South African vs US business terms

Posted by on Jul 2, 2007 in Business, South Africa

South African vs US business termsThis post is a continuation of the guest lecture I gave at GSU. A group of MBA students are planning to visit South Africa to meet with South African companies. I gave them this introduction to business terms used in South Africa.

  • In South Africa revenue or sales is called turnover. I’ve been in a number of business meetings where South African businesspeople proudly mentioned their company’s high turnover. (Turnover in America typically refers to employee attrition).
  • In South Africa the CEO is referred to as the Managing Director or MD. CEO is used more frequently in South Africa these days.
  • A director in America is typically a level below a VP, however in South Africa a director usually refers to a board member, i.e., a very senior position.
  • In America a loan is typically referred to as a note.
  • In South Africa the word scheme doesn’t have the same negative connotation as it has in America. Share plans are frequently called Share schemes.
  • In South Africa employees are retrenched rather than laid off.
  • In South Africa people will check their diary instead of their calendar to schedule a meeting.

During the next installment I’ll give you a few fun general terms that are used differently in South Africa.Do you have an interesting story to tell when you used a word that people in a different country didn’t understand or misunderstood?

2 Responses to “South African vs US business terms”

  1. South Africans are using more and more American terms. “Lay off” is better than “retrench” in the sense in which you use it, but the American term for “retrench” is “downsize”. South Africans say “I’ve been retrenched” but Americans say “I’ve been downsized”. Both mean “I’ve been laid off”.Downsizing and retrenchment are synonyms.

  2. Hi Steve, thanks for reading my blog. In the US another term used for “lay off” is rif, meaning “reduction in force”. A manager would say, “Our first rif wasn’t deep enough we need a second round rif”.


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