We saw white rhinos, giraffes, elephants, hippos, gazelles, wildebeests, buffalo and aardvarks. And this wasn’t even Woburn Safari Park.
I have just returned from a phenomenal trip to Zambia, where myself and 23 others completed various consulting projects with local companies. The premise of the International Business Assignment, part of the MBA programme, is to place our learning in a global context. Working in groups of 4 over the course of 5 days, between us we helped seed companies write new business plans, helped construction companies develop new project management toolkits, helped insurance companies develop more sophisticated customer databases, and helped solar energy companies set a platform to grow their business.
The idea of a major UK business school going to sub-saharan African to help local businesses may suggest a context of charity or teaching. Let me blow that perception out of the water. The local businesses we worked with were, without exception, ambitious, inspiring, professional enterprises by any standard. They were led by equally ambitious, inspiring, brilliant leaders. If there was any teaching to be done, let there be no misconception: we were the students.
As for my team, we were working with one of Zambia’s biggest (and youngest) civil contracting companies: Build Trust Constructions. We met with directors Aka and Brian, on Monday morning. Their biggest project currently is a US$40m, 109km road connecting Itezhi Tezhi to the arterial M9 motorway. Projects of this size always face difficulties - that’s a global phenomenon and this was no exception, with issues relating to cash flow and capital management. Our project was to investigate the latter, and to determine the outcome of different strategies for managing under-utilised equipment.
On Tuesday we did the 5 hour drive from Lusaka to Itezhi Tezhi, and met with the Project Manager, Richard. Richard is one of the most impressive people any of the 4 of us has met. Our conversations with the PM were several of the most interesting conversations we’ll ever have - every MBA topic would have been touched on every 2 hrs.
By Wednesday we were touring the various work fronts along the 109km stretch, understanding the construction process and equipment inter-relationships, and trawling through utilisation and breakdown records.
By Thursday we were modelling the cost and schedule implications of 5 alternative strategies by which equipment could be managed, and compiling our analysis into a presentation (until the early hours of Friday morning).
Finally, on Friday morning we presented our week’s work to Brian and Aka and 4 other head office staff. It was clearly a mutually beneficial process. We learnt a tremendous amount and had a truly unique experience, while they were clearly grateful, kindly expressing how impressed they were that we seemed to have understood their business so well, and developed such meaningful insights, within 5 days.
What struck me so clearly was rate of progress and the level of opportunity for Zambian businesses. The Zambian economy will inevitably emerge as a sophisticated, developed, global presence, and that emergence involves development and growth in every sector. This was most clearly illustrated in talking with the directors of the company to which my team was consulting. With the company just 6 years old, they’re increasing revenue from their core civil contracting business by tenfold per year. But not only that, they’re also in the process of purchasing heavy road construction equipment to set up an equipment lease aspect of their business. And they’ve recently purchased farmland and established Build Trust Farms as a subsidiary. AND one of the directors has purchased an area of more remote land to develop as a tourist destination. Tenfold annual growth plus all of that…?
Oh, and we may have visited Victoria Falls over the weekend…
Other Cranfield students visited Sri Lanka, China and Japan. They all made the wrong choice.
(I didn’t learn how to say goodbye…)