By Cindy Liu, Texas MBA at Houston Class of 2014
As part of our education to understand conducting business internationally, nineteen Texas MBA students participated in the global trip to Ghana during the second week of December 2012. During this action-packed week, we visited three cities: Accra, Kumasi, and Cape Coast.
We departed Friday, December 7 and arrived in Accra on the 8th. Our stopover at Amsterdam was fun but cold. Warm and extremely humid weather greets us at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra. Everyone gets their luggage successfully at the chaotic baggage claim. We hop on the hotel shuttle and thus the first eventful night in Ghana ends.
Sunday the 9th begins with a scrumptious breakfast of kelewele (spicy fried plantains), fried rice, stir-fried mushrooms, and other western foods. We decide to kill time before checking into our next hotel that is arranged by the program to visit the Mall of Accra, which was a 10-minute drive. It wasn’t very different from any mall in America except for the different stores. People filled up the mall after morning church service ended at noon. We eventually left and moved over to the other hotel, where we met with the rest of the group for an orientation meeting. The group then departed for Oxford Street, a local hangout for American food at Frankie’s, at the suggestion of our tour guide, Awuku, to ease our stomachs. Half of us stuck around to walk the strip to take in the sights and half retired at the hotel.
My overall impressions are that Ghanaians are very friendly and that Accra is a clean and peaceful city. They had their national elections today but no clear results yet due to the close race.
Monday the 10th was a full day of sightseeing in Accra, Ghana’s capital. We drove around town while Awuku explained the history of the city and the country to us. Our first stop was at the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park, which commemorates the man who helped Ghana claim its independence from British rule in 1957. Next, we stopped at an open-air market for an opportunity to purchase traditional Ghanaian arts and crafts using our negotiation skills. We then stopped at the Artist Alliance Gallery to admire professional artworks. Lunch was traditional Ghanaian fare that we had been anxiously waiting to try, which was delicious as expected. We then drove around the city some more and saw the Black Star Square, which was erected to celebrate Ghana’s independence. We also passed by the American embassy, which was massive. We then spent some time at the W.E.B. Dubois Center for Pan African Culture, which honors this African American man who fought for equality for blacks and was a good friend and mentor of Kwame Nkrumah. Before returning to the hotel, we drove around University of Accra campus, which sits atop a hill and has a good view of the city below. The day isn’t over yet; we were treated to a welcome Ghanaian dinner, accompanied by a traditional West African dance show, in which many of the students participated!
Days 4 & 5
On Tuesday and Wednesday, we conducted most of our company visits. Dr. Eric Hirst, the McCombs faculty member who accompanied us on this trip, kicked off the visits with an introduction of everyone and explained to our hosts our visit’s purpose is to understand why one should choose to conduct business in Ghana, and what some particular challenges are. Our first visit was at Kosmos Energy, which is an oil and gas exploration and production company based in Dallas, Texas. Their Ghanaian company was the first to find the only producing oilfield off the coast of Ghana, and they are currently working with other partners to find more. This visit was fruitful because many of our classmates work in the oil and gas industry. After a delicious Spanish tapas lunch, we move on to our second visit at GE Ghana, which was organized by a couple of classmates who work at GE. It became apparent by the second visit that many Ghanaians are actually “repatriates,” or native-born Ghanaians who have moved away for education and even work for some part of their adult lives who have decided to come back to Ghana for the unique work opportunities. For example, the CIO of GE Ghana explains that he was able to move to such a high level position by making the move back to Ghana, and thus have had much more exposure and access to the various CEOs and President of GE than he ever did working for GE in New Jersey. We then asked them to describe the adjustments they made when they returned. We also asked the local Ghanaians who never moved away the differences of working for an American company in Ghana.
Our company visits continued on Wednesday with Bank of Ghana in which the staff delivered a formal presentation regarding the history and current banking policies of Ghana. They then treated us to a tea hour where we mingled with the staff and asked more questions. We also had a productive lunch meeting with representatives from Golden Tulip West Africa while noshing over delicious Thai-Ghanaian fusion food. Our last visit of the day was at Standard Chartered Bank, which is one of the largest banking companies in the Africa and the Middle East. This visit gave a good contrast to the visit earlier that morning as for understanding banking from a corporate perspective. We quickly wrapped up the day and hit the road for Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana that is about a five-hour drive from Accra.
In the morning, we hit the road again for a special company tour—we are visiting a startup commercial farm located next to Lake Volta, the largest man-made reservoir in the world, located about four hours away by bus from Kumasi. The managing director of Africa Atlantic Franchise Farms picked us up in a ferry to go across the lake to go to the farm. We landed at a small village located next to the farm and met some of the locals to see how they lived, as well as visited a school that was newly built for the children in the surrounding villages. We were treated to a home-cooked meal of BBQ chicken and fried rice while the farm staff talked about the history of the farm, its present successes and challenges, and its future goals. After enjoying the outdoors and walking around the farm for a few hours, it was time to return to Kumasi.
Our last full day on the itinerary was sightseeing at Cape Coast, a port city where most African slaves were held in dungeons that were underneath castles built by Europeans. We visited two such places—the Cape Coast Castles and the Elmina Castle. Then we checked in to the beautiful Elmina Beach Resort where we concluded the trip with a farewell dinner with good food and music on the beach.