Frequent Flyer: Working on the Road

Cramped airline seats, small hotel rooms, and spotty internet – as I find myself on yet another plane on my way to yet another work trip, I begin to worry about the week ahead of me but also about what I’m missing back at school.  Balancing business school and traveling for a full time job is certainly challenging.   In the past year and half, I have completed 27 credit hours and have clocked in over 30,000 frequent flyer miles.   Here are some tips to balance school while on the road for work.

Pre-Trip Checklist

  • Check the Syllabus:  Take a look at what your classes are covering while you’re gone and the week after you return.  You will be exhausted and will not want to play catch up the moment you return.
  • Talk to your Professors:  Kogod professors understand.  A simple heads up before you leave can make all the difference, especially with that class participation credit.  I try to send my professors an email as soon as my trip is confirmed then send a reminder the week of my class.
  • Coordinate Group Project Work:  Don’t forget to let your team members know you’ll be away.  Also ask them to share their class notes with you.

Dedicating a few undistracted in-flight hours can catch you up on schoolwork pretty quickly.  Unless you are in seat 37E and 36E is reclined in front of you while 37D has fallen fast asleep.  Aim to get work done on the plane but prepare to be unsuccessful.  Getting your schoolwork done before your job responsibilities begin will bring down your stress level once you arrive.  Once I land, I find myself so focused on work that schoolwork becomes challenging.

Road Checklist

  • Charge your laptop before boarding:  While more and more airlines are providing in-seat outlets, conserving power on your laptop can make the difference between a productive flight and watching a bad movie.  Many airlines provide in-flight internet but I prefer to avoid the distractions of Facebook and Gmail.
  • Print out reading materials in advance:  While you may not be able to solve complex financial problems, you can read that upcoming case assignment while you enjoy your complimentary peanuts or a taxi ride to your hotel.
  • Large hotel room desks can be your best friend:  Create your own workspace and position your laptop, work files, text book, binder, and notes as you would at home.
  • Get out and see something new:  Working on the road can be draining.  While it’s easy to order room service and watch TV, I make it a point to leave my hotel room at least one evening.  Whether it’s eating at a local restaurant or taking a walk around the block, try to actually enjoy a bit of the city you’re visiting.

Final Word of Advance: Do it before you go
My best piece of advice for working on the road is to try not to work on the road.  Once you leave the office/campus, you never know what you will encounter.  As long as you plan in advance you can save your stress for that work project and feel confident that school is under control.

Bon voyage!

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.