Chazen Argentina: Lessons Learned

Upon reflection, our experience in Argentina taught us a number of lessons related to the true state of political economy and macroeconomics in the country. It is no secret that Argentina has had a complicated and tumultuous history related to the consequences of its economic policies instituted by its political leadership. Argentina has defaulted on its debt twice since 2001 and has had limited access to the international capital markets since then. Moreover, high inflation, approximately 25% inflation each year, has also been a part of the Argentine narrative. Given these factors, we expected to see a much different political and economic climate than we observed. Below are our takeaways:

High inflation and Argentina’s tough economic climate is part of of Argentina’s narrative but does not define Argentina. When we toured the country, many of the individuals (everyday citizens, business leaders, politicians) all agreed that inflation and a more stable economic climate is a major goal for Argentina. However, this is not at the forefront of the national psyche on a daily basis. To us, Buenos Aires and Mendoza did not appear to be in a state of crisis and individuals proceeded with their daily life similar to countries with less severe economic crises. I think this was eye-opening for us as the picture of Argentina painted internationally does not always reflect the reality of everyday Argentina.

Optimism and change are a major theme throughout Argentina. The election of President Macri in late December has been met with a new wave of optimism throughout the capital city of Buenos Aires. During our company visits, business professionals expressed excitement about the possibility of a better environment for business in the country. Moreover, Argentina remains close to resolving its outstanding debt and many are looking forward to Argentina’s future participation in international capital markets.

The Macri Government has the potential to change the way Argentine government operates. Chief of Staff Marcos Pena spoke about opportunities to reign in fiscal spending and creating government budgets that provide more benefits to Argentine citizens. The overall goal is to spend money more efficiently moving forward. These type of policies are both business friendly as well as friendly to the individuals who also need more public services.

Looking back, our visit to Argentina reflects a country that appears to have a promising future. While Argentina does have considerable challenges, it should not be defined by them as the Argentina we saw reflected a more nuance picture. Our opportunity to be fully immersed in the culture, speak with major business leaders and government officials has allowed to see Argentina as it should be seen – a country with major potential to be a prominent international player once again.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reflecting on Cuba – Key Takeways

On Friday, two weeks after returning from Cuba, we held our final class where students presented their analysis of an industry within Cuba and we discussed our key takeaways from the trip. Ultimately, all students agreed that Cuba is in a period of transition but must overcome many major hurdles before it can move towards stabilizing its economy.

Non-State Enterprises

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Cuban government is working towards shifting employment away from state-owned enterprises with a stated goal of non-state enterprises representing 45% of employment in 2017. Today there are 200+ categories of non-state owned enterprises that are permitted by the Cuban government. While many non-state enterprises were formed in the 1990’s, a majority of them were shut down in the early 2000’s. The failure of the businesses can be largely attributed to un-economic overregulation (many of which are ideologically driven laws), lack of formal business training for entrepreneurs and dearth of investment capital (both from investors and banks).

Disparity of Wealth

The Cuban Government wants Cuba to prosper but is worried about prosperous Cubans. Following the 1959 Revolution, the gap between the poorest and the wealthiest Cuban citizens has been quoted to be roughly 4x at its peak. As one could imagine, this gap has rapidly expanded since 2010 when Raúl Castro took action to allow more private sector jobs in Cuba. In order to mitigate wealth disparity, the Cuban government has placed significant restrictions on entrepreneurs’ ability to own multiple businesses, to gain scale and to gain foreign investment. For example, entrepreneurs are only permitted to own one type of each business (e.g., a restaurant owner can only own one restaurant).

The Importance of Tourism

While tourism in and of itself is a critical industry to Cuba’s economy, tourism is also integral to nearly every other industry that operates on the island. Although there is economic equality amongst Cuban citizens, they represent an extremely minor portion of Cuba’s GDP. The average Cuban citizen earns $30-$80 per month whereas we spent roughly $100 per day on the island (excluding hotel accommodations). As a result, nearly every business on the island is focused on selling to tourists given that selling to Cuban citizens is not an economically viable business.

Foreign Direct Investment & Ownership

Cuba realizes that its future economic development is highly dependent on foreign direct investment. That said, while Cuban law does not explicitly prohibit total foreign owned assets, there are only six today (as of August 2015). Further, the U.S. and Cuba do not currently recognize court judgements within each other’s jurisdiction.

Financial Market Infrastructure

Cuba currently maintains a dual currency system. Furthermore, the banking system complicates even the most basic transactions (e.g., deposits and fund transfers). Today, Cuba lacks ATMs and the ability to widely accept credit cards; this creates a large challenge for any consumer facing industry, forcing businesses to rely on cash transactions.

As a result of these issues, many investors and multi-national corporations are patiently waiting on the sidelines until they deem the risk-reward tradeoff in Cuba to merit investment.

-Michael Echemendia ’16



Posted in Cuba, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Cuba in Pictures

Welcome dinner in Havana

Lunch at El Templete


Old Havana

Enjoying the view at Hotel Nacional de Cuba


Plaza Viejo

Dinner at El Cocinero


Dinner and meeting with the owner of La Guarida

CBS at an Industriales baseball game in Havana


CBS at Tropicana

Road trip to Trinidad, Cuba

Trinidad, Cuba

Topes de Collantes

Thank you all for an amazing week in Cuba!

-Michael Echemendia ’16

IMG_2779 copy


Posted in Cuba, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Spirit of Chazen #Brazil2016

What is Chazen? 

“In 1991, our founder, Jerome A. Chazen, MBA ’50, recognized the need for a new kind of leader: one who understands cross-cultural issues and their impact on business. That vision led to the creation of the Jerome A. Chazen Institute of International Business, which serves as the hub of global activity at Columbia Business School.”

(cheesy nationality jokes aside)

When I step back to reflect, it’s truly remarkable how globally diverse our cohort of 30 students were, representing 14 nationalities (here we go: Netherlands, Italy, India, Israel, Lebanon, Peru, China, Japan, Brazil, Turkey, Canada, Greece, Malaysia and good ol’ USA), but also surprisingly diverse business backgrounds: 

Visiting the Suzano Paper & Pulp factory – who knew that Martina Carbone CBS ’16 would pepper the speakers with R&D questions, given her chemical & bio-engineering background?

Who knew that Audrey Stewart CBS ’16 spent time in Taiwan working on nuclear weapon detection for the US Army?

Traveling abroad with a group as awesome as this is a natural catalyst for conversations about … religion, politics, family, and hey, even hair type (Beleza Natural, Operations Management 101); conversations too taboo within the confines of a classroom, yet somewhat organic and free-flowing when you’re chilling in a bus with the lush forest of Rio as your backdrop.

For me – these conversations are the ‘deep and meaningful’ that help us know each other better; the real forage for international and cross-cultural capital that makes us more informed and educated business people.

That’s the Spirit of Chazen.

IMG_5014 (Edited)


Posted in Brazil, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

In 33 #pictures – São Paulo & Rio de Janeiro

Reuben Gan, CBS ’16

São Paulo (Jan 17-20, 2016)


Day 0 – Visiting the quickly gentrifying neighbourhood of Vila Madalena.


Pop-up block parties in the neighbourhood of Vila Madalena.


Company #1 – Natura Cosmetico’s headquarters in Cajamar, Sao Paolo.


Glass is abundant at Natura’s HQ, promoting one of the company’s key values & principles – Transparency.


Laura Burkey, CBS ’16 tries on the Natura’s cosmetics line.


Samar Estephan, CBS ’16 tries out a Natura hand lotion.


Andy Zheng CBS ’16 browsing the fragrance section of Natura’s mock retail store.


Men, a natural target market.


Company Visit #2 – As we learnt, Azul’s competitive advantage as Brazil’s no.3 carrier is owning networks of connecting flights that GOL & TAM can’t compete with.


Fun Fact – Azul is known for their gummy candy planes. Children often ask their parents for this when they know they’re flying. How is that for a cost-effective CRM strategy?


Company #4: Donning safety hats & goggles to tour the Suzano Paper & Pulp factory, the global leader in producing Eucalyptus tree-based paper products.


Company #5 – B2W, Brazil’s leading e-commerce company, furnished with plenty of entertainment.


CBS-ers taking last shots at Sao Paolo. Will one of us win the Chazen Travel Photo contest?

Rio de Janeiro (Jan 20-22, 2016)


Company #7 – BNDES takes us through what it takes to work at Brazil’s leading development bank.


The Famous Cathedral de San Sebastian in Rio De Janeiro.


The iconic PetroBras building in central Rio.


Lunch at the historic Confeitaria Colombo, a taste of colonial Rio.


Company #9 – The Operational Centre of Rio De Janeiro, a world class live database tracking weather, traffic and crime to mitigate tim-sensitive issues such as mudslides. (picture by Vitor Selles, CBS ’16)


Company #10 – Beleza Natural prides itself for serving the needs of communities of Brazilian women with intensely curly hair, giving it their signature “relaxante” treatment for more relaxed, softer and shiner hair for better confidence :-)


Co-Founder of Beleza Natural, Leila Veliz – “Working at McDonald’s was my first MBA”, on understanding the need for a continuous flow system in running an operations-based service business.


“Be beautiful and free!” Fun fact – All Beleza Natural models are either customers or staff; the company believes in realistic, everyday beauty. All smiles @ Erin Williams, CBS ’16


Lesson #1 (from Core Operations Class) – An “assembly-line” (Ford model) process in action. In case recruiting doesn’t go according to plan…


Operations Strategy lesson no.2 – some assembly lines are less efficient than others..


And some others…

Bonus: Post-Chazen Hangout @ Rio de Janeiro (Jan 23-25, 2016)
(conveniently-timed as Hurricane Jonas hurled through NYC)

#Advice for future Chazen travelers – book the latest flight back! You won’t regret it :-)


The Christ Redeemer. Photo courtesy of Johnny Yaacoub, CBS ’16


Panoramic chill by Ipanema beach.


The Selaron Steps, the famous work of a Chilean-born artist in the artsy neighbourhood of Santa Teresa.


Parque Lage. Brunch with a beautiful botanical backdrop.


Vitor Selles, CBS’ 16 pays homage to Michael Jackson at Santa Marta – “they don’t care about us!”


The Orquestra Voadora – world-renowned marching brass band practicing for the Rio Carnival. If we could only stay another week..

IMG_5014 (Edited)

Breathtaking view of Rio De Janeiro from Sugar Loaf mountain.


On the very last day, with the Sugarloaf Mountain as the backdrop.


Tchau Tchau! (bye bye)

Posted in Brazil, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Helen Wey’16 – Tunisia

Top 5 Moments of the Trip

  1. Lunch at farm Dar Salima- We had delicious grilled meat in a rural cottage that functioned as a B&B. The home overlooked olive trees, vineyards and mountains. I would definitely consider making a trip back to this place- they even had a honeymoon suite (which we all visited as an awkward group of 30).


  1. Land’or cheese factory tour- As a cheese lover, and consumer of similar products made by the Laughing Cow, I was particularly fond of the factory visit at Land’or. We visited the pasteurization process, the incorporation of bacteria, and the molding and aging process. It was also eye opening to learn how many additives there were in the cheese triangles that I have eaten my whole life. The greatest part though was probably seeing how silly we looked in all our outfits.


  1. Celebrating Maria’s Birthday- Never in my life had I done a group rendition of “Happy Birthday” in the middle of a corporate presentation. While at Carrefour, one of our classmates let out that another classmate was celebrating her birthday that day. We continued the celebration later that night by surprising Maria with a birthday cake and bottle of champagne at dinner.


  1. A night at Le Boeuf sur le Toit- Our TA, Olivier wanted a fun night for us since we were going to have a later start the next morning, and made a reservation at an entertainment-included restaurant. While we were going there for dinner, it was more of a nightclub. They had boisterous live music and the way to clap along or participate was to dance and use your flatware to clang on the metal tables and lampshades.


  1. Curfew goodbye- For our last night in Tunisia, we had planned to have a grand bash. We made reservations for dinner and late-night belly dancing. Unfortunately, all those plans came to a halt when the government imposed a nationwide curfew from 8PM-5AM. There had been some civil unrest in other parts of Tunisia, but it reached Tunis on Friday. The hotel arranged a room for us to have dinner and we played board games long into the night.


The best part of this trip was building bonds with my classmates. Even though everyone was a fall-term second-year, I did not most of them. We had countless meaningful conversations during our bus rides and sit-down meals. Many jokes were told. Many, many shenanigans occurred. We had an amazing time. Shukraan, Tunisia!

Posted in Tunisia, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lessons Learned in India

By Clare Premo ’16

Our time in India was quite eye-opening in terms of business lessons learned.

Perhaps the most common refrain we heard, and one that gives me the greatest hope for the future of the country is the major opportunity for economic growth that lies ahead. This is due to a combination of intrinsic factors in India, as well as international developments that make India relatively more attractive. For instance, India’s youth cohort is extremely large and there is a massive number of millennials ready to work. This robust addition to the labor force stands in contrast to many developed nations that face an employment crisis as the population reaches retirement. Furthermore, the slowdown of China and other emerging market nations mean that India is an increasingly attractive place for foreign direct investment. Since India is not a commodity economy and has a massive consumer base, it should be able to capture investments that are leaving these other countries in search of a better combination of stability and returns.

Another common discussion point was the stark gap between rich and poor and rural and urban. Even as millions of Indians enter into the middle class, there is still a vast chasm between the rich and the poor in the country. This occurs both in major metropoles where 5 star hotels neighbor massive slums, as well as in more geographically dispersed dichotomies between urban and rural areas. Finding ways to lift the fortunes of the poor without triggering even more migration into the already overpopulated major cities will be a major challenge for India going forward.

Another issue that came up frequently in conversations was the importance of investing in reliable infrastructure. From our conversations with Airtel, we learned that telecom is perhaps the most developed form of infrastructure thus far, and one can observe this given the widespread penetration of mobile phones across the country. The train systems are also quite extensive, partly due to the British colonial heritage. However, critical systems like water and sanitation are still underdeveloped, and the lack of these feed the healthcare crisis. It will require significant investment from the public and private sectors to bring these basic pieces of infrastructure up to snuff to promote a healthy workforce. Roads, airports and ports will also require continued attention in order to enable movement of goods and people and to power commerce.

We also noticed the contrast between conglomerates and entrepreneurial ventures in India. Most of the major companies there are diversified corporations, often partly family-owned, that reach across many sectors. These include Tata, Reliance, and Airtel. However, it seems like the next stage of breakthrough growth will need to come from new companies with the ability to hire new workers. In order to employ the millions of people entering into the workforce, the Indian economy will need to nurture start up firms. But the paradox is, most young people aspire to work for one of these well-regarded companies, or to find reliable employment in the very large public sector, and are loathe to try their luck at starting a new company or working for an unproven one. The Indian culture is more risk averse than the American one, and working for a failed company is seen as a personal shortcoming rather than just the way the business world goes. So long as young people shy away from small, innovative companies, India will struggle to incubate the kind of enterprises that grow and create jobs. Fortunately, the national government is promoting a program called “Start Up India” that provides loans to poorer people in order to give them funding for new ventures. Perhaps this will be the beginning of a trend that helps supercharge the next stage of economic growth.

Finally, all of these business lessons are moot if the environmental situation continues to worsen in India. Climate change poses a serious threat to the future of the country, and is already wreaking havoc on commerce and productivity. India is in the unenviable position of figuring out how to industrialize and develop while limiting greenhouse gas emissions and other polluting actions. It will be a major challenge to find clever ways to both grow the economy and shrink the environmental footprint, but it’s absolutely critical to create sustainable development.

Posted in India, Uncategorized | Leave a comment