In August 2014, online MBA students Mike Vought, Jason Kuck and Rachel Skiles arrived in Botswana to meet the owners of Dips Motors, their client for the global immersion and leadership course we refer to as AGILE (short for Accelerating Global Immersion Leadership Education). The team was tasked with helping this 25-year-old, family-owned auto repair business overcome its management, accounting and financial woes over the course of this 12-week class. They had the opportunity to meet Mel, the new manager of Dips Motors, at the start of the term. That was when they first learned about this company’s obstacles.
Botswana Client Situation
Dips Motors was previously run by Mel’s father. Since Mel took on more responsibility, her family had been struggling with the transition. This was partially because there was very limited strategy. Mel’s father was making business decisions mostly based on his experience when he was running the company. They were also in debt and taking out more loans. It was difficult to fully understand their financial situation because they did not have a transparent and consistent accounting process. Dips was not following a specific accounting method with discipline.
Online MBA Student Recommendations
After analyzing what they learned from their initial in-person meeting in Atlanta, researching solutions and seeing the business in action during the study abroad portion of the course, the team provided the following recommendations and a plan to execute them to Dips Motors face-to-face:
Clarify management structure. Mel should become the general manager and be allowed to implement more systematic processes for managing the business.
Add discipline to human resource activities. Understand the labor required for the level of business. Set employee expectations and institute regular performance reviews.
Make accounting activities systematic. Improve work order, invoicing and month-end accounting processes.
Results after Applying Students’ Advice
Just a few months after, Mel reached out to the team to let them know that the company was starting to pay its suppliers back on time with the help of the students’ advice. Then in December of 2014 – just four months after our MBA students presented their recommendations to the company – she contacted the team again. This time it was to let them know that Dips Motors was in the black again and that they were thinking of expanding!
When we followed up with Mel again this April, we learned that they are in fact moving forward with the expansion. They are working on acquiring a loan to execute a 5-year plan for a new propeller shaft service with the Local Enterprise Authority (LEA) of Botswana – a government agency that supports, trains and mentors local businesses. The LEA has also provided an intern to Dips to help with the growth. In addition to that, Dips will be submitting its mounting products to the Botswana Bureau of Standards (BOBS) to get accreditation soon. This will verify the quality of their products and help the company further differentiate itself from the competition.
Takeaways for Working with Small Businesses in Emerging Markets
Working with real businesses in emerging markets not only empowers students to make changes like this over the course of a term, but it also forces them to become better leaders by learning how to approach problems differently. Here are some of the takeaways that these students shared after their AGILE course:
- The amount of capital available to make investments or just manage the business is very low. You have to be extremely resourceful and find creative ways to stay solvent.
- The owners’ passion and pride for their business is great. They believe in what they do and it is their life.
- In most cases, businesses had access to business software and the internet, but they may need training on selecting the right software and using it to its full potential.
- Listen carefully to the client and plan how you will communicate your message to them. How you deliver the message (with respect and consideration for their efforts) matters.
- Focus on the basics and keep it simple. Many businesses can benefit by improving on the fundamentals.
- Often times the small and simple advantages can make enough of a difference to reach profitability.
- Viber is a good communication tool for calls and messaging in Africa because mobile phone use is prevalent.
Mike from the team has this message for current or future students who are considering an AGILE course in the future, “Get emotionally involved. This is more than an academic exercise. Your advice has the potential to change lives.”