As the PMBA program is coming to a close, I have been doing a lot of self-reflection on what I want to do and where I want to go post-business school. Commuting from Colorado Springs, doing a job I didn’t enjoy (at a company I didn’t see myself staying at), as well as fulfilling all of the commitments of business school had begun to take its toll on me. I pondered whether to take another job in oil and gas and engineering at a different company because it would have better opportunities then my current one, but concluded that was only a temporary fix. That’s not where my passion truly lies. I started networking in the medical industry because that’s where my heart has always been. I once wanted to go to medical school, but pivoted in college to do Biochemical Engineering with the intention of working on medical devices. I’m drawn to that industry because I find the human body and medical devices truly fascinating, and you can make such a meaningful impact on so many lives by improving diagnostics and healthcare. I talked to several people with similar backgrounds to mine in engineering and science, but who have moved to roles more focused on business development and sales. I was asked if I would be willing to work in China because a particular company I am interest in is doing a massive expansion there, and is hiring 20+ technical sales people on the ground. My immediate response would have been no. I’ve never really had the desire to live overseas or even visit Asia, but I decided to take some time to think about it, and come to a decision post-trip.
Before taking Global Business, I had not given much thought to what doing business globally really meant. In other courses at Daniels, we’ve discussed in small parts what needs to be taken into consideration doing business in general and also operating internationally: shareholders, employees, community, environment. As a class, we discussed this from a business perspective, but this trip challenged me to reflect on global business from a personal standpoint, specifically in emerging markets such as Cape Town. I never realized the local implications of doing business in an emerging market or why one would choose to do business in a developing market when there’s so much risk involved.
At both companies I’ve worked at since college, the focus has always been the bottom line. I’ve been to countless meetings discussing strategy to expand business operations or increase margins, but never once did we discuss community impact or local implications. As Suzanne Ackerman at Pick N Pay said, “Doing good is good business.” That phrase really stuck with me throughout the week. You could feel how passionate she was and how firmly she believed that doing to right thing is the most important thing you can do. She doesn’t just believe it. She proves that it makes business sense, time and time again. Pick N’ Pay is known throughout South Africa for challenging the status quo and doing the right thing even though it hasn’t always been the easiest path. I truly admire that way of thinking. I feel like this mindset is most prevalent at non-profits in the United States, but was apparent in almost all of our meetings in South Africa in one form or another. Many of these South African businesses were not only focused on profits and sustainability, but on how their business helped South Africa, and their local communities. It was really refreshing to hear how widespread that mindset was across all businesses.
It’s so easy to get caught up in our own routines and live in our bubble. I would have had quite a different experience and takeaway had we kept to the nicer parts of Cape Town and avoided seeing the hardships and division that the majority of the population is facing post-apartheid. Starting with the bus ride from the airport, our tour guid Thabie pointed out the townships and different divisions that were designated for people of color. We discussed the hardships, division, and poverty while in class back in Denver, but it still came as a complete shock to actually see it first hand. We’ve all seen homeless people down on their luck around our towns and cities in America, but we also had programs available to help them find housing, jobs, and food. In Cape Town, these programs don’t exist. There’s no soup kitchen to get a meal or bring food home. There are grants and benefits to build houses and provide assistance, but with a corrupt government handling it….how long does it take to receive these benefits, if they see them at al? When we were visiting the company Monkeybiz, the owner Lynne told us one of her favorite stories about a woman who told her that if weren’t for Monkeybiz she would literally be digging through the trash to survive. What’s truly amazing about South Africans is that they are willing to put in the work to have a better life. The disheartening part is that these same people just don’t know where to find work. They were denied education under the apartheid. They simply have no idea where to find these opportunities, and even if they do, they have limited access to transportation and communication. Monkeybiz created a program to bridge this disconnect between women searching for a way to support themselves and their families and an opportunity to do just that. They have not only created a sustainable business, but they have empowered women in under-resourced areas of South Africa. These women work as much or as little as they need to, or as their schedules allow. This enables them to subsidize their incomes and take control of their lives. I love the idea of giving these women an opportunity to work instead of charitably distributing funds or bare essentials. Monkeybiz’s business model is not only sustainable, it’s empowering.
My takeaway from the trip brings me full circle back to my initial self-reflections. I wanted my next job to be one where I’m not only doing what I’m interested in, but I’m doing something that is making my community a better place and positively impacting the lives of those around me. After hearing all these speakers from a spectrum of companies in South Africa, it’s clear to me that the bottom line isn’t the only important consideration when running a business. The day before leaving on our trip, I had an hour-long phone call with a lady at a genetics sequencing and diagnostics company; the same company that is expanding into China. She walked me through her own career path. It was a very surreal conversation. It was like hearing future me talking and giving present me advice. She talked about how she had once wanted to go to medical school and how her career path in diagnostics equipment sales gives her the same fulfillment in helping people she was looking for in becoming a doctor. She shared a story with me about how she sold a piece of commercial diagnostics equipment that helped changed breast cancer testing turnaround from 40+ days to 7 days. She said that she couldn’t imagine the agony in waiting 40+ days to hear whether you have breast cancer or not and loves that she can impact patients’ lives so drastically even without being a doctor. This story really resonated with me and is exactly what I’m searching for in my next job. After our trip to Cape Town, it’s easy to see how connected our world really is. Living and working in the U.S. has really sheltered me from seeing the bigger picture. I’ve since changed my answer that I couldn’t see myself working overseas or in China, to thinking that could be an amazing opportunity to learn about a new culture, positively impact patients’ lives, and move into a field that I am truly passionate about.