Andrew Mpeqa used to be a student, researcher and lecturer at the FHNW School of Business. Now, he’s applying theory to practice: in late 2020, Andrew Mpeqa launched his first business in Switzerland, PrimeAcon Group GmbH. With the first product under the brand name Seshoai, a healthy and refreshing ginger craft drink, he wants to bring a taste of African traditions to Europe. In our interview, Andrew offers his tips for aspiring entrepreneurs and explains why failure does not equal defeat.
Andrew, could you tell us a bit about your product? What is Seshoai?
The word Seshoai describes an old Lesotho tradition of eating and drinking. Equivalent to what we know today as organic and “Bio”, Seshoai simply expresses the essence of organic eating and drinking. My product Seshoai is a ginger drink based on tastes and traditions from Lesotho and South Africa.
How did you develop the idea for this drink?
The journey of Seshoai sadly began with the untimely loss of my brother. In February 2019, I lost my older brother, who was in his early forties, to a rare cancer. It hit me really hard and in June 2019, I decided to take a half-year break. I wanted to reconnect with the family back at home and to try and get some closure. It was a difficult journey and part of an ongoing healing process for the whole family.
In Lesotho, an additional challenge was maintaining my habit of having a morning espresso. Instant coffee was all that I could find for home use. As a lover of quality coffee, this pushed my frustration to the limit. It felt ironic given that the African continent is one of the largest producers of good quality coffee. But still, finding a reasonable cup of quality coffee felt like a mission to the galaxy and beyond. However, I discovered that most of my relatives have ginger-based beverages in the morning. My morning coffee tradition was soon replaced by drinking a fresh and naturally prepared ginger drink. This new morning habit stayed with me when I returned to Switzerland and marked the beginning of the development of Seshoai beverages.
On every bottle of Seshoai, it says “born in Africa, brewed in Switzerland”. How do you go about marketing an African flavour in Switzerland?
In South Africa, where I started my first own business, it takes about 48 hours to register and make your company official. In Switzerland, the bureaucratic process alone can take up to four weeks and after that, the administrative work behind the normal operations can feel endless. Of course, I follow all the regulations, but for acquisitions, I decided to try a more informal approach when looking for distributors. Generally, the Swiss business community values fixed appointments and schedules. But, in my experience, it is difficult to convince them to even spare the time and listen to your proposal when you try to schedule a meeting. With everyone now struggling with meetings and emails due to Covid-19, the formal way is tediously difficult. I prefer to go to a store, walk up to the manager, tell my story and offer them to try my product. This is how I am used to doing business in the context of Africa. And it works here in Switzerland just as well! Sometimes a personal connection is all it takes, and people are delighted to get to know the face behind the product.
It is quite an undertaking to start your own business, especially in the middle of a pandemic. What does it take to make that move?
It takes dose of courage, a supporting ecosystem and some passion. For the courage, I am really grateful to my wife, who encouraged me to jump in at the deep end. The supporting ecosystem was something I encountered during my time at FHNW. The MSc International Management has a focus on applying theory to practice. This was significantly beneficial and an important learning that prepared me to face diverse challenges. It prepared me for reality and taught me to be nimble. I am thankful for the experience of my studies, which also led me to teaching. Moreover, FHNW has been instrumental in building a good network. The university also didn’t hesitate to take my product. They immediately believed in the quality and mission of their own by-product. I found that to be admirable and supportive. I was positively shocked when I received a message from the director of the FHNW School of Business informing me that they had already sold over 600 bottles!
Finally, I have always been passionate about entrepreneurship. This time even more so, as I want to change the African narrative within Europe. Usually when I asked my students, “what innovation do you know that came from Africa?” the room went silent. The prevalent mode of thinking is still that Europe needs to help Africa when, in fact, many great ideas and businesses get started in Africa. They just need more visibility.
What advice would you give to students and aspiring entrepreneurs?
Take a leap of faith and don’t be afraid of failure! You really can never know until you try something. As entrepreneurs, we say “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” So, if you fail, turn that failure into something meaningful. You can write a book about your experience or turn it into a lecture series and inspire others.
What are your plans for the future of Seshoai?
Scaling and optimising the production process are the next plans. Moreover, next year I plan to release the next flavour of Seshoai with a healthy twist.
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Learning in university is about inquiry, but in content-heavy programmes, students can easily fall into the trap of parrot-fashion learning. We take a quick look at the influence of lecturers in students’ performances.
An MBA is a course where it is particularly difficult, but necessary, to promote a self-regulated and deep approach to learning. Several factors can compound teaching and learning within the MBA classroom even further.
These factors include the abstract nature of concepts, overloaded syllabi, unfamiliarity with examples sourced from international textbooks, participants not seeing the relevance of the content within the context of work life, and foreign terminology.
Even so, literature has indicated how active and meaningful learning can still be accomplished within a crowded syllabus. The lecturers’ approach and practice during the lecture, as well as their expectations of their participants, can influence the learning gains of these post-graduates.
At FHNW, our lecturers see themselves as facilitators in the participants’ construction of knowledge and how this might stimulate their critical thinking, as opposed to others who would focus on the transmission of content and completing the syllabi.
Thus, our lecturers consider it their responsibility to provide all participants’ need to learn. They are sensitive to the individual students’ work practices, and actively present current case studies and other materials that aim to support independent learning amongst students.
FHNW professors are equipped with current industry skills set as most of them work for the corporates beyond their time on campus, giving students a tangible benefit from their experience and knowledge.
Since the FHNW Swiss-Asian MBA programme is conducted in a blended-learning format, it is particularly important that our lecturers focus on the quality of the learning environment to shape the participant into an independent, critical thinker.
One such example provided by Prof. Dr. Uta Milow, Programme Manager of the FHNW Master of Business Administration, “I make it explicit to our participants that while lecture slides will be shared with them, and much of the material is beyond content in their textbooks, it is extremely important they understand what’s being taught. Therefore, I ensure they have sufficient time to listen to what I am saying and to take notes. It’s these small practices that will affect their learning in a big way.”
Learn more of our expert lecturers here.
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Mention the word “leader” to ten different people and you would get ten different interpretations of the word. If this were not ubiquitous enough, a “global leader” would need to transcend countries, cultures, languages and even politics.
What Makes A Leader?
A leader is more than just a well-groomed man or woman in a fine suit and educated intellect. They need emotional intellect, their ideas easily adoptable to affect positive change and success greatly dependent on being a good influencer with mass buy-in. Only when he or she is armed with these competencies will they be effective across borders.
We have been adept to these needs and hence, the FHNW Swiss-Asian MBA programme has been curated with specialised topics in birthing these competencies. Take for example, the Personal Leadership course in Unit 1 of the programme. This course gives you the ability to develop and utilise your positive leadership traits to guide the direction of your career and even personal life.
The Art of Understanding
Walter Cronkite, who once dominated US news anchoring and correspondence, was known for his success in capturing the attention of his audience and gaining their trust. His success was a result beyond his likeable and trusted face. He was emotionally intelligent enough to lean in and listen. He understood better than the average person, because he knew understanding was the secret – the secret behind leaders whose success is not limited to territories or cultures.
Global leaders do not start with multinational CEOs, prime ministers or presidents. It starts with our next generation of leaders, children, young adults, graduates and new hires. It is propagated by those in a position to shape attitudes and mindsets and FHNW is not excluded from this equation. Therefore, we have included into our syllabi residential weeks which take place across Asia and Switzerland, providing our students a global networking platform to broaden their perspective on business and international management.
Cultivating Global Leaders
The challenge has always been to train oneself to develop emotional and cultural intelligence that will give rise to a more effective global leader. We recognise these are time- and experience-dependent traits that can be mastered with close consult and study of real-life case studies which is offered through our blended-leaning MBA programme.
Prof. Rolf-Dieter Reineke, Head of MBA Programmes at FHNW, said, “We are constantly keeping with the times by renewing our programme content to combine multiple academia with cutting-edge new areas of interests, and insights into value chains across the European and Asian regions. With such industry-specific knowledge, students will be perfectly placed to graduate with a top degree that equips them in their chosen field.”
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Not everyone has been blessed to work with bosses who emulate the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr., Sheryl Sandberg or even Bill Gates. It’s also noteworthy to acknowledge that from these three names alone, not every leader is charismatic.
Archetype leadership includes autocratic and democratic styles, to name just a couple.
The autocratic leader is likely authoritative in nature, gives orders and directions, micro-manages and generally sits above the team. Steve Jobs of Apple and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! were both known to be autocratic leaders.
Democratic leaders aren’t as prescriptive. They work alongside team members, empowering them, providing platforms for them to express themselves freely. Barack Obama is an example of a leader who freely offers guidance to his team.
While one might instantaneously think the ways of the autocratic leader may be less effective, members of this group offer contributions of much higher quality. Contrarily, democratic members are less productive in nature.
This then begs the question of when the different leadership styles would affect growth. When should a leader be despotic and when a participatory style is more welcomed?
Some would argue that leadership is a personality trait but we at FHNW strongly believe these skills can be learnt and nurtured through the MBA courses which we offer across our various campuses in Basel, Brugg-Windisch and in Asia. Through the various modules, resources such as real-world case studies and networking opportunities, participants of these courses can also blend leadership styles to tackle specific business challenges.
As an example, if the deadline is long, team members may not be motivated, or have the urgency to complete their responsibilities fast enough or to put in a lot of effort. In this instance, the leader should be authoritative. Contrarily, if the deadline is short, the leader should be egalitarian in nature to ensure tasks get done on time.
Leadership styles are optimised by the demands of the business and needs of the team. No single style is more superior than the other. Bring out the leader in you. Enrol in the FHNW Swiss-Asian MBA today.
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Classroom learning has been put on hold with the global outbreak of Coronavirus, but we at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) share the desire and commitment to use technological means to bring you the best practices in Swiss-based teaching. Enter pedagogical learning through online formats, offered through our Swiss-Asian MBA.
Through our many years of experience in the modern education system, we know that our teaching methods and available resources ameliorate the current dilemma. Faculty members have a solid groundwork to continue courses through the most efficient means. First and perhaps most important, online learning has been the preferred choice amongst working adults. This trend has not proved to be better than it has now.
“While the world is facing an unprecedented pandemic, it is still crucial we also create an unprecedented period of stability for students enrolled with FHNW,” says Prof. Rolf-Dieter Reineke, Head of MBA Programmes at the FHNW School of Business.
“In these unnerving times, we will look out for our students who feel concerned about their futures. I want our students to know that we have their best interest at heart and no student will feel pressured into making a quick decision.”
The Swiss-Asian MBA is set-up as a blended learning MBA, incorporating webinars and virtual classrooms. Some of the privileges offered through this programme include opportunities for students to experience international business cultures, to network with the who’s who from various industries and foster work-relationships that thrive even during trying times.
This form of flexible learning is not just about distance education. It is the learner’s choice in choosing the type of experience that best suits his lifestyle, work schedule, and in current times, the environment. Among them, options in course resources, learning activities, and even in the type of media to support this learning option. You could say that this learning option has its own immunity against the barriers holding us back from moving forward.
One notable feature of this programme is that students have more targeted and responsive communication with their lecturers. Students will be able to ask questions at their own location, in their own time, at their own comfort without worrying about being scrutinised by an entire classroom. It also gives the lecturer the flexibility to better guide the student.
The Swiss-Asian MBA is the programme to upskill your expertise and enhance your knowledge effectively and efficiently today. This programme is conducted with rolling intakes, so you can kickstart your MBA at any time.
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University of Applied Sciences and Arts
Northwestern Switzerland FHNW
School of Business
Peter Merian-Strasse 86
Prof. Dr. Rolf-Dieter Reineke
T +41 79 372 85 62
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
T +60 19 399 63 56