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MBA Graduate combines academic work with learning business practice

ImageFor Kofi Atuah, a chartered Chemical Engineer with a certificate in Engineering Management, an internship in Africa was the solution to his desire to undertake a relevant project for his MBA degree while beginning his search for a job in Africa.

Through the Graduates for Development programme, Ghanaian-born Kofi, an MBA student at Cranfield School of Management, was introduced to Akuaba Ltd., a furniture manufacturer and retailer in Accra and a project was structured around a ‘business check up’, focussing on financial management, market focus and internal management structure. Akuaba Ltd. has one of the largest furniture factories in the geographical area and the primary objective of the business check up was to identify the immediate key issues facing Akuaba, examining the organisation as a whole, and to make recommendations that would be of strategic benefit to the company.

The project was developed under the supervision of Dr. David Molian, a member of the Enterprise Group at Cranfield, and a leading expert in the area of business start-ups, marketing for the smaller business and corporate and entrepreneurial venturing.  In addition to Graduates for Development, Mrs. Mary Adusei-Herbstein, the founder and Managing Director of the company, was also a project sponsor.

Akuaba is believed to have the highest factory capacity of its competitors, but is currently operating under its potential capacity. Kofi’s project report examined the business strategies and market orientation required for successfully targeting relevant markets and generating sustainable business growth, and included a review of the industry landscape, a competitor analysis and the implications of the political, social, economic and technological factors affecting the furniture industry.

ImageKofi undertook the project using in-company data gathered while at Akuaba, background research from relevant industry experts based in Ghana, as well as interviews with industry procurement professionals with an affinity to Cranfield and with a range of experience including major European furniture retailers.  Also consulted was the IFC in Ghana, a key financial supporter of SMEs in developing economies.

Structured internal meetings enabled Kofi to get a better understanding of the manufacturing process and key production issues, some of which proved typical of the industry.  “My meetings with the new Marketing Manager revealed that competition is highly fragmented, with price competition from a large number of small manufacturers. Therefore, one key advantage in terms of competition was Akuaba’s ability to fulfil orders from large institutions, who demand high quality and consistency.”

Through discussions with senior management, another issue that became apparent was the need for clear role definition to avoid duplication of management effort, and the need for teams to find time to carry out more strategically based planning.

As Kofi notes, “these issues are not unique to Akuaba as an enterprise contemplating growth in a developing economy”, a view echoed by the Managing Director, who is currently seeking additional senior management support.

The academic strengths of Kofi’s MBA programme were put into practice during his evaluation of the company’s financial status.  One of the key issues facing the company is cash flow management and the project looked at strategies to better manage the release of cash flow. 

“My meetings in the Finance department helped me to understand how market focus and improved cash flow management would benefit Akuaba by making cash available for gaining new business and reducing reliance on the bank. Subsequent interviews with industry experts confirmed that other SME’s faced similar demands on their resources.”

“The project exceeded my expectations in terms of learning and experience”, he adds. “I was able to put my MBA skills to practical use, and now appreciate some of the issues facing numerous Ghanaian SME’s. I was able to assist the Managing Director, a dynamic entrepreneur, in areas of financial management, management structure and market focus, which highlighted the need to make the transition from ownership to management, to facilitate growth. “

Kofi completes his MBA in August 2004 and the time spent in Ghana has helped him to better focus his approach to his career. 

“As someone who would like to live and work in Ghana, this was an excellent opportunity to also explore both business and career opportunities by networking with other professionals, including industry experts. This network will help to develop future return opportunities at the end of my MBA programme.” 

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