He was just one of hundreds who completed an MBA with the UK-based International Management Centres in 1989. The argument behind the action plan he produced as part of the programme was that South African blacks could only achieve true empowerment through a combination of hands-on experience and management. Only then would the end to apartheid be in sight.
Mr Mahanyele, a black South African, not content with theorising, got on and did something about it.
Central to his programme was the realisation that for all their disadvantages, blacks had knowledge and experience of one area of the economy - food and drink. Accounting for 80 per cent of the population, they have 46 per cent of the country's disposable income, and almost all of this goes on these staples. Consequently, a company servicing this sector has great potential.
Shortly after completing the IMC course, he negotiated a deal with the Pretoria government to buy the loss-making state-owned National Sorghum Breweries, raised the finance and arranged a trust fund with government support to pay for management development.
He is now chief executive of the largest black-owned company in the country and claims to employ more qualified blacks than anyone else. Indeed, about 100 managers from the workforce of 4,000 are currently taking part in work-based programmes with IMC in South Africa. 'We've got more blacks doing qualifications than all the universities put together. It's a company that the whole country is looking up to,' he said on a brief visit to London last week.
And the organisation is prospering. Last year, profits were 39m rand ( pounds 9m) on a turnover of R433m, compared with R30m and R357m in the previous 12 months.
But Mr Mahanyele wants to go further. In a country where blacks have been denied education, black businesses have largely been confined to the margins, such as taxi services, he said.
The key to ending this situation is education. 'You can't expect whites to give wealth to blacks,' he said. Instead, blacks must be given some influence over their own destinies by equipping them with the skills to become entrepreneurs and professional people.
That is the value of a programme such as IMC's. It enables individuals to learn while working in real situations instead of going through academic MBA courses which do not prepare them for fitting in with business, Mr Mahanyele added.
He is diversifying the company into a variety of food- and drink-related areas. The idea is to inspire blacks to become entrepreneurs and business people rather than just workers.
Mr Mahanyele's own influence came from a father who played a part in the early days of the African National Congress. But South Africa's transition to majority rule would require black role-models from business as well as politics, Mr Mahanyele said.