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.

Caffeine = MBA fuel

Before this semester began, I had only drunk coffee one time in my life. I was about 3 or 4 years old and was really curious about what all of the adults were sipping on during the morning. This was at an age when just about everything I was eating/drinking was fruit flavored: fruit snacks, fruit punch, Fruity Pebbles, Froot Loops. Needless to say, my taste buds were less than thrilled to be experiencing the phenomenon that is Cup-O-Joe. I swore it off for life.

Should have stopped a few cups ago.

Fast forward twenty some-odd years. As I am faced with innumerable assignments to complete chapter upon chapter to read, and events to attend, I suddenly feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get a good night’s rest. How can I possibly be productive during these long weeks? Should I turn to the beverage I cursed as a child? Should I go against everything I had preached for so many years? DEFINITELY.

In the right situations, caffeine is a godsend and has helped me power through some of the longest days I have experienced as a student. My adult-style tastebuds have grown to actually enjoy the taste.

As a rookie coffee drinker, I quickly learned that you can have too much of a good thing (diminishing returns for you econ heads). But, I am pretty confident I have found the right balance to get me through the day without having me bounce off the walls. So when you need some fuel to get through those final few pages, a hot cup of coffee just might be your answer!

Graduation, here I come!

So graduation is approaching and I’m starting to look back to see how getting my MBA in Kogod has helped my personal and professional career.

Not that I was so junior when I started the program, but the two years at Kogod helped me grow a lot. There are many additions that make me feel more fulfilled, the first being that I am now more prepared to take challenges and interact with top-notch professionals. After two years of hard work, I’ve gained more confidence in solving problems, making decisions with little information, and presenting orally to whatever size group of people. What else can a person interested in management ask for? I’m extremely happy for all the training and knowledge I’ve received, and this will stick with me forever.

Friends and connections will also stick with me. Through Kogod, I’ve met very cool people that have become a very important part of my life in DC. These people have different experiences and perspectives that make of any short conversation an interesting one. Thanks to them, I’m a much more open-minded and cultured person now that I was before, and it feels good. Most importantly, these people made me enjoy the ride, even though it was a tough and demanding one. I had fun.

Now graduation is less than three weeks away and it feels a bit weird. I’m excited of course, but I’m gonna leave the “workplace” I’ve been in during the past two years. After spending so many hours at school and meeting up with so many groups and friends, Kogod has become pretty much like my home. I’m sure I’m gonna miss it, and I’m glad I’m gonna miss it. I’m glad I’ve been part of Kogod.

Global Innovation: Paris and Prague

 

Global Innovation at the L'Oreal Plant in Paris

I can’t imagine why anyone would want to spend their spring break in a classroom. Unless that classroom is in Paris.

When I signed up for the IBUS course on Global Innovation, I did so for a few reasons. First, the class is the only at Kogod’s international business department that has a European focus (the subject of my undergrad degree). Second, the course includes travel. Third, travel meant spending spring break and Paris and Prague.

We all know that one of the highlights of Kogod is the international atmosphere here, which is augmented by the many opportunities to take short study trips abroad. Whether it’s Brazil, China, Argentina, South Korea, or Europe, twice (or even three times) a year you can take a class that not only teaches you about doing business in a foreign country, but actually exposes you to engaging with business in that country.

For me, going to Paris felt like it would be a homecoming. Having spent all of my life since age five studying French, all of my college years studying French history and language, and four months living abroad in Paris, I felt like the first leg of the trip would be a piece of cake.

How very wrong I was.

Seeing Paris with Professor Tomasz Mroczkowski was like seeing an entirely new Paris for the very first time. Our group of 22 — mixed full-time/part-time MBAs, SIS grads, SOC grads, and some undergrads — was folded into the renowned European business school, ESCP. Apart from taking class with incredible professors, we went on a whirlwind tour of French companies to study innovation at France Telecom, NYSE Euronext, and finally, L’Oreal. By the end of the trip I was exhausted (and craving steak frites), but ready for more in the Eastern European city of Prague.

Having never been to Prague, I first thought I would be completely lost. I didn’t know a word of Czech (I now know how to say hello, please, thank you, beer, and water), and I certainly didn’t know the city like I did Paris. But Prague exceeded my expectations, and quickly took the top spot in my personal list of most beautiful cities. The academic portion was incredibly enlightening, and extraordinarily impressive. Our meetings were with the leaders of each featured company: the directors of strategy for the Czech energy company Cez; marketing, customer service, and PR executives of Vodafone Czech Republic; the leader of the US Commercial Service in Prague; and the CEO of GE-Walter Aviation.

Despite moments of exhaustion (it’s amazing how much you can fit into a day…), the trip was constantly eye-opening, and incredibly inspiring. Now back in class in DC, I find myself many steps ahead of where I was before the trip. The exposure to different cultures’ approach to business has changed the way I think about business, and has made me able to take the theories in class at Kogod and synthesize them in a way I hadn’t been able to before.

So in short, spending all of spring break in a class room wasn’t half bad. Let’s put it this way: I want to do it all over again.

 

 

Hands on!

If I had to choose a couple words to define our MBA program, I would definitely go for TEAM-BASED and APPLIED. As opposed to most undergraduate programs where the main focus is to generate a knowledge base through theories and technical concepts, the MBA is purely based on real life projects and cases.

It’s not easy. Reality is complex and requires you to put in your best soft-skills. Time management, prioritization, team coordination, communication, integrative vision, and decision-making in situations where not a whole lot of information is available become key! And this is exactly what the MBA is giving me. You would be surprised to see what a few tests are given compared to hands-on projects. I’m actually glad this is the case because I feel I’ve had enough of theoretical education and was eager to engage into something much more applied. 

Groups of students working on projects

Right now I’m working on four different projects, one for each class I’m taking. For my entrepreneurship course, my group and I are creating a business plan for a new venture that one of my teammates wants to pursue. She has even bought the name and domain for the business already, and expects to open it up soon after the business plan is ready. Pretty cool, eh? It will be exciting to see the business operating and feel I was part of its planning.

For our market research class, we are studying Fast Gourmet, a Uruguayan restaurant that opened up in DC only four months ago and whose owners are eager to get consumers’ insights on what they are doing good/bad, and how they can improve. We are carrying out interviews and focus groups, analyzing secondary data, and will follow-up with surveys. It’s great to feel that your work could help someone’s business; feels like you are somewhat giving back to your community.

For our negotiations course we’re interviewing a very successful lawyer in the DC area to learn from his everyday negotiation strategies and techniques. This is helping us get a better understanding of what tends to work or fail in different situations, as well as allowing us to get insights and advice from a skilled negotiator. Finally, we are studying home furnishings retailer Williams-Sonoma for our global supply chain management, aiming to identify the benefits and limitations that would arouse in its supply chain if it were to expand into Brazil.

So yeah, I feel like a more complete professional now. The MBA has trained me on real life situations experienced by real life companies. I’m ready to perform.

Click here to learn about graduate open house events and information sessions coming up.

In support of KCCD

It’s a new semester, which means new classes… like the first-year career development class run by the Kogod Center for Career Development. I hear my fellow first-years groaning, and I know the reasons why. First, the class is from 9:55am to 12:25pm on our “free-morning” days. Second, it’s a class about the tedious, nitty-gritty of career development: resumes, cover letters, networking skills, interview skills, etc. And finally, it’s a zero-credit, pass/fail class. So all in all, I’d venture to say that some of you aren’t huge fans. This got me thinking: How useful is this class anyway? What is it really doing to develop my career? And what’s so great about KCCD anyway? I would venture to say that it is Kogod’s greatest asset, and that this class will give you the skills to present yourself professionally for the rest of your life.

The KCCD is what drew me to Kogod, and so far, I’m thrilled with my experience there. The graduate counseling staff is outstanding; Arlene Hill, Jen Murphy, and Jacques Domenge are your biggest champions, and are some of the nicest, well-connected people you’ll ever meet. Without their counsel, we really could not reach our final goal upon the completion of this degree.

In my opinion, the career development class is our biggest value-add at Kogod. Our school emphasizes perfecting your resume and cover letter, sharpening your interview skills, setting yourself apart from other candidates, and helping you to take a hard look at yourself and your goals to find that perfect career enough to hire and entire staff to assist you in doing so. But KCCD also understands how busy we are, so they’ve carved time out of our schedules to help us do so.

Though KCCD does an excellent job getting employers interested in its students, we can’t lose focus of building our own networks through old-fashioned networking. Jen and Arlene and Jacques might hold our hands through some things, but they’re not going to feed us, too. Having trouble getting your networking plan off the ground? New to DC or switching careers? Make an appointment and reap the benefits of what KCCD does best: career development.

Oh, and let’s forget that we’re all in this together. I couldn’t be happier to go to school with the friends I’ve made in both the first- and second-year classes. I know that I’m not going to be able to build a successful career without you all.

~

For those of you doing your research about whether or not you want to come to Kogod, here’s the skinny: The KCCD gives you an incredible support system to get where you want to go, but you need to be realistic about coming to school in Washington, DC. If you’re expecting to go into finance, CPG, or commercial consulting, you’ll need to get your networking shoes on and get to work. (Or go to school in New York or the Midwest.) KCCD has amazing contacts, but the companies who recruit are largely consulting firms looking to hire for their federal practices, for IT positions, or in the non-profit world. So if you’re keen on IBM, Deloitte, CSC, or any of the hundreds of small, development consultancies in the DC-area, you must come to Kogod. But if you want to do something else, consider this: How often do you have the opportunity to study in a global city, the capital of the United States of America, and have chances to network with some of the most important people and influential companies in the world?