Booth through the decades: Impact of an MBA in Africa, with Earl Van Zyl ‘07

Booth through the decades: Impact of an MBA in Africa, with Earl Van Zyl ‘07

In this second installment of our Booth through the decades series, we speak with Earl Van Zyl, ’07, who works in investment management in South Africa. Earl chose to pursue his MBA despite the observed differences in educational expectations between South Africa and the US. Whilst the chartered accounting qualification is a more popular and recognized post-graduate degree in his home country, Earl saw a unique need for and opportunity in pursuing the Booth MBA: here is his take on how his experience stands out from the rest.

On why Earl chose Booth

“What planted the seed for me was that Chicago was known for economics and finance. The strength of the program and its reputation for academic rigor also played a role in my decision,” says Earl, echoing the motivations of fellow alumnus Richard Osei, ‘97, featured in Part 1 of this series, as well as many other prospective students. With a background in consulting and an interest to transition into a finance-related field after the MBA, Earl came to Booth to take advantage of the quantitative curriculum.

On valuable fundamentals learned from Booth

“Chicago Booth teaches you a basic set of principles. Markets change, industries change and technology changes, but if you can reduce things down to supply and demand, it is a useful frame of reference to analyze what’s going on in the world and to ultimately make decisions,” Earl says in reference to economics.

Even though Earl names basic microeconomics as one the most beneficial courses he took at Booth, what surprised him was discovering that classes that emphasize experiential learning and application are just as strong as theory-based courses.

“What was refreshing in a surprising way is that the school is much more than just the in-class academics,” Earl says, “it actually has very strong hands-on entrepreneurship and venture capital programs.”

Earl names Commercializing Innovation with Scott Meadow as one such class. “Scott is someone who brings a lot of real world, practical applications and he designed the class such that you run through the full value chain of a company from being an LP to a full VC. It was great fun.”

On being involved at Booth

Earl was involved in organizing the Venture Capital Conference and was a member of Booth’s African American MBA Association (AAMBAA). “Out of AAMBAA, we were quite a few people from Africa, which became the genesis of thinking about a place for people who were interested in Africa or had come from Africa. We called it the Chicago African Business Group (CABG).”  

Today, the CABG continues to foster a community of students who originate from or wish to learn more about the continent, through professional and cultural events.

Earl also mentions Random Walk as one of the highlights of his Booth experience, where he met his closest friends from Booth. “It was one of the most bonding and formative experiences for all of us,” Earl recalls.

Indeed, one look at last year’s most memorable Random Walk moments and this comment should come as no surprise! Random Walk continues to be a strong pillar of the Booth experience both from a student point of view as well as an alumni perspective.

On anything he would do differently

As he looks back at his career, Earl tells me that “now it’s all about people.” The aspect of leading an organization is much harder than learning valuation models. If Earl could go back, he would definitely look for more experiential opportunities at Booth. Take notes current Boothies !

Be on the lookout for Part 3 and the final installment of this series where we speak with Camila Fonseca ’17, and learn why she moved from Brazil to Nairobi to pursue Private Equity and Venture Capital, two decades after our first alum Richard Osei received his MBA from Booth.

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