Polokwane, South Africa
University of Cape Town, Economics, 2008
Onfrontiers; Anglo American
Africa Business Club, African American Student Association, Transport Infrastructure & Logistics Club
Humbulani's father is a doctor, her sister is a doctor, her mother is a medical technologist. "Having grown up in that environment," she says, "I wanted to buck the trend a little bit. Business seemed broad, a way to explore interests in many fields so that I can continue to learn throughout life."
Seeking "optionality," Humbulani majored in economics and information systems at the University of Cape Town. After completing her degree, she joined Anglo American, a diversified mining company, and participated in its rotational leadership development program. "Even though I wasn't an engineer, I was attracted to this engineering company. I wanted to learn about an industry so crucial to South Africa's history and economy. The whole point of the rotational program was to generate general managers who can handle different disciplines, commodities, and geographies; people who can understand the global dynamics—politics and economics—affecting their markets. It's a very different thing selling platinum for automobile catalytic converters versus copper for steel and construction."
Building a "muscle memory" for analysis
After five and a half years at Anglo American, Humbulani believed she was "starting to think in one particular way, through a mining paradigm." Seeking a wider range of experience, and eager to address the gaps in her business skills, she applied to HBS. "I wanted to go to the United States and interact with people in a pedagogy that was so different from what I had experienced before," she says.
At first, the case study method was "definitely anxiety provoking. In my first semester, in TOM (Technology and Operations Management), I was cold-called on a case about closed-system farming, something that I had previously known nothing about. I had never thought about process engineering before in that way, yet I was called upon to translate a farming example into a process flow diagram and then diagnose the problems."
"Being able to get through that is emblematic of the HBS experience," Humbulani says. "You're exposed to industries you don't know. Then you crystalize every case into something easy to understand to extract lasting lessons. Some of the anxiety is still there, but I'm comfortable that it's something I can do—it's become part of my muscle memory."
In her second year, Humbulani served as a co-chair of the Africa Business Conference. "A mammoth task," she says. "Fourteen hundred people come every year. How do you keep fourteen hundred people busy? How do you move them around? How do you feed them? Putting on that kind of event was tiring, but also a great way to apply all the things we talked about in class: managing a team, managing a budget, running operations."
When she completes her MBA, Humbulani will join Boston Consulting Group in Washington, D.C. as a management consultant. "It's that 'optionality' thing again," she says. "I hope to build my skills here, then apply them when I return to South Africa."