MBA graduate shares his International Study Module (ISM) experience Stellenbosch Business School Skip to main content
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Ryno van Zyl shares key learnings from his international study model in Germany, and how he overcame hurdles during his studies.

MBA alum Ryno van Zyl, an Engineering Manager at UCL Company in KwaZulu-Natal, says he formulated a personal development plan to enhance his professional growth in 2016. After thorough research to pursue an MBA at a prestigious university in South Africa, he enrolled at Stellenbosch Business School in 2021.

In this article, he shares more about his leadership journey at the business school, key learnings from his international study model in Germany, and how he overcame hurdles during his studies.


Q: Why did you choose to study at Stellenbosch Business School, and would you recommend it to others? And why the MBA?

Ryno: Attaining an MBA was crucial as it would provide me with the necessary skills to enhance my performance and meet the needs of all stakeholders in my workplace. In early 2020, I decided to find a suitable university and apply for admission to commence the programme in 2021. During my search, I carefully evaluated the offerings of various esteemed institutions in South Africa, considering several factors that would impact my decision-making process. These factors encompassed the following aspects:

•            The programme's focal areas

•            Accreditation by relevant governing bodies

•            Delivery methods employed in the programme (including the class structure and format)

•            Cost considerations associated with the programme

After thorough consideration, I determined that Stellenbosch Business School emerged as the top choice. The programme stood out due to its focused curriculum, specifically addressing pertinent aspects that would significantly contribute to my career advancement and overall value-add.


Q: Stellenbosch Business School has a strong focus on responsible leadership development. How would you define responsible leadership?

Ryno:Responsible leadership entails the capacity to discern equilibrium within a multifaceted society. But what does this truly signify? It implies that every decision one contemplates should factor in the interests of all stakeholders, including the well-being of the planet, when significant choices are at hand. Of utmost significance are decisions that possess the potential to impact these stakeholders in either positive or negative ways. Hence, a responsible leader must strike a harmonious equilibrium wherein all stakeholders derive positive benefits, ultimately ensuring long-term sustainability. During our leadership module, one word resonated deeply with me: "benevolence."


Q: For your International Study Module (ISM) you visited Germany. Why did you choose this School / Module specifically?

Ryno: We were incredibly fortunate to have an extraordinary array of destinations available to explore the international business landscape. Stellenbosch Business School demonstrated an exceptional ability to forge partnerships with these esteemed business schools. One such partnership worth mentioning is the EMBA Consortium, comprising numerous international business schools dedicated to offering specialised programmes to students from various business schools.

Identifying a programme that aligns with my career and working environment proved to be a challenging endeavour. I am employed and reside within a German community situated in the Kwa-Zulu Natal midlands. Specifically, I work for UCL Company (PTY) Ltd, located in Dalton. UCL Company is owned by local raw material suppliers, who are primarily long-standing farmers in the area. Many of these farming enterprises have been passed down through generations, exemplifying a strong family-oriented ethos. These businesses maintain a steadfast commitment to sustainability, ensuring their longevity for generations to come, which includes all stakeholders of the business.

In light of these circumstances, the programme offered by Munich Business School stood out as a perfect fit. It focuses on private companies in Germany that serve as driving forces behind the country's economy, with many of these companies being family-owned. Opting for this particular programme will allow me to immerse myself in the German culture, as well as engage with prominent, family-owned enterprises that directly relate to my working environment.


Q: Please tell us more about your experience and learnings over there. 

Ryno: The Munich Business School provided an exceptional experience that left a lasting impression. The programme encompassed captivating panel discussions with prominent companies, accompanied by fascinating visits to various factories. Among the multitude of experiences, one particular encounter stood out for me.

It was the presentation by Webasto, a remarkable family-owned company with a global presence spanning several divisions. Webasto holds the distinction of being the world's largest sunroof manufacturer. During the presentation, Dr Holger Engelman, the CEO, provided valuable insights into Webasto's operations. He also delved into the challenges large companies face, especially in the Covid-19 pandemic. The success of a family-owned company, as elucidated by Dr Engelman, hinges upon several key drivers:

  • Long-term orientation
  • Finding joy in what we do
  • Upholding strong values
  • Maintaining financial independence

Furthermore, he shared their fundamental strategy for fortifying and expanding their market position, which involved the establishment of a business unit specifically focused on e-mobility.

In a broader sense, the challenges confronted by these large companies also mirror the challenges encountered in South Africa. Matters such as staff retention, skills development, and global uncertainties are universal issues that we all grapple with. Therefore, gaining insights from the CEOs of these German companies and learning about their strategies to mitigate these challenges proved to be an invaluable learning experience.

Another aspect that contributed significantly to the overall experience was the opportunity to connect with fellow students from around the world. The diverse cohort included students from Italy, the United States of America, Brazil, Peru, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Poland, fostering a truly enriching and global learning environment.


Q: How have you implemented your learnings in your current role?

Ryno: The programme offered invaluable insights into effectively addressing shared challenges encountered by companies, with employee retention being a prominent issue. Given our industry's high demand for critical skills, external pressures often compel employees to seek better compensation elsewhere, leading to elevated staff turnover rates.

Recognising the potential costs and instability associated with filling vacant positions, it becomes essential for employers to prioritise employee retention. In my department, I am actively exploring strategies to retain employees that benefit both the company and the individual employees. By implementing retention initiatives, we aim to create a mutually advantageous environment where employees feel valued and motivated to contribute their skills and expertise to the company's success.


Q: What are the other highlights of your studies at the business school?

Ryno: The MBA has been the most significant milestone in my personal and professional development since my high school graduation in 2002. This programme has presented me with both personal and professional challenges, pushing me to grow and excel. What truly sets this programme apart is its unwavering focus on responsible leadership, which permeates all the modules and teachings.

Throughout the programme, I have been fortunate to experience numerous highlights, but one that stands out prominently is the opportunity to connect with remarkable individuals. The camaraderie and collaboration within the group I worked with were truly exceptional. Our group comprised diverse individuals from various professional and personal backgrounds, fostering a rich tapestry of experiences and perspectives. I am immensely grateful for the knowledge I gained from my group members, as each person brought their unique insights and expertise to the table. Indeed, I consider myself blessed to have been part of such an extraordinary team.


Q: Did you face challenges during your studies and how did you overcome them?

Ryno: One of the most significant hurdles I encountered during the programme revolved around finding a balance between my personal life, work commitments, and the demands of the MBA. The business school had high expectations of our preparedness for every class while emphasising the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life equilibrium. Undoubtedly, the MBA required a substantial investment of time, but I acknowledged that it was a temporary phase that would yield long-term benefits.

Fortunately, the blended programme offered by the business school proved to be an ideal fit for my circumstances. Including virtual classes during the week allowed me to attend classes while still being present for my family. Their unwavering support throughout the programme made it significantly easier for me to navigate the challenges. Although I had to make sacrifices regarding certain hobbies and activities, I firmly believe those sacrifices were worthwhile in the end. The invaluable knowledge and skills I gained through the MBA, coupled with the strengthened bond with my family, have made the journey truly fulfilling.


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