Tough life, huh? First we had a wine tasting, and then we were able to tour the facilities and learn about how the wine is made. From the winery we headed back to Cape Town to the Gold of Africa Museum for dinner. Before dinner, we had a drum lesson and each of us had our own individual drums. Dinner featured cuisines from all over the African continent and also featured three different performances and was definitely a great end to our group time.
Friday was our last day, and I was part of the brave group to head down to the coast again in Gansbaai for a great white shark dive! There’s definitely no experience like it – and we were lucky to see several great whites in action.
It was definitely the trip of a lifetime and will be one we will never forget, and we are so grateful for Emily Wilkins and Lindsey Molusky who planned everything perfectly and also to our professors – Stephen Stubben and Chris Bingham – who took the time to come with us and definitely kept us entertained.