Lessons Learned – A Reflection on Spanish Business and Culture

It’s with a heavy, heavy heart that I write this post-mortem reflection on Chazen Spain from the confines of Watson Library in Uris. Without question the time spent in Spain exceeded every expectation that I had before leaving and much of that is due to the wonderful team at the Chazen Institute, our student leaders Miguel and Carlos, our facility representative Mauricio and last but certainly not least, my fellow CBS classmates. This blog will be a reflection of Chazen Spain, with a nod towards both cultural and business lessons that I flew back to New York with. Starting from the top –

Inditex (Arteixo Headquarters): Fast fashion is no joke and this visit was a lesson in how listening to your customers can be a competitive advantage if done well. Case and point is that when a store sells through an item, replenishments are not automatically ordered. The company first looks at changing styles, and leverages not only their sales team on the ground, but also direct customer feedback. With localized customer support and a highly efficient operating model, the company is able to adapt at lightening speeds.

Banco Santander: What surprised me most about Banco Santander is that the company performed well in the depths of the crisis and has continued to grow as the economy reverts to the mean. Much of this success can be attributed to the extensive risk procedures for loans (an independent committee reviews and approves each one), go-to market strategy and focus on innovation. Yes, you heard me, there is innovation in the consumer / retail banking sector. Dissolving the preconceived notion that the Spanish financial sector remains weak was the most important takeaway from this presentation.

Real Madrid Soccer Game: Our group received a real treat when we attended the Real Madrid v. Schalke soccer game. As an American that grew up playing football (not to be confused with futbol), I will admit that prior to the game I had little appreciation for how lucky I was to attend a game in person but walked away a new fan of the sport. The passion and energy for a league game rivaled any playoff or championship game in the states. It truly was unlike anything that I had ever seen or experienced and I now understand why club flags hang from apartment windows and fans dare not walk into a rival watering hole. World Cup anyone?

Telefonica: Given my undergraduate studies (economics) and pre-CBS profession, I was oblivious to the importance of customer lifetime value and customer acquisition costs. True, first year marketing touched on the topic and introduced me to the variables needed to derive CLV, but this meeting really drove home its real world application(s). The global head of strategy spent ~20 minutes outlining the plan for the company to capture what was described as the ‘huge’ digital opportunity by reducing churn and growing CLV. Connectivity is addictive and their current business model is going to exploit this.

Vicente del Bosque, Spain National Futbol Team Head Coach: A former professional player and current coach, del Bosque offered up invaluable lessons on the important of human relationships, seeing the good in everyone and importantly, thinking globally by always being open to learning new things. When I asked him what is the one thing he’d like to learn, it was to learn how to speak English well. Afterwards, he challenged me to learn Spanish. Challenge accepted. My class starts next week.

H.R.H Felipe de Borbon, Prince of Asturias: It’s not every day, or really any day for that matter, that one has the opportunity to meet royalty. Our time with the Prince provided insight behind the formalities and thought behind meeting a figurehead of state. Everything was highly coordinated and choreographed with one person directing the group, another passing out waters and yet another placing us in the proper position for the group photo.

Flamenco: Defined as a style of Spanish dance and music, Flamenco shows remain popular throughout Spain. For me, seeing the performance was a look back in time. The traditional dress and beautiful music was a sharp divergence from the infamous Spanish nightlife some of us experienced firsthand.

Airbus Group: A global supply chain necessitates careful coordination and tremendous teamwork, especially when dealing with aircrafts and the various ancillary products produced by Airbus. Touring the facility gave me an appreciation for how much work goes into an aircraft and underscored the lessons learned in my Spring A Term Operations class. Bottleneck, lead times and utilization are no longer buzz words.

Real Madrid: Building off the momentum from the game a few days earlier, meeting the Real Madrid CFO gave new perspective of the economics behind the sport. A not-for-profit business, the team is the most profitable club in the world with multiple revenue streams that include the obvious (ticket sales, club membership, broadcasting rights) and the not so obvious (player earn outs, insurance payments). The team truly is global and is constantly looking for new ways to leverage the brand. If you have a mechanism for Real Madrid to expand to the US please let the CFO know.

La Moncola (Spanish Government Headquarters): After touring the grounds and seeing the office of the Prime Minister (aka the Spanish Oval Office), the group heard from Cabinet Members about the importance of further integrating the European Union in economic terms, creating more trade agreements between the EU and the US, and the potential opportunities for the carbon credit market.

CBS Alumni Event: Meeting with the CBS Alumni Club of Spain was a treat because we met with our future colleagues, and also heard from a Spanish economist on the forefront of shaping the tax code. What was especially interesting to me was that there is an option for businesses to not file taxes, but rather pay an estimated amount that is calculated by the government given a host of assumptions around revenue, traffic and costs. The resulting incentive problem exacerbates the current tax debate around a system trying to follow a US style code but offer a European style welfare state. At some point something has got to give.

DiverXO: I already posted about DiverXO in Lessons from the Kitchen, but to reiterate, this meeting afforded perspective on how business success is not confined to the boundaries of large corporates. There are copious lessons to be learned from businesses well outside of the norm and the teamwork, passion and resolve we saw at DiverXO was a testament to just that.

That’s all he wrote. Thanks for reading!

Nate Walcker ’15, Spain

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Photo Credit: Yumna Cheema

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