Ryan MacWilliam
Ryan MacWilliam
Home Region

Cape Town, South Africa

Undergrad Education

University of Cape Town, Finance, 2006

Previous Experience

Anglo Platinum; The Pebble Partnership; Anglo American PLC

HBS Activities

Rugby Club, Africa Business Club

“Here, I’m engaged by default.”

Ryan MacWilliam likes to think big, really big. His interest in natural resources? “I appreciate the macro aspect of working with governments, understanding the global economy,” Ryan says. A career start in mining and minerals took him to Brazil to trade with the Chinese. “With minerals, you have to work wherever the minerals are and adapt to the local business environment.” The Brazilian iron ore trade exposed Ryan to a business with almost surreal dimensions. “The Chinese can smelt iron ore so cheaply it makes sense for them to import the raw material. You end up with the world’s biggest ships carrying ore to the world’s biggest steel mills.”

Subsequent assignments took Ryan to Alaska, which has the world’s biggest undeveloped copper deposit, and South Africa, where he worked in platinum strategy and operations.

The big picture develops in the classroom itself

Ryan came to HBS to “look at broader business issues, to understand different industries, different markets.” What strikes him most deeply about the MBA program is the nature of his classroom education. “As an undergraduate,” Ryan says, “I almost had to force myself to pay attention. Here, I’m engaged by default.”

He considers his classmates a constant inspiration for greater understanding. “The woman seated next to me is an Egyptian who had been in the Tahrir Square protests. We have a Navy Seal who’s taught us about military operations, a person from Pakistan who’s explained Islam to us, a Hungarian student who’s shared stories about life under communism. It’s just amazing to have access to these kinds of personal experiences.”

And the faculty? “The degree to which they’re committed to our learning is phenomenal,” says Ryan. “Look, these are the people who write the business textbooks. Yet they come to class early and stay late. They don’t do it because they’re told to, but because they’re passionate about teaching.”

Overall, Ryan notes, “people here are exceptionally dynamic yet down to earth.” The teammates from his FIELD 2 experience, whom he had not known before their trip to China, have become good friends. And the camaraderie he has found among his FIELD 3 colleagues has leavened the ups and downs of their entrepreneurial venture creating an online venue booking website.