First let’s set the scene, with some background music:
African drums in the background… bring in some guitar… some bongos… and then the adventure begins… Beautiful sunsets, lions, wildlife, wild people, load shedding, mini-bus taxis, 11 official languages, the Springboks, biltong, Madiba, Mzansi, South Africa.
I don’t think I need to give you any more reasons to make sure you join the next trek to South Africa, but maybe I should mention (because this was actually the purpose of the trek) that there are also some great companies to work here.
The first official pre-MBA trek to Johannesburg was a great opportunity to pick the brains of some Cambridge Judge Business School alumni, meet future classmates and explore some South African opportunities. If you weren’t a local, like our American friend Jack, it was also an opportunity to go on safari, get your first taste of that wonderfully delicious piece of dried meat called “biltong”, and even learn about the strange concept of “African time”.
The trek kicked off with a Tuesday night dinner with Johannesburg-based alumni, at a restaurant called Moyo (the Swahili word for heart), which offered a uniquely African dining experience. Around the table sharing African cuisine, eating with our hands (that is how African food should be eaten), drinking Rupert & Rothschild Cab Sav (because we are also sophisticated), we grilled the alumni on their Cambridge experiences. Where to go for fun? What sports to do (the answer was understandably rowing)? And half-seriously: Do we really need to attend ALL the classes?
The next morning, after Jack learned about “African time” from his taxi driver, we set off on our company visits.
Boston Consulting Group
First on the list was BCG. We were greeted by the friendly recruitment team, who gave us an office tour and introduced us to the “family”. After a quick presentation about BCG we got down to business. BCG Johannesburg office is trying to double their office size by 2017 (they currently employ 60 people), but this doesn’t mean that they will compromise on candidate quality. The BCG interview process is rigorous and will test all applicants to their mental limits. The biggest tip we received was to practice cases, practice them until the case theory becomes second nature.
Overall BCG looks like a rewarding place to work. The relatively small team members become like a family, with lots of opportunities to travel and work on exciting and diverse projects. They have worldwide offices and encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. What impressed me most was the number of BCG alumni that went on to build their own businesses or that are sitting in top positions around the world.
If you are looking for a consulting position in a closely knit team, BCG is the place to be.
Bain & Company
Next on our tour was Bain and Co., who took our famished group of candidates out for lunch. We were joined by a surprising number of Cambridge MBA alumni that worked at Bain, which was a great indication of the company culture and quality of people that they employ. Something worth noting is that if you want to get into the Bain internship programme, you need to apply early.
It sounds like it is quite an experience to be an intern at Bain, for example, because interns arrive in the middle of the harsh winter (which in South Africa is comparable to a mild European summer) the company took interns to Zanzibar last year and to Mauritius this year. Bain, you had my curiosity, but now you have my attention!
Don’t think that these “perks” come for free, you are going to earn it by working long hours on exciting projects in many countries, but isn’t this what MBAs live for!? So if you can get through the interviews (again case work preparation is key), go for it, Bain looks like a consultant’s paradise!
Our last stop was SAB, and I must admit I was the most excited to visit them (no, not just because they brew beer…). SABMiler is the second largest brewer in the world and they are experts at marketing and distributing their product. We were given a very insightful lecture on the company strategy and how it is influenced. It was especially interesting to see how they approach the unique South African market, which has a large “informal” alcohol sector (which we call the Shebeens).
The company was also host to a Cambridge MBA Global Consulting Project a couple of years ago, and is now busy implementing the results of the project. The career opportunities for MBA graduates are plentiful and diverse; positions can be in anything from marketing to procurement and job specific training is extensive. You will for example typically work as an executive assistant for 6 – 18 months to find your niche and get to know the systems and processes, before moving up to bigger and better things.
To finish-off we were treated to some “product testing” and snacks with the SAB careers team. If you are looking to stay away from consulting but still gain experience working on a diverse range of problems, SABMiller is certainly the place for you. I for one will definitely be sending them a CV!
Well, we didn’t really see the sunset that night, but rest assured, in Africa they are always spectacular.
If you are looking for a place to work where adventure is around the corner, people are friendly, opportunities are abundant and you can make an impact, then South Africa is where you should be looking. As a South African I might be slightly biased, but trust me, once you’ve lived here, you will never want to leave. For you to fully appreciate this, I leave you with another song*…
*Corny I know, but it’s about a guy who is torn between a girl and leaving this glorious continent.