Hong Kong or Bust

Kicking off the new year in Hong Kong was nothing short of amazing. We finally left the cold weather behind in Seoul to traipse around the bustling (and finally warm) Hong Kong city center.

We started our HK leg of our trip with a tram party on what is colloquially referred to as a ding ding. These double decker vehicles are one of the oldest forms of public transportation in the city, and we had one all to ourselves. Equipped with snacks and playlists provided by KKBOX (more on them later) we rode around the city in style, getting a lay of the land.


After the tram party, we darted off to see the famed Symphony of Lights at night in Victoria Harbour. The multimedia light and laser show features synchronized music and narration that celebrates to spirit of the city. More than that, it is an impressive collaboration of more than 40 businesses who work together to project the show from their buildings on both sides of the harbor.


The rest of our Hong Kong leg was spent exploring the city and getting the inside scoop on east Asian music, film, arts and culture from a series of phenomenal company visits.

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We visited Eaton House, a co-working space in Central, to meet with Winnie from KKBOX, Asia’s leading digital music subscription service. She spoke about how the Taiwan-based company maintains their competitive advantage against global megabrands like Spotify by creating unique delivery methods and leveraging local industry relationships. By utilizing a wide range of payment methods including telecom partnerships, top-up cards at local convenience stores and e-vouchers, we saw how KKBOX is able to acquire consumers in ways many U.S.-based companies have yet to explore.

Later we visited Eslite, one of the largest retail bookstore chains in Asia. The Taiwan-based company carries the biggest selection of English language publications in the region and has also established itself as a cultural space where books, visual and performing arts, design, coffee, and people come together. We saw firsthand how the company creates unique spaces within the multi-level store to connect consumers to niche local products and brands far beyond books. From tea makers and chocolatiers to cosmetics brands and leather goods makers, Eslite houses distinct brand spaces that encourage visitors to explore and interact with new brands that reflect their identities.

Our final company visit, and probably the most anticipated of the trip, was at Sony Pictures China. There, we met with senior leadership from the Production, Research and International Distribution teams who gave us their candid evaluation of the Chinese film business, the opportunities it presents and how they are approaching the business at Sony. From the quota system and co-productions to the ratings system and blackout dates, the Sony team gave us what felt like a Chinese Film 101, exposing the complexities of this growing entertainment market. While we all knew the world is watching the Chinese movie market, we were surprised to see how complex entry into the space really is and particularly how U.S. brands have to roll the dice a bit to succeed.


All in all, our Hong Kong office visits were a whirlwind, but undoubtedly left us all with a new perspective on the business of music, arts and entertainment. While we objectively learned about the East Asian entertainment space, I think we all took home more than we expected that we can apply to our home countries and careers, wherever they may be. More to come on my key takeaways from the trip.


Courtney Richardson ’17

Chazen Seoul & Hong Kong

Tunisia’s Female Entrepreneurs


dar ben gacem.jpgOne of my first questions about visiting Tunisia was whether the women’s rights awarded at independence in the 1950s had an impact on society. A couple days into Global Immersion: Doing Business in North Africa and I already sense that the answer is a resounding yes.

Our first night in Tunis, before the program officially kicked off we visited Dar Ben Gacem (pictured above), a stunning seven-room guesthouse in the historic medina, city center, which is a restored 17th century home adorned at every corner by works of local artisans. But the house is only half of the story. Dar Ben Gacem’s founder, Leila Ben-Gacem, is a biomedical engineer turned social entrepreneur, who is simultaneously running a hospitality business as she works to untap the potential of Tunisia’s medina. She got her start in 2006 running training programs for local artisans, ensuring they could continue to practice their crafts as sustainable livelihoods so that the country wouldn’t lose that aspect of its heritage. Put simply, she was an incredibly inspiring woman to meet on our first night in Tunisia, making a strong case for that the country’s women are distinctly empowered.

The first official company visit was to Lilas, a paper products company, the first of its sort in North Africa. In a region lacking forests, Lilas imports pulp from Brazil and Scandinavia and produces a host of paper products that it exports across throughout North Africa and to 18 total countries on the continent. We toured its modern factories and saw just as many women working on the floors as men. But what’s more impressive is that Lilas was founded in 1994 by Mounir El Jaiez and Jalila Mezni, a husband and wife team. She, not he, serves as CEO. Though we didn’t meet Mezni, her company’s steady growth over the past two decades makes a good case for her success as a CEO in Tunisia.

It’s more than these two cases. Our tour guide told us that 62% of the country’s university students are women. The economist who presented to us at the African Development Bank was female. What feels like a majority of a group of student entrepreneurs that we met were been female. We met two successful female entrepreneurs, one who co-founded Tunisia’s first co-working space and the other who founded a sustainable agri-business, during a social enterprise panel this afternoon. The country may have its challenges, but its women are ready and able to tackle them.

-Zoe Fox ‘17

Vietnam Part 3: A Tale of Two Cities


Kit O’Connor ‘17

HA LONG BAY & HANOI, VIETNAM – Remember in the first blog about Vietnam when I said that CBS students rarely have just one adventure at a time? Well, a group of students from Vietnam, your correspondent among them, jetted (well, vanned and hydrofoiled) off to Ha Long Bay where we spent 24 hours sailing and kayaking amongst the thousand plus islands that make up “Descending Dragon Bay”. Our guide, Chan, regaled us with the legend of thousands of dragons dropping from the sky and each forming an island over ten thousand years ago. Incidentally, Chan was the tallest Vietnamese person we met and had gotten offers to play in the professional basketball league of Hanoi, but turned them down for the more lucrative and self-fulfilling field of tourism. Yet another difference from life in the States.



But I’m skipping a key part of the trip! The title of this post refers not to Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, but Hanoi and Saigon. Hanoi and Saigon are about as different as any two cities in a single country can be: Saigon is the gregarious, free-wheeling, entrepreneurial hub, while Hanoi is the buttoned-up political center with constant reminders of the government around every corner. Our company visits, to Vietcombank, GE, and General Motors, were dominated by talks of how the companies were backed by (or cooperated with) the government in order to conduct business properly in Vietnam. One particularly instructive moment occurred when a student asked about a curious projected 2017 reversal of a falling inflation rate. The answer, courtesy of Vietcombank, which is majority-owned by the government of Vietnam: the set price for basic services is going to be increased.


file_000-11Wait, who’s that in the background next to the sickle? Enhance…

file_000-9That’s right, a statue of Ho Chi Minh in the conference room of the bank!

These visits stood in stark contrast to the meetings with the American Chamber of Commerce and US Embassy in Hanoi. The Americans (and a Brit and Canadian) stressed the unpredictability of the government moves and expressed frustration that the deck often seemed to be stacked in favors of locals with connections. However, both consistently praised the young and educated population and seemed to truly believe that the best years of Vietnam are on the near horizon. I certainly came away with the impression that Vietnam has a host of fantastic investments for both the local populace and foreign capital!

That just about wraps up the in-country portion of this blog for me. I’ll be back in a week or so to give a proper summary of the trip, but I now must continue the rest of my personal adventure. On to the land down under!

3 Lessons from South Africa

I believe I speak for all of us on the Chazen South Africa trip when I say that this journey was one of the most meaningful experiences of our Columbia Business School education. Why? For me, it boils down to three main lessons, which I will carry with me through this final semester at CBS (and onwards!).

1. Inspiration from South Africa’s complex history – specifically, from those who have fought and continue fighting for a united country.

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” -Nelson Mandela

Throughout our 10 days and across the country, we were constantly surrounded by people who are fighting, in diverse ways, for a South Africa that they believe in. From places like Robben Island to the Apartheid Museum, where we learned about the struggle of leaders great and small, to our meetings with the people at the helm of EY, Nando’s, and Awethu Project, to name a few, we saw an incredible spirit in the people of South Africa and such excitement around the future of the country that they hope to build.

2. A perspective on global business and an increased awareness of the differences of foreign markets relative to the U.S. market.

“When overseas, you learn more about your own country than you do the place you’re visiting.” –Clint Borgen

From a business perspective, our meetings shed light on the context of the South African market, and the African market more broadly, especially when thinking about strategy and reaching the average consumer. In many ways, the leaders we met with illustrated the benefits of the US market in making comparisons with South Africa – in terms of population size, demographics, income level, and many other factors. Despite the unique challenges of the South African market, the country clearly presents an opportunity to many international businesses looking to make a start on the African continent. I’m looking forward to watching the market and seeing what happens with many of these attempts at expansion into East and West Africa.

3. An incredible new group of friends and the memories we now have together!

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” –John Steinbeck

It’s hard to explain just how much fun was had on this trip. From our day hanging with penguins in our ridiculous Hawaiian shirts, to many memorable (or not so memorable, if they took place post-dinner) hotseats on the bus, to the infamous dragon lady… I can’t imagine a more engaging, curious, and energetic group to have seen South Africa with over the past few weeks. Our leaders – Maria, Jocelyn, Christina, and Ian – put an incredible amount of heart into this trip, and it made all the difference in our experiences. We also had the best Chazen leaders, Caitlin and Becky, who were a pleasure to get to know and added a lot to the trip.

I can’t wait for our reunion!


Kate Canfield ’17

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Business and Promise in Joburg

Johannesburg, South Africa. January 11, 2017.

After two days on safari in Kruger National Park (and lots of learning and debate around the rhino conservation crisis – read more here), we made our way to Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa, with a population close to 8 million.

The group at the Hector Peterson Memorial in Soweto

Our last full day on-the-ground was scheduled full of company visits, and as we departed early morning, after a quick debrief around our learnings from the trip, we were nervous it would be a long day. We’d spent the day prior learning about Apartheid through visits to the Apartheid Museum and Nelson Mandela’s home in Soweto (named for the South Western Townships), an area that was home to many anti-Apartheid activists for decades and a humbling place to see, stark contrast to the pristine beauty of Cape Town. Today, however, we were quickly inspired by the brilliant work of the businesses today in Johannesburg.

Graffiti in Soweto

Our first stop was Nando’s, the famous Mozambican chicken chain, to their headquarters (dubbed the “Central Kitchen”). The office is beautiful, featuring unique African designs and an open warehouse feel. Creative artwork covers the walls, representative of the company’s Global Art Initiative – Nando’s restaurants worldwide feature South African artists, giving them exposure and simultaneously causing the asset on the wall to appreciate, a win-win for both the company and the artists.

The coffee shop at Nando’s Central Kitchen

In fact, the most impressive aspect of the Nando’s visit (apart from the famous peri-peri chicken we were served for lunch) was the vast array of social impact the company has built into its core business model. One focus is on the supply chain for the infamously hot peppers used in the company’s peri-peri sauce; Nando’s funds small-scale, entrepreneurial farmers in Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and South Africa to learn and become future future chili suppliers for the company. The company has also invested significant effort in fighting malaria in Mozambique through the Goodbye Malaria project, a project that is very close to Nando’s heart because of the close relationship the company has with its farmers.

Students display some of the beautiful design and artwork at Nando’s Central Kitchen.
“It’s the people that make the chicken,” is a core philosophy to the company.

Our next stop was at Discovery Health, the largest private health insurance company in South Africa. Discovery built an innovative model called Vitality, which rewards people for healthy behavior. By checking into the gym, for example, a Vitality user gets points that can later be put towards anything from a free weekly coffee to a half-price airplane ticket. While such rewards seem hugely costly, the company says that the costs are offset by the value derived from keeping customers healthy. Discovery is located in area of Johannesburg called Sandton, a ritzy business neighborhood that looks almost like Miami and is home to several high-end malls, including Nelson Mandela Square (not to be confused for a historical site…).

An office building in Sandton, Johannesburg

From Discovery, we headed downtown to the Central Business District (CBD), a much rougher part of the city. Our meeting with Awethu Project took place at a lovely restaurant in Constitution Hill, a former prison known as “The Robben Island of Johannesburg” that housed anti-Apartheid activists including Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe and many others until it was closed in 1983. Meeting with the team at Awethu there, an incubator and venture capital firm that invests in black-owned businesses in South Africa, was inspiring – in the face of such former hate, we saw so much hope and entrepreneurial spirit.

Meeting with Awethu staff and local entrepreneurs on Constitution Hill
A local market in the CBD, Johannesburg

The evening ended with an alumni happy hour at The Living Room, a beautiful rooftop spot in Maboneng, a vibrant area just blocks from the hectic streets of the CBD. We were full of hope and love towards South Africa and the work that so many are doing to inspire the rest of the country.

Sundowners at The Living Room in Maboneng, Johannesburg

– Kate Canfield ’17


5 Questions I Have Before Arriving in Tunisia

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It’s hard to believe that it’s finally time to visit the country we began studying the first week of the fall semester. The anticipation has mounted over the past four months, as we’ve listened to lectures on the country’s history and business opportunities, and worked on projects examining different industries.

Writing from the Istanbul Airport, about to board my final flight leg to Tunis, there are a handful of questions on my mind. I wanted to share the five most burning questions I have heading into the week.

1.  How different is Tunisia from its regional neighbors?

One of the first things Professor Jededi told us about his home country was that it was the most “European” of Middle Eastern and North African nations. Women had far more rights, it now has a liberal constitution following the Arab Spring, and education has long been a national priority. I’m curious if this is a difference that will be palpable to me, having visited a handful of Tunisia’s neighbors.

2. How has the Arab Spring changed the country?

As the birthplace of the Arab Spring, the revolutionary movement that spread across the Middle East six years ago, Tunisia saw unique success. The movement — at least as has been reported in the media — brought real changes to the country, such as the peaceful transition of power away from the long-time dictator Ben Ali, democratic elections, and the passing of a liberal constitution. I’d like to ask this question of Tunisians, to gain a deeper understanding of how the average person’s life is different now than before December 2010.

3. Is there truly a significant business opportunity in Tunisia for foreign investors?

The focus of our course is doing business in North Africa, and I’m eager to access whether Tunisia’s relative political advantage over its neighbors is enough to make it a competitive threat. Tunisia is much smaller in size and population than Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria. What is its government doing to ensure that good jobs for educated young people — the issue which sparked the Arab Spring — will come to the country now?

4. What industries present the greatest opportunities for economic growth?

After grasping the extent to which there’s a competitive opportunity in Tunisia, I’d next like to understand which industries the country is best poised to compete. The country’s long-time reliance on tourism has proven to be an unsustainable driver of growth, as terrorism has prevented the country’s image from complete repair post-Arab Spring. Student teams in our class are looking at opportunities in agricultural exports, olive oil and wine, venture capital, and real estate. But have we missed something? Is there an entrepreneurial scene budding in Tunis?

5. What North African business trends will be most relevant to my classmates after we leave?

Finally, the goal of this class is for us as MBA students to gain a better understanding of the global business climate. Which trends in North Africa will prove the most relevant to our future careers, assuming many of us will not have careers directly focused on the region? Are general themes of emerging economies most relevant? Or will they be those related to global security uncertainty?

-Zoe Fox ’17

Vietnam Part 2: A Little Local Color

Kit O’Connor ‘17

HANOI, VIETNAM – I’m writing this blog post from the ground in Hanoi near the end of our trip, but it will primarily concern our final visits with local companies in Saigon. However, before I get to the official Chazen visits, it’s worth mentioning one very local company in particular:

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Vietnam is known for cheap labor and raw materials, so it’s no surprise that there’s also a strong market for customized clothing. One student on the trip decided that he wanted a customized suit, and network effects being what they are among MBAs, soon Phi Phi Tailor had orders for 15 suits, 25 shirts, and six pairs of pants. In a little over 48 hours, I had in hand both the cheapest and best-fitting jacket I had ever worn!

In the official company visits to Veeteq Farm, Tri Duc Foods, and Masan Group’s consumer division, we saw a similar dedication to price and quality. From the official banner welcoming the group to Veeteq Farm to the package of authentic Vietnamese coffee given to each of us as we left Masan Group, it was clear that each company took an enormous amount of pride in its ventures and was very excited to share its story with our group.


Tri Duc’s motto, “Hygienic foods for your health,” nicely encapsulated a common theme that we saw in our travels. As the Vietnamese middle class rapidly grows, consumers are demanding more stringent safety and quality standards for food, and companies go to great lengths to assure customers that its products are genuine in both quality and health. Vieteeq Farms, which sells only through direct channels and its own self-branded retail stores, actually has a live feed of its facilities to prove that its standards are being followed.

That’s all for now – next time I’ll describe some of the key differences between the north and south of the country. For the moment, I need to run to our recap meeting, which is being held in quite the interesting venue…

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