To be 100% transparent with readers of this blog, I was planning to do a daily debrief on our meetings but there are just not enough hours in the day. Needless to say, the first 72 hours have flown by. For some context, since cramming onto a 5:30am flight to Santiago de Compostela to visit Inditex (Zara ParentCo) on Monday, the Group has toured Zara’s operations and flown back to Madrid, visited with Banco Santander senior leadership, attended a Real Madrid game, spoken with a Telefonica board member and the head of strategy, learned life lessons from renowned Spanish National Soccer Coach Vicente del Bosque, attended a live Flamenco show and met the Price of Asturias, H.R.H Felipe de Borbon. Taken in aggregate, these meetings have afforded valuable insight into not only the Spanish economy, but also the cultural aspects that have come to define what is now one of my favorite places in the world.
While the week officially kicked off with the aforementioned flight, the Chazen Spain experience really began once we touched down Saturday morning. Our three leaders (Miguel, Carlos and Mauricio) have been outstanding and there is no question that everyone fortunate enough to be on this trip has truly seen a different side of Spain. On our walk through Rerio Park on Saturday, we saw sidewalk magic acts that rival a David Copperfield show and even saw a host of random Disney characters posing for photos with unsuspecting tourists. And here I thought Woody, Tiger and Batman only existed in Times Square. The highlight of Saturday for me was the evening cultural activities. The Group dined at a restaurant in the Old District named Restavrant Botin that was founded in 1725 and is the earliest restaurant in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records. Afterwards, we were able to experience the infamous Spanish nightlife firsthand with a stop at a rooftop overlooking the town square. While Sunday was a ‘lazy day’ with plenty of free time to explore the city, most of the group took advantage of the optional activities including an open air bus tour and a tapas crawl through the lively La Latina section of the city. Candidly, I am the worst person to ask if food is good because I love just about everything, but the tapas we had were tasty and at 2 EUR a piece you really couldn’t go wrong.
What was really notable about Sunday for me though was when I hopped a cab ride back to the hotel with Mauricio. A simple back and forth with our driver turned into a lively discussion about the state of the Spanish economy. With Mauricio translating, we spoke about the implications of structural unemployment, raising the retirement age for Spaniards and touched on the evolution of healthcare insurance. The driver at one point explained “In Madrid, you look around and think everything is fine with people out enjoying the day. It’s really not”. That right there is perspective that a textbook will never offer.
The formal meetings have all been insightful and eye-opening in their own right. Zara was of particular interest given the first-year coursework on the topics of vertical integration and operational efficiency. Touring the facility really drove home the lessons from the CBS classroom. Each function in the facility serves as purpose and the overall design is geared towards delivering a high quality product to the customer in as little time as possible. By and large the most impressive stat of the trip is that Zara is able to go from design to store in as little as 21 days! Furthermore, today at Telefónica we heard about the strategy behind increasing customer lifetime value, willingness to pay and the fundamental reasons underpinning negative net debt for many of the TMT companies that Telefónica counts as comps. By the way, the head of strategy showed a slide with 100 companies that they track for comparable purposes. I will never look at a comp sheet the same way again.
Today was also special because we had the opportunity to meet Spanish National Futbol Coach Vicente del Bosque and the Price of Asturias, H.R.H Felipe de Borbon. Talking with del Bosque was truly a lesson in leadership and the importance of having passion in whatever it is you choose to do in life. The Prince followed with a history lesson on the evolution of the role of the Spanish Royal Family and his thoughts on the Spanish economy. Overall, a TON to fit into just 72 hours and an experience that a blog will not even come close to doing justice to.
More to follow and if you’re still with me, thanks for reading.
Nate Walcker ’15, Spain