Chile and Argentina: 1 Week, 2 Countries, 13 Company Visits

Winter break:  a time to relax with family and friends, hit the slopes (well, maybe in past years), put on a cozy sweater, and go to class?  Well considering class was held in South America, I didn’t mind going to class over break.  I had the pleasure of traveling to Chile and Argentina with 18 classmates as part of Kogod’s International Dimensions in Management course.  To say I learned a lot is an understatement.  I have about one year left in the part-time program but I feel comfortable enough to say that this will be my most memorable experience at Kogod.

Before traveling, our class met about six times throughout the semester.  We spent our time briefing each other on the economic, social, and political climate of the area.   We also learned first hand from representatives from both the Chilean and Argentine Embassies.  Our last class was held at Divino Restaurant, an authentic restaurant recommended by our new friends at the Argentine Embassy.  This was the perfect bon voyage, or buen viaje, to the experience to come.

I stepped off the plane and was immediately surprised by the modern city around me.  New construction, glittering office towers, and wide tree lined streets are visible as far as the eye can see.  Santiago’s thriving business district was not my typical vision of a Latin American country.   Fast-forward to Mendoza.  At the foot of the Andes, this town thrives on wine and the quintessential Argentine way of life.    Over one week, we traveled to two different countries, visited 13 companies and met with 18 different contacts, spanning over 10 different industries.

While a detailed journal of the week could fill an entire blog, I have listed by top eight experiences of the trip, both academic and personal, below:

8.  Start-Up Chile:  Immigrant entrepreneurs are said to have started about half of the businesses created in Silicon Valley between 1995 and 2005.  Chile hopes to emulate this success by sponsoring Start-Up Chile, a government-sponsored program designed to attract foreign, high-potential entrepreneurs to the country.  The mission, “They arrive.  They work.  They connect.  The leave and Chile stays connected.”   Start-Up Chile gives these entrepreneurs $40,000, a 12-month working visa, and access to the most prominent social and capital networks in the country.  We spent an afternoon at the Start-Up offices, interacting with the selected entrepreneurs and began to think of all the business opportunities available in this emerging market.  As so many of us were inspired, it’s very possible to see a Kogod Alumni involved in this program shortly!

7.  Copper, Copper, Copper:  Chile was made famous when 33 miners were rescued after 69 days trapped underground.  At that time, I knew nothing about the significance of mining to the region.   While studying the Chilean economy we found that copper makes up 55% of the economy and certainly is big business.  The first visit on our trip was to the corporate headquarters of Los Pelambres, a private firm operating the world’s 5th largest copper mine.    We learned everything from the engineering process, to the company’s social responsibility efforts in the local communities, to the importance of this industry to the national economy.

6.  Knowledge of Wine: To both Chileans and Argentines, wine is more than a beverage; it is a way of life.  Argentina’s annual wine consumption is equal to 40 liters per person.  (That’s a lot of Malbec!)  It didn’t matter where we were: on a company visit or out to dinner, the locals gave us both tasting lessons and their personal recommendations.  I improved not only my Spanish vocabulary but also my wine vocabulary during this trip!

5.  Business of Wine:  A region so dependent on wine must develop a solid infrastructure to market, distribute, and export this commodity.  Through various visits, we not only learned about wine but everything else that goes into the wine business.  For example, a transportation company has to worry about refrigerating cargo in order to obtain the perfect temperature for its client’s bottles.   Regional labor figures go up and down around the annual harvest.    Wineries need to focus on PR and distributor networks in international markets.  With all this at stake, we certainly found a lot of MBAs in rural Argentina!

4. Extending our Network in Valparaiso: A few of us arrived early and spent some time on the coast (it was summer in the southern hemisphere, after all).  While the beach was disappointing (the only cloudy days of our trip), we were lucky enough to find another gem on the coast: Valparaiso.  Cultural influences left over from this old major shipping port have made this city an artistic gem.  While buying unique artwork, and a statement necklace made of copper for myself, we made a connection with a local artist eager to get our opinion on his pieces as he plans to begin shipping to the US market.  While we were all impressed with his talent, we also realized that his company needed a business plan.  We continue to speak with him and hope to help him bring products to the US market shortly!

3.  My First Latin American Presentation:  As a part-time student with a full-time job, I was lucky enough to arrange a work meeting in conjunction with our trip.  The added bonus: an extra week in Santiago.  I presented my company’s research to 20 Chilean participants.  While I was the teacher, I had to rely on the class to explain concepts that didn’t clearly translate.  This was my first exposure to the warmth of the Chilean people.  They treated me to a traditional Chilean meal of conger and Pisco and an unforgettable, yet resume worthy, experience I will never forget!

2. Cross-Border Differences:  We left Santiago, with its bustling economy and 45-hour workweek, and traveled across the Andes to Mendoza, a laid-back town that closes for three hours every afternoon for siesta.   While we tend to lump these countries together, the business climate and ways of operating are significantly different.  One of the most interesting presentations of the trip for me was a conversation with David English, an American consultant who helps foreign businesses navigate the red-tape associated with the Argentine business climate.  This was such an interesting concept to me, especially after visiting Start-Up Chile earlier in the week.

1. Sharing Mate with my Classmates:  Mate is a traditional Argentine drink made of dried leaves of yerba infused in hot water.  Mate is served with a metal straw from a shared hollow gourd.  This is a drink of friendship and those who share it are bonded together.  Friends sit in a circle.  Each person takes a sip and passes it along to the next person until the mate is finished.  We had the pleasure of participating in this ritual during our time in Mendoza.  Our guide, Martin, had us over his house for a traditional backyard bbq.  We not only ate famous Argentine steak but also bonded over the mate ritual.  This perfect evening embodied the experience of Argentina and our trip.

While I put the finishing touches on my research paper (yes, there is a research component to this experience), I continue to reflect on the business environment, the culture, and the relationships I’ve made throughout this course.  I would encourage anyone who is thinking about this course to do it as I am certain that it will be my top experience at Kogod.

Networking: Real vs. Fake

Okay, if you’re like me, you came into Kogod hearing the word “networking” coming for all corners of the building. There are formal definitions out there that essentially define networking as the harvesting of people who, when combined together, will somehow benefit you. That sounded like a great idea to me…so I figured I’d try networking.

How did I first start networking? Why, I created a LinkedIn profile of course! Once I learned the ins and outs of the online networking platform, I quickly began building what became a second Facebook account. Within a couple weeks, I had over 100 connections, almost all of which were personal friends, scientists, golf club attendants, a farmer, or a combination of these. What a network! I was clearly really good at this (or at least clicking a mouse button) and I didn’t have any doubt that I was going to land my dream job.

Recently, I decided that I will be concentrating in finance. I love the material and know it’s something that I will do well with. I started thinking about where I would want to go, what company I’d like to work for, what actual positions were out there; and I came up with a pretty good list. Then I had a nice little reality check.

I was talking to my beautiful fiance about where we would want to go, and where a good place to work might be, and she kindly chimed in with, “Do you even know anyone in finance?”

Uhhhhhhhhhh. Well I have a network on LinkedIn, so I must know someone, right? WRONG. I looked through my account and the only finance connections I had were the Facebook equivalent of people that you “friend” after one too many chocolate milks on a Thursday night at college. That’s when I realized that networking is so much more than just knowing people…but I still didn’t actually know how to network. So I took a new approach.

For my first move, I went to the KCCD and talked with Jen Murphy about my aspirations and my utter lack of a useful network. She put me at ease and then sent me in the direction of some people that are currently affiliated with finance at Kogod. I reached out to them using a more personal approach (ahem…email) and set up some in-person meetings. At these meetings, I have been focusing more on learning about the finance industry and what I’m interested in rather than trying to find a new job.

To lay the ground work for more meetings, I’m making it a point to create another connection at the conclusion of the meeting (a big thanks to Julie Jones for pointing out this critical step). After the meeting, I’m also trying to follow up (in another email) with the person I met, and the person who put us in contact. By the way, my version of a follow up is more or less a simple “thank you” letter with just a little bit of relevant substance.

Even with people I know, this networking thing is somewhat nerve wracking. But, only a few weeks into my new networking style, I can already say things are getting easier. I’ve sort of bashed LinkedIn here, but it does serve a great purpose both for you and the people who know you. Its major drawback, in my opinion, is that LinkedIn can mistakenly portray networking as being easy. It’s not. I’m learning that it takes real, physical interaction beyond being connected to someone “on the 1st” tier through a website. LinkedIn definitely makes networking more accessible, but it sure doesn’t make the process any simpler; nor does it make the people you know any more or less relevant.

I’m glad that I’ve started this “real” process of networking now. I’ve still got another year and a half to really put this thing into motion. And, if my stint with finance fails…at least I know I can reach out to my connection in the farming industry.

120 School Days + 2,688 Miles = 1 Amazing LA Vacation

A couple of weeks ago I visited two of my cohort mates in Los Angeles.  It was freezing in DC, and the opportunity to cash in my miles and seek warmer ground was a no-brainer.

Shopping in Santa Monica

It was amazing!  Thirty minutes after arriving at LAX and after jamming my down wintercoat into my suitcase, I was eating lunch at a Santa Monica eatery with the sun on my face and the Pacific Ocean in my view.

The next few days were a whirlwind:  shopping in Santa Monica, racing down Pacific Coast Highway, soaking in the art and gardens at the Getty Museum, standing in line for an ice cream sandwich at Diddy Riese near the UCLA campus, boutiquing in Westwood, riding the winding Malibu canyon on a Harley and stopping at the Rock Store off of Mulholland Hwy, bowling at the infamous bowling alley from the Big Lebowski (mark it zero, please), taking an hour to go 4 blocks in infamous traffic (ok, not so fun), and celebrity sight-seeing (I swear I saw Khloe).

1st Year MBAs (L-R) Alexandra, Jen, & Maria Teresa at the Getty Museum

As I sit here in DC a few weeks later, I smile as I think about how different this trip to LA was compared to my previous visits.  I’d been to LA a couple of times for both vacation and business, but I felt like I saw this trip differently.

For example, while in the legendary line getting my ice cream sandwich at Diddy Riese for $1.50 and feeling an instant exhilaration at how cheap and delicious a deal this was, I then realized that this was an exact example of what one of my professors called “consumer surplus.”  Good thing Diddy Riese doesn’t know just exactly how much I would indeed be willing to pay for that there sandwich.  As I walked out of their shop, I wondered how Diddy Riese could possibly be making money charging such deliciousness at such an obscenely low rate?  I glanced at the long line that I had just been standing in and remembered the concepts of volume sales and cost efficient goods providers.  Gotcha.  Of course, both concepts flew out of my mind as I polished off the rest of my sandwich.  In fact, much of what I was thinking flew out as I finished such deliciousness.

Diddy Riese Cookie Sandwiches...a $1.50 slice of Heaven

Being an MBA student has given me another way of viewing the world around me:  it’s like I’m now traveling with 3D glasses with my newly acquired knowledge.  One semester in, I was sitting in my free ticket seat and wondering what dynamic pricing models my airlines had used in offering seats on the plane to wondering what the size of endowment and interest rate the Getty might need to operate such a facility for the public good.  It was as if I saw business everywhere and it made the strings of connecting everything so much more vibrant and clear.

I’m looking forward to going on one of the study abroad trips that Kogod is offering over the next break.  I’ll have gone through six more classes and learned a slew of other concepts and developed a host of skills.  On that note, maybe I’ll try considering consumer surplus while consuming macaroons and an espresso from Ladurées on the Champs Elysées next?  Oui!  Oui!

Food Networking

To be clear…this entry has absolutely nothing to do with TV, top chef competitions, or celebrity cook-offs. Rather, it serves as analogy between an activity that intimidates a lot of us and my most beloved thing in the world. Yes, in a lot of ways, I think it is wise to approach networking in the same way one approaches food. Stick with me, I promise this will make some sense.

As many of us know by now, networking is a huge part of the MBA experience. It plays a large role learning about industries in which you are interested, meeting professionals with vast amounts of knowledge, and putting yourself in the best possible position to advance into your career of choice. Basically, it is so important that you need to do some form of it everyday…much like eating. Make sure you are well fed ladies and gentlemen.

Some of the most meaningful meals I have had in my life took a long time to prepare. Likewise, the best networking relationships are formed over time. In a perfect world, we would be able to send a brief email to a particular professional and get all of the information we needed along with that coveted internship. But we can’t eat Ramen Noodles and Hungry Man microwaveable dinners all the time. In reality, it takes a lot of time and effort to build the trust necessary for someone to really support you professionally.

Think about it: would you be more impressed with a three-course meal or an Oscar Meyer Lunchables? If you said Lunchables, I would have agreed with you about twenty years ago.

Now, not all of your grand meals will go according to plan. I can’t even count how many times I have set off the smoke alarm in my kitchen or gotten an underwhelmed reaction from someone I cooked for. But you get better each time. You learn when to add seasoning, how long to cook something, and what foods best complement each other. In networking, you aren’t going to get close to everyone you talk to. Slowly but surely, however, you learn when to send emails, take people out for coffee, and what approach works best for you. It is a process and just like everything else in this world, it takes practice.

I won’t say that you can’t have a Pop Tart every now and then. But pay attention to your networking diet. Proper sustenance is the key to getting your career off the ground.

In the words of Wim Taylor of the KCCD, “You’ve got to put that thing in the oven, let it bake for a while, check on it, let it bake some more, and finally you will have something good to eat.” You have been shopping for the necessary groceries all of your life whether it be through work or academic experience. It is up to you to fine tune your networking recipe and create a feast fit for a king. Bon appétit!