It’s now been over two weeks since our trip to Japan as part of the Spring Chazen Tour. It seems as if it were a whirlwind of a dream. Yet I am surrounded by reminders of the awesome experience as I sip the macha tea that I had purchased from Kyoto, looking at the cute light up miniature car from the Toyota factory, and treating myself to a sake face mask from Tokyo.
As a second year, my time at CBS is sadly coming to an end. I reflect not only on my time in Japan but my time in general in this crazy thing call business school. I’ve been fortunate enough to have gotten to do a lot of things that I would never dream of during my time here. But at the very top of my list of business school experiences would be Chazen (both participating as well as planning a study tour) as well as orientation week as a Peer Advisor. For the first years out there, I highly recommending doing both at least once during their time here. Though completely different, doing a Chazen Tour as well as being a PA are similar in that both are completely immersive, at times intense, dynamic, and extremely rewarding experiences. You not only get to know a lot of your classmates on a deeper level, but you also learn a lot about yourself. Being in a totally new country and culture on a Chazen trip can reveal a lot about who you are; your preferences, tastebuds, lifestyle, and friendship dynamics in a foreign setting. Being a PA puts your leadership style to the test and helps you discover what kind of group dynamics and culture to build from scratch. And if you’re lucky enough to plan a Chazen trip, it’s like being a PA in a totally different country for a whole week. I highly recommend it!
Thus I conclude my blog series with a big smile on this great adventure that I was able to book end with my experience at CBS. Big thanks for the organizers of Japan Section B, Shohei, Yu, Asumi, Yohei, Tomo, and Masu for making us feel so welcome in their country. As a lifelong member of the CBS community, this is the practice of inclusion and the global network applied. Personally, I know I will be back in Japan soon, and I will never forget this amazing trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Which Japan is the real Japan? Is it the pristine shrine, with centuries-long tradition? Is it the modern factory, producing some of the most popular vehicles in the world? Is it the crazy-paced, never-sleeping hectic heart of Tokyo? Or perhaps it is the combination of everything? One thing is certain – one week is not enough to understand Japan. Some would argue that a decade isn’t enough either.
In my previous notes, I discussed impressions from companies or governmental offices. Now, I will try and tie it all together and even attempt to infuse some modest pieces of wisdom.
Japan is different. In a time when everybody is looking for happiness, career progress and self-fulfillment, it seems as if the Japanese had found theirs long time ago. A Japanese wedding announcement would be “It has turned out that we will get married”, indicating that no distinction is made between what one does intentionally and what simply happens. At the same time, failure is not acceptable and almost disgraceful. How are the two settled? Only the Japanese know.
In my mind, this is tied to the exceptional levels of professionalism in Japan. Per the alumni and the Toyota executives, career progress in Japan is very slow. Some professionals are very happy to be considered ‘craftsmen’ in their respective fields and spend their entire lives in the same function.
Perhaps the most facile observation one can make while in Japan is that almost all aspects of life there seem to be crafted to near perfection. The transportation, the streets, the people, the food – in a nutshell everything. Even the taxi will automatically open its door before you reach for the handle. Most of us, new and native New Yorkers alike, forgot how it feels to be surrounded by politeness, kindness, and warmth and how easy it is to pay it forward; indeed, some of us never really knew much about that to begin with.
Personally, I’m not sure I will be able to practice meditation techniques and surround myself with Zen in my daily life, but I would be happy to learn how to accept outcomes with a ‘Japanese’ manner of acceptance and, above all, dignity. In our daily business lives we make hundreds of decisions, large and small, and it’s tempting to agonize over each and every one. Furthermore, there is a tendency to jump at the next promotion and, in general, at what seems to be the next thing; however, I’d like to try and be better at what I am doing right now, and strive to master it.
Having said that, perhaps the Japanese would sometimes benefit from a little compromise. The current attitude in front of potential failure stifles innovation, as failure is an inherent part of trying new things, either as a startup or within a company.
Overall, our Chazen experience was rewarding beyond any expectation. Touring Japan is a great experience on its own but to have the privilege to go being that, and be exposed to business executives, government leaders and having candid conversations with company management, is an experience like no other. Meeting alumni living and working in Japan, and having the ability to get their perspectives on the myriad nuances of doing business in this unique country is just another example of distinctive perks only available through a Chazen tour.
Considering our experiences there it should not come as a surprise that all our group members are eager to return to Japan; what should surprise, however, and in equal part delight, is that for neither of us will Japan ever be the same again without our 40-member strong family.
NEW YORK – This is, alas, the final time you’ll be hearing from me. Which sounds so morbid, but really, it’s just because my work as the social media guru will conclude with this post, and then I’ll graduate and won’t be able to take week-long trips around the world on random Spring Breaks anymore! A single tear rolls down my cheek…(to match the single dollar left in my bank account).
But! Sweden! Denmark! Families! Business! That’s what this is about. I struggled a little bit with structuring this post, so like any good consultant, I ended up with three main takeaways: one negative, one positive, and one that’s purposely a bit amorphous (I know, I know, show, don’t tell). Let’s get started.
The bad: One of our first visits was to the American Embassy in Stockholm, where we met with a number of senior embassy officials and learned about their initiatives for American interests in Sweden and how they can help US businesses make inroads around the globe. That meeting was perfectly fine, and we were impressed by the number of speakers who made time out of their day to meet with a group of Columbia MBAs.
However, the security protocols necessary to get into the embassy honestly made me embarrassed to be a United States citizen – I saw a young girl, who couldn’t have been more than four years old, shouted at through a glass wall, forced to take off her coat on a chilly day, and contort her feet and body to prove, I guess, that there were no threatening items on her, all while her mother had to stand twenty feet away (yes, we all had to do the same). I’m proud of my country and believe there’s a reason that our mantra of freedom above all attracts the most innovative and accomplished people to learn, teach, and start businesses – by no means does that mean that our people or politicians are always correct, though I do like to think that we represent the opportunity to make life better, no matter who you are or where you come from. But when I’m reminded of that scared little girl and her introduction to America, I wonder whether we’ve become a bit too possessive of our liberty.
(steps off high horse)
The good: Hygge! Hygge, the Danish concept of “everyday togetherness”, which has certainly seeped across the border into Sweden, and definitely enjoys arobustadcampaign in the US.
There are a couple ways that hygge was present during our trip. The first is in the purely physical, and can be represented best by the abundance of candles in nearly every conference room that we met in. What would certainly be a fire hazard in America is a source of coziness and serenity in Scandinavia: proof that work in the Nordic is supposed to be comfortable in addition to being productive.
The second is the attitude that work in Sweden and Denmark is generally a two-way career contract. I alluded a bit to this in prior posts, but it deserves a specific callout here: employment in Nordic is designed to last much longer than in other areas of the world. Compared to the two ends of the spectrum – the US, where workers are used primarily for efficient productivity, and, say, France, who has extensive protections for employees to keep jobs – Scandinavia firms seem to invest more in training and education for their workers, and those workers in turn accept slightly lower wages for a career that can span decades rather than years. I will put a caveat on this: my belief may be skewed a bit due to small sample size or meeting exclusively with family firms.
The fuzzy: Speaking of family firms…another student and I were talking with Professor Angus about one small family firm’s search for a CEO. We wondered why the search never seemed to find a good candidate: the business was established, profitable, and had a well-oiled supply chain and production facility. In fact, we softly felt that just about any of the students on the trip would be well-positioned to run the company after our education at CBS.
However, Professor Angus asked one question: “Could you run the firm AND deal with the family issues behind the scenes?” We immediately shook our heads and realized THAT’S what makes family firms different – it’s never just about the money, contracts, or factory. It’s about everything that came before and the legacy that will be. One founder noted, “That’s my name on the jar. What will it stand for after I’m gone?” Will an outsider ever be able to live up to that attitude?
So in the end, neither the Nordic region nor family businesses can really be put into neat little boxes (classic consulting again: it depends.) But, like each Chazen trip I’ve experienced, I feel I now truly have an informed opinion on the region and will be better able to understand and transact with my future Swedish and Danish colleagues and business partners. Thanks again for reading along with my journey, and looking forward to my next chapter after Columbia!
It’s hard to imagine that just a couple weeks ago, I was traveling through Cuba, learning about the business environment, culture, and history of the country. For this final post, I asked my classmates to contribute their own reflections, opinions, and photos. I’m grateful and excited to share their contributions and insights with you.
“The highlight of our trip to Cuba was striking up a conversation with a local woman who then invited us into her home to tell us about her experiences during the revolution. She then made us Cuban coffee, showed us pictures of her family, and had us call her abuelita.” – Oliver
“Cuba exceeded my expectations on many levels. One thing I found fascinating is how advanced Cuba is on gender issues in comparison to the United States. Despite the low salaries, women and men are paid equally. In terms of abortion, all women have the right to abort. Here in the United States, we are still fighting for pay equality and for abortion rights. “ – Silvana
“After visiting Cuba, I now realize how easier it is to live in a country with no crime and violence. However, I also understand how lucky I am to have been given opportunities to pursue my dreams.” – Federico
“After visiting Cuba, I now realize that the allure of the island for Americans is the fact that we mostly forbidden to go. Cuba has a long way to go if it wants to consistently attract tourists in the future.” – T.J.
“One thing that surprised me was the openness that young Cuban people had to discussing how the current system benefits them, as well as their ideas for how to improve it. The most interesting thing I learned was that workers have the daily newspaper (and novels) read to them as they work in state-operated cigar factories. I was really moved by the state’s commitment to ongoing education for Cuban citizens. After visiting Cuba, I now realize the many ways in which the system there works for the Cuban people, and I feel excited to see how that system adapts in upcoming years to provide even more opportunity for young Cubans.” – Natasha
The diverse perspectives of my classmates and I reflect how many topics were touched on during our Global Immersion Program (GIP) in Cuba. To say Cuban economics and politics are complex would be an understatement, yet the Cubans we met continue to do the best they can to overcome their financial circumstances and maintain hope for the future.
Thank you to everyone who provided photos, comments, and feedback on these blog posts. And thank you to Chazen and CBS for this incredible opportunity!
Since coming back from our whirlwind adventure in Israel two weeks ago, I have gushed to my friends and classmates about Israel’s historic landmarks, hospitable people and the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit that beats throughout the country. I’ve developed a newfound appreciation for the incredible achievements that modern-day Israel has made in business – especially given the unique geopolitical challenges facing the country—as well as developed a deeper understanding of the cultural factors that have shaped Israel’s identity and in turn its business environment. Still, one week is not enough to fully map out the complexity of Israel’s history, economy or politics. These are some of the takeaways about Israel that struck me during the trip and the questions I want to continue to explore:
Startup nation to scaled up nation? Israel is well known for its plethora of tech startups and its strong engineering talent. However, we came across differing perspectives on whether Israel had the potential to develop startups into larger tech empires. During our trip, Intel announced it was buying autonomous driving technology firm Mobileye for $15 billion – a very successful exit for the Israeli company. While the book Startup Nation argues that the diversity of Israel’s people and mandatory military service has fostered a strong environment to build startups, can the country sustain continued growth in the tech sector? Furthermore, is the Israeli market big enough to bring startups to larger scale or is a sale to a non-Israeli company the optimal solution for Israeli startups to grow?
There is no one-size fits all solution to the conflict in the Middle East. What’s the next best option? Israel has very delicate relationships with its neighbors in the Middle East, many of which are in the midst of political turmoil and many of which do not support Israel’s existence. There are numerous issues underlying the conflict in the Middle East but there is no way to please all stakeholders. However, having open conversations across all countries in the region will be key to navigating the complex political environment and finding solutions that can tackle one issue at a time.
Israeli’s “survivor” attitude carries through into business. One of the things I appreciated the most about Israeli people is their optimistic and hopeful attitude, even in difficult times. Israelis truly are survivors and their determination to achieve the goals they set forth is an asset in the business world and something we as aspiring leaders should strive to embody.– Nathalie Tadena, CBS’18
Chazen Israel Section B
During the 6 days in Spain, we traveled to 3 cities, visited 7 big companies and over 10 world’s famous attractions. We learned authentic Spanish culture and business and economic conditions through the very best people, especially our three amazing three Spanish organizers. There are many key takeaways and interesting things I learned from the Chazen Spain trip.
The People: Spanish people are one of the most down to earth Europeans I ever met. While the Spanish are very friendly, welcoming and laid-back, their other sides are very tough, smart and realistic. Another interesting thing I learned is that they are very conservative. I believe this humble culture of the Spanish has been shaped by its long history. The great power that had in the past from colonizing many countries around the world made them became very rich from tributes earned. After those countries declared independence, Spain was lagged behind without the know-how and capabilities to actually make money on their own. However, their abilities to cope with hard times and bounce back are impressive and what made who they are today.
The Culture: Its long history has shaped its unique culture, arts and architecture. I was mesmerized by all the places I see and things experience throughout the trip from everyday delicious Spanish food and tapas to famous museums, buildings, churches and football stadiums.
The Business: The seven company visits revealed to me that Spain is still a great country with great people. The future for Spain seems to be growing gradually and consistently fostered by the capabilities of the people, their participation in the European Union and the country’s strong presence in the Latin America. While the future might be uncertain as it is for every country, I believe that Spain has the abilities, capabilities and resources to overcome all the challenges and remain great.
‘Have you heard of the routing app, Waze? It’s Israeli.’ my driver asked me, as I got in the car en route to the airport for my flight home. I could see the app predicting my arrival at the airport at 6:14pm, a full three hours before my flight. I loathed this seeming waste of time – a common phrase in my pre-CBS consulting career was ‘if you’ve never missed a flight, you’re getting to the airport to early’. But, we had been warned about the Tel Aviv Airport Security, and after accidentally going to Newark airport instead of JFK on my way to Israel, I couldn’t risk another stressful airport experience. I replied that No, I hadn’t heard of Waze and wondered if it was really that much better than Google Maps?
When my driver asked me how I had enjoyed his country, it was hard not to conceal my new found love for Israel. The food, the entrepreneurial spirit, the history… so many things flooded my mind. But being back in the states and reflecting on my trip, my favorite aspect by far is the people.
The Israeli culture is rich with history, religious background, and stories of both oppression and hope. And what I didn’t appreciate until my trip was the clear camaraderie that binds Israelis together. Whether this is because the nation is relatively young, because of the history of what the Israeli people have been through, or because of something else, is unclear. But the immediate closeness I witnessed time and again amongst Israelis was undeniable.
Over the course of the trip, we visited many companies. Three companies talked to us about the same recent sale of an Israeli start-up (Mobileye) to Intel for $15 Billiion. Even my cab driver brought it up to me. Most people spoke about the value of their army experience. And everyone talked about being focused on continuous improvement and their own internal hope.
Coming from the states, a country that in so many ways is about diversity, it’s striking to see such a degree of similarity across Israelis. I look forward to my next (and hopefully soon!) trip to Israel to further uncover its culture. And for the record, we pulled up to my gate at precisely 6:14.