Sign In
One man, two continents, big business

​For British born Dr Mehran Zarrebini, USB MBA alumnus and chairperson of the USB Alumni Association’s UK region, working and living on two continents is all in a day’s work. As CEO of PFE International and at least five other companies in South Africa and the United Kingdom, Dr Zarrebini is a successful entrepreneur, business man and champion for sustainability and green business ventures.

. English Afrikaans  

What was your dream career growing up?
When I finished my degree in Chemical Engineering at Loughborough University, I felt that I wanted to continue my education. I was intrigued by research. While pursuing my PhD at Cambridge University, I became fascinated with the business world and wanted to run my own business. I always admired the entrepreneurial flair of my father who had successfully set up businesses in the UK, Iran, China and the USA upon completing his PhD. I essentially wanted to mirror his successes from an early age.

What does your work entail?
The core functions are determining and communicating the organisations' strategic direction, balancing resources through growing existing businesses and making resources available to commence new ones, and acting as an ambassador for culture within the organisations. I am also directly involved with the training of and investment in our workforce. Besides these core functions, I take a lead role in the driving of environmental sustainability in the organisations. I have implemented some of the research from my MBA research report in the organisations and I am focusing on the development of a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) management system. One of my organisations has become a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact and is the only company in South Africa to have attained the British Carbon Trust Standard.

What are the advantages of working and living on two continents?
To be able to depart from the office late afternoon and arrive home in the UK the following noon has removed many of the challenges associated with travel. In South Africa, I work with a number of strategic partners in the UK. Being based in the UK provides me with the opportunity to develop these relationships and also foster new ones. I commenced my business career in South Africa. It is as a result of the numerous opportunities that South Africa presents that I have been able to successfully grow my career and businesses over the last 14 years. 

What do you bring to the table?
I have a lot of experience in working in diverse environments, different countries and with a multitude of cultures. I have lived in Iran, the UK, Portugal and South Africa, and I have spent time in Brazil from where my wife comes. This ability to assimilate a variety of cultures and environments has always been a unique quality of mine. Being involved in a number of start-ups requires a "roll-up-your-sleeves mentality" and the ability to tackle new challenges as they emerge. I am very comfortable with switching roles in different circumstances.

You were shortlisted for the 2014 MBA Entrepreneurial Venture Award by the Association of MBAs based on your waste-reducing initiative to granulate old truck tyres and turn them into acoustic underlays.What does this achievement mean to you?
This idea came about in 2012 when looking for market opportunities in the South African flooring industry. The market for soft flooring was maturing. Instead of competing head on with the hard flooring segment, I looked at alternative ways of utilising assets to create complementary products that cut across various market segments. We developed a product from rubber crumb that could be used as an underlay for both soft and hard flooring. Developed countries have strict legislation with regard to the transfer of noise in high-rise buildings and new developments. The acoustic underlay that is now produced is exported to the USA, South Korea, Germany and the UK. This solution was an affordable, time-saving and environmentally friendly way to abate the problem. This product, through our UK partners, has been patented in South Africa and Australia. It has a patent pending in the UK and the USA. The achievement gave me a great sense of accomplishment. Hard work, unshakeable tenacity and repetitive effort ultimately resulted in a successful venture and new investment in upstream activities.

How important are green business ventures?
Sustainability is here to stay as a central business issue. So, the importance of green business ventures is certainly on the rise. I have found that environmental initiatives don't raise costs, they lower them. I see them as an investment opportunity rather than a threat. There will always be a trade-off between investing in growth and investing in sustainability. As a business person it is often more glamorous to chase after growth, but setting money aside for sustainability projects or green ventures in the long term reaps numerous rewards.  

You completed your MBA in 2013. What is the value of your MBA?
The USB MBA has enabled me to emerge with a better understanding of how to leverage my strengths as a leader, implement global best practices and apply critical thinking skills to workplace challenges. I have also gained a strong appreciation for continuous and professional learning. It has given me an indispensable basis for working in an international field of management.

What would you like to achieve as chairperson of the USB Alumni Association's UK Committee?
I would like to establish a strong communication line between USB and its alumni residing in the UK. The promotion of the USB brand in the UK is a priority coupled with the encouragement of potential MBA students to experience a South African MBA at USB.  ­

How do you maintain a balanced lifestyle?
When I am in South Africa, I ensure that I optimise my time in the various organisations I am involved with. I work most weekends either at the office or at home, but make sure that I spare time to exercise and relax. I chat to my family via FaceTime every morning while they have breakfast. In the evening, I work through homework with my children via FaceTime and catch up on their day-to-day activities. It was certainly a challenge at the start to balance work and private life. However, with the help of technology and organising my time and priorities effectively, I am able to devote time to work as well as family.

What does the future hold for you?
Over the next ten years, I envisage building an increased international presence through existing and new partnerships. The recycling of waste tyres will no doubt create the opportunity to innovate further. I will certainly continue to commute between South Africa and the UK. Having established a permanent base in both countries, I want to take advantage of the numerous opportunities that this presents. I hope that as my children get older and enter university, my wife will accompany me more often on my travels. 

More about Mehran
Who inspires you?
My Father, Mehdy, is my biggest inspiration. He has been my greatest sounding board and most encouraging champion. He is a pioneering entrepreneur in his own right. 

What gadget can't you live without?
My iPhone and Pebble watch. The ability to continuously communicate while travelling is a necessity. Being able to reference material and documents instantly is also a must. My Pebble watch is a great extension of my iPhone, providing me with notifications, meeting reminders and automatic time zone adjustment.

Mehran's career lessons
1. Develop an ability to listen. At its core, listening is connecting.

2. Be humble. This includes creating space for others to contribute, especially when working with employees from varying demographic backgrounds.

3. Have a desire to learn. Never work with the assumption that you are qualified for your job.

Submit your comments here
Disclaimer: The views of users published on the University of Stellenbosch Business School website are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Stellenbosch Business School. Our editors reserve the right to edit and delete any and all comments received.
A very interesting concept. I immediately got interested in understanding the project and how I can support you. I am from Botswana also a USB MBA graduate.
Posted by Ms Dulu Moaisi on 11-06-2015 3:59 PM
I have recently relocated to the UK, how do I get in contact with the USB Alumni Association in the UK?

Posted by Edlynn on 12-06-2015 10:52 AM
This idea is, indeed, exciting. Wow! You can imagine how many business ideas are all around us, but we try to seek them in distant places without much success. Thanks Dr Mehran Zarrebini for making our school proud. Contact me if you think I can add value to your idea/ enterprise, especially in East Africa. Patrick Mwesige USB MBA (2004/05);
Posted by Patrick K. Mwesige on 12-06-2015 3:22 PM




 Featured ThoughtPrints