From 25°C to 25°F

Looking out my window at a grey, snowy Morningside Heights, it seems hard to believe that just a few days ago I was still in bright, sunny Santiago.  Our trip was exhausting, amazing and surprising all at the same time.  Though our packed days of programming would wear out even the most seasoned business traveler, we were all so fortunate to have had the opportunity to explore this country and meet with a few of the businesses that have made it a success.  We learned about the specific developments in the Chilean economy, we learned about the general challenges faced by markets shifting from an industrial to knowledge-based economy, and we got to know our peers better.  Since you have heard a great deal from me about my thoughts on the program as well as our meetings during the week, I’d like to use my last blog post as a chance to share the thoughts of my classmates from the program.  Their perspectives, questions and commentary added so much to my experience in Chile!

“The fact that we were able to look behind the scenes and communicate with the highest levels of management of interesting companies was very valuable. I think Chazen organized everything very well, and most compliments goes to Carmen Concha [program teaching assistant] who has been able to pull off this huge effort without a hitch. It was surely one of my CBS highlights.”

–          Chayenne Wiskerke, CBS Class of 2013


The group enjoying the private winery tour on the last day of our trip
The group enjoying the private tour  at Amayna Winery on the last day of our trip

“I thought the trip was a huge success. It was quite a learning experience to hear from executives in some of Chile’s largest businesses about their growth strategies in Latin America’s most stable economy. I was also impressed by how much I learned from my classmates. Sixteen different countries were represented on the trip, and it was great to compare notes about the different cultures. Carmen, our TA, Professor Preston, and Katrina from Chazen all did an amazing job at putting this trip together.”

–          Adam Breitman, CBS Class of 2013

Very patriotic shot at the Mercado Central
Very patriotic shot at the Mercado Central

“The trip was a fabulous opportunity to learn about the Chilean economy as well as successful business models in South America. The speakers were very inspiring and the factory visits were particularly interesting. Also, it was great to meet so many new classmates.”

–          Anne Kronschnabl, CBS Class of 2014

Getting a tour of the pasta production facilities at the Carozzi factory
Getting a tour of the pasta production facilities at the Carozzi factory

Chile stands out as an economy and a country destined to be a leader in Latin America and possibly on the global stage. The sheer determination of its immigrant-infused population has really made a huge difference in the country and the region. Similarities can be easily drawn between Chile and the US during its growth post-World War II.  Chilean government is a great player in this regard, providing the appropriate working environment and facilitating the impressive level of growth and prosperity.  I am certain that, as Chile transforms more of its working class from poverty to middle class, new challenges await. It will be interesting to see how Chile grows over the next 30 years.”

–          Varghese Mathew, CBS Class of 2013

Though I mentioned it time and again in this blog, Chile has impressed me in so many ways.  This country has been through many difficult times and only recently re-joined the democratic world as it continues on its path toward development.  Over those past two decades- relatively little time when talking about the development of a country- Chile has become one of the leaders in the world in terms of economic growth and has truly created a development model worth of emulation by any country seeking to boost economic growth and the living standards of their citizens. The eagerness of everyone we met with to help us learn more about this amazing market was key to making this a very memorable and informative trip for all of us.

Hasta pronto,

Hannah Stern ‘13

Tunisia Final Thoughts

Writing from New York, one week after returning from Tunisia, we have had some time to reflect on our whirlwind experience of meeting some of the country’s top business and political leadership.

Tunisia is a country in transition.  It is a country whose constituents were never allowed to have an opinion until January 2011 and who are now asking questions of national and individual identity:  What does it mean to be Tunisian?  What does it mean to be the spark that ignited the Arab Spring?  How do we fit into the broader context of North Africa?  Of the Arab world?  Of the area south of Southern Europe?  What has democracy changed?  What changes must we still demand?

The world watches Tunisia, awaiting these answers with proverbial baited breath.  These answers will determine how the world “does business in North Africa,” how North Africa interacts with the West, and how this next potential market will emerge.

We had an unparalleled opportunity to visit Tunisia at this moment in time and to bear witness to a country and a region as it forges its future.

CBS outside the Presidential Palace
CBS outside the Presidential Palace

Here are a few final thoughts from the CBSers:

“Going to Tunisia was one of the most interesting academic and cultural experiences I’ve ever had.  We had opportunities to meet with leaders in business and politics, but also interact with locals.  My favorite company visit was to COFAT, maker of electric wires for the automobile industry.  The conversation with the CEO was really enlightening, but the real highlight was taking a tour of their facilities and viewing the all-female assembly lines.  I loved walking around and making small connections with the women.  This trip far surpassed my expectations and I definitely plan on visiting again!” –Shardee Cesar ‘13

“In listening to the CEO of Tunisiana, a telecommunications company, I was very surprised to learn that the media company was leading mobile banking – in the US it has been the banks. Customers are using devices to send money or transfer calling credit between accounts. I can definitely see the opportunities for mobile banking in the future in Tunisia.” –Tara Kurian ‘13

“Our group project focused on creating a solution for mobile banking in Tunisia that will drive adoption of mobile solution for a largely unbanked population.  While in Tunis, we had the opportunity to meet with Mobiflouss, a start-up inside Tunisiana dedicated to creating a mobile payment solution.  Prior to the meeting, we knew that a black market of mobile payment existed but were surprised to learn how pervasive the use of airtime (P2P tranfers of airtime as payment) were for the Tunisian mobile consumer.  Following our experience on the ground, we are developing a business plan which will try to improve on current mobile solutions and create an ecosystem to drive higher adoption of both Mobiflouss and mobile payments on other carriers.” –Randall Rainosek ’13

We want to express our tremendous gratitude to: Professor Jedidi for organizing the class and for showing us his home country, Jennifer Tromba and the entire Chazen staff for making the logistics possible, and to all of the companies and individuals with whom we had the opportunity to meet.  It was truly a trip to remember.

Many thanks,

Yael Silverstein ’13 (follow my travels at

Los Vencinos [The Neighbors]

Since arriving here in Santiago, it has been emphasized time and again that Chile relies strongly on its open, export-driven economy.  While the open economy strategy has worked very well here over the past decade, there are complications on the horizon.   Los vecinos- or the neighbors- of Chile include Peru and Argentina as well as regional partners such as Colombia.  While Peru and Chile have a very strong working relationship that I will discuss later, Argentina is facing a number of its own challenges that are beginning to impact the way other countries in the region perceive it. And the Colombian market is heating up quickly, making entry expensive.

As Chile’s second largest and formerly most significant trade partner, Argentina’s trade regulations create complications for a country where exports are key.  While Chile is all about efficiency, Argentina has a number of protectionist policies in place as well as a very powerful unionized labor force. In 2008, the Argentine state repossessed assets from a joint venture with Spanish energy company Repsol, sounding alarm bells for the international investment community.  Among the biggest critics of these problematic policies has been formerly close ally, Chile.  When asked to comment on recent movements toward a further closed economy in Argentina, Gonzalo Arenas, president of the Chilean parliament’s Economy Committee  said, “The protectionist policies not only generate disappointment but also attack free markets and free international trade principles. We should begin thinking in reciprocity measures.”

We heard a more tempered but still very concerned attitude toward Argentina and future investments there almost every time we spoke with a company representative.  Particularly interesting was our conversation with Falabella, Chile’s largest retailer.  It should also be noted that the company has diversified into a number of sectors including home improvement stores, private label credit cards and retail banking services.  Our speaker mentioned a number of interesting facts on growth of Falabella’s sales in Chile, Peru and even Colombia but took a long pause when glancing to the near side of the map at Argentina.  “It’s difficult to manage our product mix in our department stores there because there are many restrictions on the types of goods we can bring into the country.  And banking services there are a substantial challenge. At present, we do not have plans to grow in Argentina simply because we view the risk as excessive relative to the potential growth in profitability.”  While prospects for continuing investment in Argentina are not strong, there are others in the region that Chile seems very interested in.

Peru has been mentioned by almost all of the companies we met with- whether Banco Santander, retailers Falabella, food producer Carozzi, even the Western world’s biggest copper producer Codelco– as a strong candidate for future growth.  Chileans also seem to view Peru as a trailing indicator of their own progress.  Chile seems eager to integrate its economy further with that of Peru.  For example, as we learned at a meeting with Superintendencia de Pensiones (Pension Oversight Board), Chile has passed legislation allowing Peruvian workers to move their pension withholdings back into a Peruvian pension plan if they choose not to stay in Chile. Time and again we heard that Peru is still between five and ten years behind Chile but that it is showing strong signs of moving in the right direction.

And then there’s the more distant but  dynamic Colombia. One of Chile’s largest food product producers, Carozzi, expressed a strong desire to move into the market but pointed out a number of challenges. “We have to make an investment in Colombia or we won’t remain regional market leader. But we need to make it worth our while. That means strong brands with strong multiples and high volume.  We don’t see that company available for acquisition in the Colombian market right now at a price we consider exceptable.  Most candidates have valuation of upwards of 20 times EBITDA.” said Gonzalo Carozzi, partial owner and CBS ’10 alumnus.

Though we have been extremely busy attending mining presentations, speaking with tech startups, touring factories and even tasting wine, we did find time to fit in some fun.  Below are photos from a number of events and sightseeing activities we’ve done over the past few days:

CBSers hanging out in front of La Moneda, the equivalent of the White House in Chile
Data from Cochilco Mining presentation
Group shot after an amazing diner at the family home of our TA, Carmen Concha!!

Small Market, Big Plans

Now that I have been in Santiago for about two days, I feel I have absorbed enough to make some observations about the culture and business climate.  Our meetings with executives from banks, forestry companies, airlines and even chocolate stores have been extremely helpful in generating a better understanding of what doing business in Chile is like.  If you don’t have time to read the rest of this blog post, let me sum it up for you in one word:


It feels almost as if all the executives we meet with have coordinated their messaging to ensure that we are repeatedly reminded of this defining trait of the Chilean economy.  Coming from a very large market – the US- where there are various population centers, geographies and climates it’s hard to understand the constraints under which Chile has managed to do a stellar job of growing its economy.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Chile’s population is right around 17 million people.  And according Juan Pablo Castro, Head of Research at Banco Santander Chile (the second largest commercial bank in Chile), the average income per capita has grown over the past 40 years from roughly $9,000 in the 1970’s to upwards of $17,000 today.  While this growth is remarkable, it still only amounts to about $248 billion in total income.  This is a very small market compared to a country like Brazil or Colombia.  What this all boils down to is Chile’s need to be an exporter of both goods and services.  Because the domestic market reaches saturation very quickly, the country is one of the most open economies in the world today and has free trade agreements with over 90 countries.   Though not directly related to the Chilean economy, a particularly interesting point brought up during our discussion was the challenge this local subsidiary of the large Spanish firm Groupo Santander, SA, has faced from ratings agencies eager to reduce its rating because of ties to its parent.  The case of Banco Santander highlights the critical role of corporate governance and creating appropriate separation between parent and subsidiary, especially when one is disproportionately affected by a market downturn while the other is reporting strong growth.

Chile’s laser focus on only producing goods in which it has a competitive advantage is very impressive.  For example, the country used to assemble cars and trucks domestically.  However, it was eventually decided that this was not a best use of Chile’s labor force and resources, and today the country imports virtually all of its vehicles.   On the other hand, the Chilean climate gives this country a unique advantage in the lumber and paper pulp market.  As we learned during our visit to Arauco, where we met with CFO Gianfranco Truffello, certain types of trees grow significantly faster in Chile than in North America.  This gives the company a tremendous advantage and allows it to get higher yield out of its land holdings in order to produce the paper pulp.  The mining industry, which I look forward to learning more about later in the week, is another good example of how this small country is a net exporter of raw materials to the world but imports almost all of its finished goods.

In the services area, Chile faces similar growth ceilings.  One of Chile’s best known companies, LAN, is a perfect example of the need to expand outside of the country’s borders.  The airline recently merged with Brazilian giant TAM to become LATAM Airlines.  The challenges of integrating with a Brazilian firm- with substantial language and cultural barriers- is one of the most interesting parts of the new company and learning about how LAN prepared for and continues to manage the integration process was a highlight of our discussion.  LATAM Airlines now servers a substantial part of the South and Central American market, allowing what was a small Chilean airline founded in 1929 to become the leading airline in Latin America.  Today the combined company serves over 60 million passengers a year and recorded a combined revenue of nearly 3 times that of its closest regional competitor.

Though we have yet to dive in to the large-scale retail experience here in Chile, we literally got a taste of what the entrepreneurial climate is like for aspiring retails today when the founder and CEO of La Fete Chocolate, Jorge Mckay, came and spoke to us about his business as well as the challenges of starting and growing a small venture in Chile.  What was most impressive about our discussion, aside from the delicious chocolate we all received (yum!), was Mckay’s passion for optimizing the customer experience.

A La Fete store in Parque Arauco, one of Santiago’s large, upscale malls.

The expertly decorated and laid out stores looked like they could have been on a chic corner in Soho and the focus on providing an optimal selection of products for customers, even at the risk of complicating the production process, was what really impressed our group.   He concluded his presentation with a few words that really stuck with me: “First build a dream, then you can build a business.

Though we have not had much free time, our guide managed to squeeze in a trip to the Mercado Central as well as the Plaza de Armas, the main square downtown.

We also attended an outdoor movie last night, which was a lot of fun and made for a great opportunity to experience Santiago as a consumer.  The event allowed us to see how companies market themselves in Chile since the outdoor space was surrounded by promotional booths for wines, food and other goods.

Thus far Chile has been everything I expected and more. This country has a surprisingly sophisticated and developed feel.  Everyone has been very welcoming and seems to really want to show us how much this country has to offer.  Tonight we are off to a reception with CBS alumni (being abroad is no excuse to stop networking after all) so there will be more updates to come.



Proxima Parada: Santiago [Next Stop: Santiago]

Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador.  All places I have visited and or worked in at one point or another over the past several years. Speaking Spanish and having a long term interest in doing further work in this region, I was a little surprised when I thought about the gap in my regional knowledge as I have yet to visit Chile.  But that is going to change tomorrow.

When I heard about the Chazen Global Immersion Program in Chile focusing on family businesses and the unique challenges they face in Latin American markets, I wasn’t sure that this was the class for me.  Unlike some of my peers in the class, I don’t have any stake in a family business and don’t plan to start one in the near future.  However, upon further contemplation I realized that this was a valuable experience for me regardless of my (lack of) involvement in a family business. I attribute this in large part to two factors:

1)      According to a report by the Family Firm Institute, it is estimated that roughly 75% of all firms in Chile are family owned and controlled. While one might initially think that this is just a very large number of very small businesses, in fact, about 65% of the medium-to-large enterprises in Chile are family owned.

2)      Chile’s GDP growth- though somewhat volatile over the past ten years- has held steady at 5% to  6% throughout the past three years and even as the fortunes of its neighbors rise and fall, Chile has retained a sound economy and government about 20 years.

Just these two pieces of information were enough to convince me that this will be a very valuable program!  But that was five months ago, so lets fast forward to now.

Though I didn’t know much about Chile prior to this course, my peers and I have all been making an effort to understand more about the country and its progress over the past several years.   One of the most surprising things I discovered during our pre-trip lectures was that Chile is one of only about 20 countries in the world that, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness report, is successfully moving from an efficiency-driven to an innovation-driven economy.  Such a move will put this small country of about 17 million people alongside Western Europe and North America in terms of development. The report also ranks Chile as number 33 in terms of global competitiveness (out of 141 countries), placing it ahead of all its South American peers.  An economy with a majority of family owned businesses that is on a steady growth path and outpacing its cohorts is a country every businessperson should know more about.

CBSers will feel right at home in the business district of Santiago, affectionately known as ‘Sanhattan’

In a recent interview with CNN, the country’s president Sebastián Piñera highlighted the “Four pillars of success for Chile: Education, science and technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, and more employment.” He went on to state, “Our vision is to transform Chile into a developed country and to eliminate poverty by the end of this decade.  We hope that we will be the first in our region to achieve that… by being an economically open and integrated country.”  My classmates and I can’t wait to see firsthand how Chile’s efforts are progressing and how family businesses are having an impact.

Hasta pronto!

Hannah Stern ‘13

(Follow my travels on  [blogging from sunny Rio de Janiero…for now]

Hello Mr. (Tunisian) President!

“North Africa’s most relaxed and hospitable country just might turn out to be its most interesting,” describes the Lonely Planet’s Tunisia guidebook.

That depiction rings true for many of us, having pieced together a mosaic of understanding of today’s Tunisia through a host of visits with Tunisian professionals and companies the past few days .

Here are some of the highlights in my classmates’ words:

On Meeting Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki:

“Perhaps the highlight of the trip was our visit to the presidential palace. There, we had the honor of meeting the president. We were warmly greeted with water and lemonade by his staff and he candidly answered our questions about his views/ plans for the country. We were struck by how honest he was about the challenges facing his country and the difficulties they face. Afterward, we were interviewed by TV, radio and print media as we posed for pictures. Many of the Tunisian staff assisting with the trip took the opportunities to get their own pictures as well.”  -Andrew Weber, ‘13

(See us in the Tunisian News here, here, and here [French])

Front Page of the Tunisian News!
Front Page of the Tunisian News!
Q&A with President Moncef Marzouki
Q&A with President Moncef Marzouki
"Doing Business in Tunisia" Global Immersion Class with  President Marzouki
“Doing Business in Tunisia” Global Immersion Class with President Marzouki

On having lunch with the Chairman of Poulina Group Holding:

“Today’s lunch meeting with Poulina provided a unique opportunity to learn about a successful Tunisian holding group with a well diversified offering of companies. The meeting with the Chairman was not only informative on its businesses and the economic climate within the region, but also gave us the opportunity to eat produce and meats sold by the company. Overall, I was extremely impressed with today’s visit and will be keeping my eye out for Poulina brands throughout the duration of our trip.” -Evan Tyner ‘13

On our visit to Enda Inter-Arabe Microfinance:

“The group was honored to go to Enda on Wednesday night to meet with the founders, employees and three inspiring women who have received aid from the NGO. The highlight was hearing how the three women’s lives were impacted through the loans, and their optimism to continue striving for a better life by setting higher goals. All aspects of the visit demonstrated the founders’ belief in empowering people. Specifically, employees gave presentations to inform and practice their English and the reception was catered by another women who is a micro loan recipient. It was amazing to see the gratitude and happiness radiating from the room.” -Krupa Tailor, ‘13

CBSers with the founders, staff, and 3 clients of Enda Inter-Arabe microfinance
CBSers with the founders, staff, and 3 clients of Enda Inter-Arabe microfinance

On meeting with the Regional Director of the African Development Bank:

“The meeting was able to highlight a number of factors that can propel business in North Africa:

1) The region is the least integrated of all regional blocs in the world; better collaboration can lead to North Africans getting better negotiated trade agreements with the rest of the world.

2) Collaboration can be achieved by taking advantage of the cultural and historical similarities between Libyans, Algerians and Tunisians to open up each other’s borders to provide products and services that will benefit the region.

3) The region could reduce unemployment by moving skilled-but-jobless people between the countries’ borders to where they are needed most, and by leveraging their natural resources available by moving up the value chain.” – Nkazimulo  Sokhulu, ‘13

The temporary HQ of the African Development Bank
The temporary HQ of the African Development Bank

On the COFAT Factory Tour:

“We had the opportunity to visit COFAT, a company of the Elloumi Group and to speak to the CEO Faouzi Elloumi. For me, it was one of the more interesting company visits given the multi-national nature of the business and the plant tour we were given after the presentation. Understanding COFAT’s core wire and distribution business and then seeing the fabrication of these products in a plant were a fantastic way to start our early morning. (Professor Singh would have been proud!)” –Stephanie Cheng, ‘13

Professor Jedidi and students at the COFAT factory
Professor Jedidi and students at the COFAT factory
Automotive Parts at the COFAT factory
Automotive Parts at the COFAT factory

Until next time,

Yael Silverstein ’13

Private Equity in Turkey: The Business of Kissing Frogs

Selim Kender, a graduate of Columbia Business School and Principal at TurkVen, discusses the peivate equity firm's portfolio companies.Photo: Aziza Jamgerchinova (c) 2013
Selim Kender, a graduate of Columbia Business School and Principal at TurkVen, discusses the private equity firm’s portfolio companies.
Photo: Aziza Jamgerchinova (c) 2013

By Aziza Jamgerchinova

Selim Kender, Principal at TurkVen, welcomes us at the offices of the private equity firm in Ortaköy. White marble steps lead down to a contemporary two-story mansion, the back end of which opens to a seaview terrace.  The views of the Bosphorus are arresting and postcard-worthy.  Inside, a team of 17 professionals make multimillion investment decisions.  The understated design of the office, with its dark wood paneling in the main conference room, gives it a feel of opulence and grace.

Selim joined TurkVen over six years ago, having previously worked at Fortis Bank and Finansbank in Istanbul.  He is a graduate of Columbia Business School.

Working at a private equity fund can be like having to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince, says Selim.  He shows some numbers to prove his point.  TurkVen started by screening over 2,000 companies.  And after a rigorous process to find the best investment fit the firm ended up with 17 deals.  Almost all of TurkVen’s latest deals were buyouts, with the firm acquiring up to 51% equity.

While TurkVen manages only $1.5 billion in assets, today it is the largest shop in Turkey.  Its portfolio assets include supermarket chain Migros Türk TAS; pizza chain Domino’s Pizza Restaurantlari AS; satellite TV provider Digiturk; and cosmetics retailer Tekin Acar, which Selim calls a Turkish Sephora.

In 2006, TPG Capital and local partner Actera Group concocted a $810 million purchase of Mey Içki San. ve Tic. AS, Turkey’s largest producer of raki.  Five years later, Britain’s Diageo bought the Turkish distiller from TPG for $2.1 billion.  The splashy exit generated a gain of more than 400%, and that’s what put Turkey onto the global PE map.  Today, all the big private equity players like KKR and Abraaj Capital show heightened interest in Turkey, says Selim.

The Newsroom: A Visit to Hürriyet

Columbia Business School students visit the office of Hürriyet in Istanbul.Photo: David Lerman
Columbia Business School students visit the office of Hürriyet in Istanbul.
Photo: David Lerman
hurrieyt 2
Tijen Mergen, a marketing executive at Hürriyet, talks about recent shifts in the Turkish media landscape.
Photo: David Lerman

By Aziza Jamgerchinova

Our visit to Hürriyet starts with a brief welcome reception in the main atrium of the company’s headquarters in Istanbul.  Modern art pieces, including paintings, posters and sculptures, give the office the Google vibe.  There is no trace of cubicles, and everything feels young and fun.

After the reception our group is invited to an auditorium, where Tijen Mergen, a marketing executive at Hürriyet, and Bulent Mumay, a Web Coordinator, tell us about Hürriyet Dünyası, or the World of Hurriyet.

The media company’s flagship publication is a newspaper by the same name.  The daily covers domestic and international news, sports, arts and culture, and features opinion pieces from leading Turkish journalists and social influencers.  Following the latest media trends, Hürriyet has been aggressively expanding its online presence.  The web edition of the newspaper features video reports and user-generated content like Twitpic images.  Mr. Mumay, who leads the digital team, tells us about a recent success during the coverage of a bomb attack in Izmir in August of 2012.  The web edition of the newspaper broke the story by publishing the very first image of the blast’s aftermath that the editors were able to find through Twitter.

Hürriyet is owned by Doğan Holding which today ranks among Turkey’s top three conglomerates.  Doğan is active in six business areas, among which media and energy get a special attention.  In addition to Hürriyet, Doğan has a joint ownership with Time Warner of CNN Türk.

After the presentation, we are invited for lunch at Hürriyet’s cafeteria.  Mr. Mumay and a few other executives are able to join us, so the conversation about Turkey’s media continues.

First few days in Tunisia: Ancient Carthage, Resort Towns, Foreign Investment & Media

Salam and Bonjour from Tunis!  We arrived in Tunisia yesterday, with the 22 CBS students flying in from destinations near and far from prior winter break travels.  For those of us who arrived earlier in the day, Chazen organized a tour to the visit the ruins of Ancient Carthage, just a few miles north of the modern city of Tunis.

The Empire of Carthage, founded as a Phoenician city-State in 814 BC, was significant both politically and as a trade hub amongst the ancient empires.  It is notorious for warring with the Greeks and the Roman Republic, which culminated with the Punic wars, which were led by Hannibal, immortalized by Vergil’s Aeneid, and ultimately ended with the destruction of Carthage.

Carthage, Atlas Mountains, Mediterranean
Carthage, Atlas Mountains, Mediterranean
Corinthian Column
Corinthian Column
Remains of Carthage with Latin Inscriptions
Remains of Carthage with Latin Inscriptions
CBS at Carthage
CBS at Carthage

Following the tour of Ancient Carthage, we traveled to the summer vacation town of Sidi Bou Said, a 12 miles outside the city, for a welcome dinner.  The town is known for uniform white buildings punctuated by azure doors and windows.  Tunisia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, currently embroiled in a nationwide scandal, was a fellow diner at the seaside Dar Zarrouk restaurant.

Blue door in Sidi Bou Said
Blue door in Sidi Bou Said

Yesterday marked the 2nd anniversary of the Revolution.  The country decided a few weeks ago to officially recognize January 14th as a holiday, and as such, most businesses closed in recognition.  In order to avoid the demonstrations in the streets, populated by Tunisians off from work, our group enjoyed the morning meandering through Hammamet, a, popular resort town outside Tunis, whose population quadruples in the summer months.  We explored the town’s medina (old city), browsing the souq (marketplace) for Tunisian handicrafts, and stopped for some mint tea, a traditional beverage, ubiquitous throughout the region, at a salon de the (café).

Salon de The
Salon de The
Coastline in Hammamet
Coastline in Hammamet
Mediterranean in Hammamet
Mediterranean in Hammamet
The CBS Group
The CBS Group

In the afternoon, the Mediterranean School of Business hosted us to meet with several individuals about the current state of Tunisia and foreign investment.  We met with Cyril Grislain Karray, former Managing Director at McKinsey and current political activist in Tunisia (interview about his new book & his 2011 TEDx speech in French); Dr. Salah Hannchi CBS ’80, former Tunisian Ambassador to Australia and Japan;  Neziha Berzouga, Offshoring Promotion Department Head at the Foreign Investment Promotion Agency; and Elias Bouricha the Tunisian country director for Predictix, an Atlanta-based software company.  Our discussions started with high-level overviews of the foreign investment climate and surplus of highly educated human capital in Tunisia and culminated with Elias presenting the specific case study of his experience as a country director for the domestic offices of an American company.

At the Mediterranean School of Business
At the Mediterranean School of Business

On Tuesday, we began the day with a Media Panel which included Kamel Labidi Head of the National Independent Authority for Information and Communication (current English recommendations report); Chawki Chahed a Communications Officer with the African Development Bank; Zied Mhirsi, founder of the first English newspaper: Tunisia Live; Hasse Zargouni, the Founder and CEO of Sigma Conseil, a media marketing research firm, and Moncef Dhambri, a university professor, newspaper editor and freelance journalist.  The panel touched upon the topics of Tunisia’s history of media censorship, current freedom of press and anti-censorship efforts, and media advertising and investment.

To sum up the historical (and arguably current) history of the country’s censorship, one of the panelists told us the following famous Tunisian joke:  A newspaper decided to interview Americans (developed country), Ethiopians (less developed country) and Tunisians (somewhere in the middle) about their opinions on the shortage of meat.  When the journalist asked the Americans about their opinions on the shortage of meat, the Americans responded “shortage…what do you mean ‘shortage’?” When the journalist asked the Ethiopians about their opinions on the shortage of meat, the Ethiopians responded “meat…what do you mean ‘meat’?” And when the journalist asked the Tunisians about their opinions on the shortage of meat, the Tunisians responded “opinions…what do you mean’opinions’?”

Until the next (freedom of press protected) post,

Yael Silverstein ‘13

Tunisia on the Eve of the Revolution’s 2nd Anniversary

On Sunday, 21 Columbia Business School students will arrive in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tunis, the capital of the Republic of Tunisia, trading in the NYC winter chill of the NYC the balmy 60-degree weather of the gulf city.  Our trip is part of a course called “Doing Business in North Africa,” which is a Chazen Institute Global Immersion Program.  Approximately the size of the state of Georgia, Tunisia is the smallest country in North Africa – a swath of land wedged between Algeria and Libya, just 140 miles south of Italy, separated by the sea.  Bordered by the Atlas Mountains in the north and the Sahara desert in the south, Tunisia has been the linchpin of empires: the Phoenicians (Carthage), Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottomans, and the French, from whom Tunisia obtained independence in 1956.

Tunisia Map Picture

Despite its modest population of 11 million people (2 million of which are in the capital), the 2010-2011 uprisings in Tunisia are credited as the spark that ignited the widespread Arab Spring and ousted the authoritarian government of President Ben Ali domestically.  We will be in Tunis on January 14, 2013, which marks the 2nd anniversary of the Revolution and highlights the junction at which the country sits two years after exiling Ben Ali.

“Tunisia today is at a crossroads,” said Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki on November 30th.  And with the new constitution still unwritten, postponed elections, a resurgence of riots, and simmering economic discontent due to rising unemployment numbers, the world certainly is waiting and watching to see in which direction the country will go. (Read more in the Dec. 1, 2012 New York Times article “Economic Frustration Simmers Again in Tunisia“)

As MBAs learning about emerging markets, our visit to Tunisia will be well timed. The World Bank recently approved a $500M loan for economic reform and job creation, which comes after a major investment from Qatar as well as EU and US aid.  However, foreign investors are currently scared off by the political unrest, a dangerous catch-22, as the political unrest is fueled by rising unemployment due, partially, to the lack of investment.  Studying industries such as financial service, healthcare, education, NGOs, and media, we will be meeting with an number of firms and institutions including: AfricInvest-TunInvest, the African Development Bank, the American Cooperative School in Tunis, Carrefour, COFAT/Groupe Elloumi, Ende inter-Arabe, Poulina Group Holding, Tunisiana, and the Tunisian American Chamber of Commerce in order to learn about, as the title of our course suggests, “Doing Business in North Africa.”

– Yael Silverstein ’13 (Follow my travels on  [blogging from cold, grey, NYC, USA]

Map picture from (