key takeaways & lessons learned in Hong Kong & Taiwan

I’ve walked you through all of the business, cultural and social outings we engaged in during our trip to Hong Kong & Taiwan, but I didn’t really talk about lessons learned. Let’s rehash a few key takeaways:

As I’ve never been to Asia before the Chazen study tour, I was surprised to find how modernized Hong Kong and Taiwan actually were. I was less surprised by the former, as Hong Kong has been considered a developed region for some time. And by the end of our visit in Hong Kong, I came to the conclusion that Hong Kong was the “NYC of Asia”… at least in my view! But Taiwan was unexpected – while there was a lot of farmland and undeveloped property across the country, the actual city of Taipei was quite similar to a mid-sized city in the States. There wasn’t quite the hustle and bustle of a New York City scene, but there were plenty of cultural sites to see and the nightlife was certainly not lacking. Bars and clubs lined many streets, and the night market was something special. With that said, there were certainly cultural differences apparent in both Hong Kong and Taiwan that are worth highlighting.

When walking the streets of Hong Kong, I was overwhelmed by the number of hardware and home improvement stores. It was an observation that was made by several other students on the study tour as well. As I think back and reflect on this, it seems logical. While new construction is certainly not that prevalent in NYC, the residential areas and infrastructure in general are much older and more dilapidated in Hong Kong. It only makes sense that residents in the city would want to make improvements to their homes.

There were also several commonalities between Hong Kong and Taiwan that are starkly different from what we’re all accustomed to in the States. First, in almost every restaurant we had lunch or dinner, it was difficult to come across a pitcher of water (or even a glass of water for that matter). While we’re used to being served water with every meal – often without even asking – the tradition in Hong Kong and Taiwan (and I’m guessing across Asia) is to serve tea instead. It seems trivial, but for someone who doesn’t drink a lot of tea, it didn’t go unnoticed! Another observation throughout the tour, but particularly when we were on the trams in Hong Kong, is the abundance of retailers and shopping malls in the area. I never really considered Asia to be such a consumer driven society, but I now think twice when comparing consumer trends in the States to countries in Asia. One last observation – I found that I often received “free” gifts when purchasing merchandise above a certain dollar threshold. This is certainly not customary in the US, and something I found to be not only amusing, but also very generous!

Regardless of the cultural (or otherwise) differences experienced between the States, Hong Kong and Taiwan, my biggest takeaway from the trip is that at the end of the day, we are all people. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know each and every person that embarked on this amazing journey… it was certainly the journey of a lifetime. I have made many great friends that I otherwise may never have met at CBS, and for that I am grateful. I would like to thank the Jerome A. Chazen Institute of International Business for giving all of us at Columbia the opportunity to participate in these study tours. I would also like to once again thank our fantastic organizers – Karl, Gina & Justin – without all of your hard work, this study tour wouldn’t have even been possible. I look forward to traveling more through Chazen Institute next year and post-graduation with family and friends. It’s been real folks. Hong Kong & Taiwan 2015 Chazen Study Tour was a blast, but that’s all for now!

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Cuba in Review

Adam Justin, MBA ’15

After a few days being back in New York, Havana still seems like a world apart. A place trapped in time, to be sure. The most striking feature was definitely the cars. The streets were full of colorful, Chevys, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, and more. The reviews are in, and we all had an incredible trip.

DSC03942 DSC03867  DSC03903

The Cubans, everyday people, are eager and excited for more opportunities to open up to the United States. It feels like we are at the beginning of an exciting stage in our countries’ relations. To that end, our class was extremely poignant. We met with government officials and business people, in a range of industries. Cuba is clearly in need of massive amounts of investment. Investment is needed in housing, transportation, telecom, hospitals, hotels, retail – almost everything. The classes were super interesting and relevant, with our class full of questions, many were digging at where could we, foreigners, possibly do business in Cuba.


For me that was the highlight. Talking at the end of the presentations with the presenters, our tour guides, restaurateurs, anyone, was focused on the future. Everyone had ideas for the future and how to make it better. The Cubans, as advertised, are impoverished. But they are also well-educated, smart, and hard working. This is a powerful blend and certainly gives me a lot of optimism for the future of Cuba.

Goodbye, South Africa

bye CT

It’s only been a week since we left South Africa, and already I’m missing the warmth, the adventure, and the kaleidoscopic mix of the country. (Above, the view from the plane window as we left; photo cred to Jason Louie.) Though we scattered after our trip, whether back to New York for block week, Botswana to go on safari, or Global Immersion Programs in Tunisia or Turkey, we’ve stayed in touch on our group chat.

What has struck me since we left is how firmly rooted in a sense of place the firms we visited are, from Nando’s commitment to displaying South African art in each of its global branches, to Discovery Health’s pursuit of improving wellness, to Brand South Africa’s dual focus on enhancing national pride and boosting foreign investment. This sense of place would have been harder to discern if we hadn’t blended our company visits with learning more about the country’s history, from visiting the District 6 museum and Robben Island, to our course packets and talks with our singular tour guide, Jonny.

What I’ll miss most about our trip – beyond our safaris, our meals, and learning about such a beautiful country – is the group we had, shown below. Exploring a new place, learning other ways of doing business, and having true adventures together was an ideal way to forge new friendships and strengthen old ones.

group shot nando's

All in all, here’s how we felt about our South Africa visit. A huge thank you to our fearless leaders, Angela and Ammar – you two did an incredible job!

vineyard excitement

India – Reflections on the Study Tour

“India is, the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.”

-Mark Twain, American author

It’s been a couple weeks since Chazen India officially ended, but the memories and the spirit live on till this day. There’s not a day that I don’t think about my study tour experience in India.  In the morning, I drink my masala chai tea that I brought back as a souvenir from my travels in India.  However, the subway to and from school is vastly different from the elephant ride up and down the mountain to Amber Fort.

When asked by other students on how the Chazen India study tour was, I am at a loss of words.  What do I respond with?  In my experience, India challenged, surprised, shocked, and almost broke me….but most of all, the country changed me for the better. A new appreciation for Bollywood films, better negotiation skills for bartering BATNA/ZOPA/RP), stronger stomach for spicy foods (fyi – everything is spicy in India), and respect for Tata Sons and Dabbawalas for creating a company culture that has proved financially and personally rewarding are some of my key takeaways from the trip.

However, the visibility of income inequality was pervading: beggars and homeless people parked right outside grand opulent hotels, children walking around barefoot while tourists snap pictures of historical landmarks, civilians working and living in the slums because they have no other other opportunity, etc. At least the government and CEOs are acknowledging this vicious problem: over and over again throughout our business meetings, there is an underlying theme and understanding that there needs to be more investing in infrastructure, education, and healthcare.  It seems that everyone in each industry is doing the best they can to boost the Indian economy through foreign direct investment, tourism, and job creation. We shall see in the upcoming years whether these changes have helped the Indian society for the better.

Chazen India T-shirt with all the names of the participants

The best part of this trip was getting to know 40 other MBA students in this study tour.  The questions asked by my peers during the discussions with business executives opened my eyes to different business cultures contexts and subtexts and gave me better insight into other people’s views of the country and the economy.  The organizers welcomed us with open arms to their home country and showed us the best that their country had to offer.  Before this trip, I barely knew a handful of individuals who were on the tour.  Now, when I walk among the hallways of Uris, I see friendly faces and we joke about our time in the country.  A reunion is in the works (the best Indian restaurant in UWS for dinner and then a Bollywood movie right afterwards) IF we can find a time that syncs up with 40 busy Columbia Business School first-year and second-year students.

New Year’s Eve at the Palladium in Mumbai (Photo credit: Sarah Nabahani, MBA 2015)

Going on this study tour through the Chazen Institute added a lot of value to my MBA experience that I wouldn’t have received otherwise through other international travel trips in business school (i.e. cluster trips, club treks).  The inside access provided by the Chazen Institute to CEOs and executives of multi-billion organizations and conglomerates and high ranking government officials were a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I won’t take for granted.

Photo Credit: Jan Bucher MBA 2015


A big thanks to the Jerome A. Chazen Institute of International Business, the student organizers and consulting organizers Kushal Sanghrajka (MBA 2015), Surabhi Shastri (MBA 2015), Mimi Vavilala (MBA 2015), Karan Ahuja (MBA 2015), Divya Goenka (MBA 2016), Anuja Mehta (MBA 2015), the faculty members Vince Ponzo and Professor Suresh Sundaresan for leading and organizing such an amazing and life-changing trip to India!  I had the opportunity to see the country from the organizer’s own eyes and immerse myself with this diverse and different culture. The business meetings in various types of industry were enriching and insightful and I learned so much from these leaders who care so much about their companies and their country.

Until next time,

Iris Chen ’15

Lessons Learned from Business Meetings (Part 2 – Delhi)

Iris Chen ’15

Fortis Healthcare

Our first visit in Delhi was with Fortis Hospital in Gurgaon, the highest accredited hospital in the country.  We met with the COO of the hospital who gave us a presentation on the healthcare landscape in India.  Some statistics that I learned include:

  • India has 17% of the world’s population but 20% of the world’s disease burden, 7% of world’s doctors, and 5% of hospital beds
  • India’s healthcare market is projected to grow at a rate of 18%, significantly faster than the Western markets at 4%
  • Overall, India has 1.3 hospital beds per 1,000 people. The World Health Organization recommends 3.5. In comparison, the U.S. has 6-7 hospital beds per 1,000 people.
  • As a % of GDP, USA’s spend on healthcare is 4x compared to India’s
  • India has 0.7 doctors per 1,000 people; the recommended amount is 25
  • India has 60,000 hospitals; only 1% of them has 200 beds or more

The Indian healthcare market has many challenges ahead to catch up to the rest of the world. One of the issues noted is the huge imbalance of doctors in urban areas vs. rural areas.  It’s difficult for rural areas to attract doctors when the salary and standards of living are better for doctors in the cities.  And this fact is most unfortunate because the rural areas are in need of the most medical attention.

While there are improvements to be made in the healthcare system, there are a lot of advantages of Indian healthcare.  For example, India has significant advantage compared to other countries in terms of competitive pricing and higher productivity.  It costs $5k for a heart surgery in India (in the U.S., it is $100k).  A cardiac surgeon in India earns $200K per year doing 100 surgeries/month. U.S. cardiac surgeons earn $1.2M/year doing 25 surgeries/month.  With the significant low cost, medical tourism is growing in India.  I also learned about the medical operating system process standardization for Fortis where the hospital was able to optimize various internal processes to become even more efficient.

Standardization of processes at Fortis hospital


After the presentation, we did a tour of the facilities.  Since the bulk of the healthcare cost of the hospital is private (80% of people pay for healthcare out of pocket), you can definitely see where the financing went for the hospital. There was a relaxing/quiet area for patients before/after surgeries with comfortable seats, a food court, and even a movie theater that plays a couple of movies a day. It was like stepping into a 5-star resort for your hospital stay!


Lobby of Fortis Hospital
Fortis Hospital


Meeting with COO of Fortis Hospital



Our next meeting was with MakeMyTrip CEO and Founder, Rajesh Magow.  He talked about founding and growing the company in a time where the internet was just starting to boom in 2000.  In 2005, the company entered into a high growth phase and five years later in 2010, MakeMyTrip was made public.  MakeMyTrip has been the market leader for online travel since the very beginning and currently has a 47% market share in the online travel agency. 1 in 8 domestic travelers in India use MakeMyTrip to plan and buy their tickets to hotels, flights, trains, buses, and packages.  Currently, 35-40% of traffic comes from mobile as the Indian population buys more smartphones than any other device.  In his talk, Mr. Rajesh Magow truly believes that mobile will change the game in the future.

CBS Students at MakeMyTrip Headquarters with CEO Rajesh Magow

Meeting with Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Former Planning Commission Deputy Chairman
Our last meeting in the Chazen India Study Tour was with Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Former Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission of the Republic of India. Mr. Ahluwalia spoke about the past public policies of the government during his time in the Planning Commission.  Takeaways from his talk: Indian government’s priority of use of funds should be invested in education and healthcare.  Government should be pushing for public and private partnerships.  Initially, the government had a 40% subsidy and businesses would bid on the contract.  However, Mr. Ahluwalia believe that private businesses and the government should work together to help fuel the Indian economy. In terms of a reasonable growth rate of India, Mr. Ahulawalia believes that a 7.5-8% growth rate was reasonable for the future.  The Indian economy grew at a rate of 8.3% for several years before it slowed down.  However, there is still the big issue of income inequality in the country: median incomes have not grown for awhile and the gap between the rich and the poor is growing significantly.

Overall, this meeting was a great recap of what we learned throughout all our company meetings in India.  Investing in infrastructure, education, and healthcare are among the top concerns of all businesses and the government while still maintaining a healthy growth rate for the Indian economy.  There is still much to be done about the income disparity in the country, but at least the government acknowledges that this is a growing problem and it will be interesting to see how the new government party deals with this issue.

Last meeting with Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Former Planning Commission Deputy Chairman



Cape Town adventures

ct dinner

Our days in Cape Town were filled with exploring the city, visiting the District 6 museum, company visits, and a last weekend of adventure before the group left on Sunday (above, the view driving to dinner one night.) To better explore all of Cape Town’s neighborhoods, we broke up into three teams and did our own version of The Amazing Race one afternoon, running between a Pick n’ Pay store (one of the companies we visited – and our organizer’s former employer!), and a primary school. Along the way, we visited the highest point in the city, located several of the city’s landmarks from the top, met a local healer, and learned a traditional Gumboot dance. Performed correctly, the dance is fast-paced, and the sound that the boots make is incredible. Here, the winning group celebrates reaching the end, and the red team learning a gumboot dance:

winning group dance

Our final company visit was to a South African vineyard, complete with winetasting. Our fearless leader, Ammar, posed with Adi in front of the vineyards:

adi and ammar vineyard

Our last two days we split up, choosing between visiting the Saturday market, skydiving, and shark cage diving (among other things) for our final weekend. I drove to the Cape of Good Hope, a world heritage site, and then to Boulders Beach to visit the penguins. We were captivated by how playful they are – and by the chicks, some of whom were newly hatched.

Frolicking Penguins Bluffs of Cape of Good Hope


nando's wallOur last stop in Johannesburg was at Nando’s, a restaurant chain famous in South Africa (and around the world) for its show-stopping peri-peri grilled chicken. The company is a confluence of global forces: a South African company serving Portuguese-inspired chicken in 1300 locations around the world. The result is fantastically delicious – and a surprising business to boot.

We kicked off the meeting with an office tour. Nando’s headquarters looks like an advertising agency, with big windows, lots of color, and plenty of co-working spaces. The company prides itself on its casual, low-key culture, which clearly shows through in its offices. The capstone is the art displayed throughout the office: Nando’s actively purchases and supports local artists, filling its offices and global restaurant chains with South African art.

group shot nando's

Our visit itself was a fascinating look into the company’s business model. While a global firm, Nando’s still makes many of its decisions “on gut,” such as where to expand next, and encompasses three total business models (including company owned stores and franchised stores.) Nando’s considers itself an emotional brand, espouses values that reinforce this: the company seems as committed to its values – people, product, and place – as its loyal fanbase is to the brand.

We finished off the day with a fantastic meal with some of the Nando’s team before making our way to the airport.


Our first company visit in South Africa, to Brand South Africa, was the perfect introduction to the country. Brand South Africa was founded by the government to manage the country’s reputation, with the goal of maintaining a positive and compelling image for the nation (similar to the “Incredible India” campaign.) Its mission is two-fold: internally, to instill pride and hope for the future in South Africans, and externally, to encourage trade and investment with foreign nations. Our meeting offered an excellent overview of the country’s competitiveness on a range of issues, from financial market development and ease of doing business (on which South Africa ranks highly versus other nations) to health and the labor market (where it ranks far below most other nations.) We came away with a better understanding of not only South Africa relative to other nations – but with some great swag, below, to sport proudly on our way out.


After a great lunch, shown above, we made our way to FirstRand, one of the largest financial institutions in the country – and whose CEO is one of the most compelling speakers I’ve ever seen. The firm has branches across Africa, India, and the U.K., and prides itself on its owner-manager culture (which the firm credits for its impressive track record and growth.) After the financial crisis, when many lost their jobs, FirstRand was one of the sole firms to hire exceptional talent and increase capital expenditure. After the meeting, we stayed for snacks and conversation with CBS alumni, and made sure to take a group shot with the CBS flag.

FirstRand group shot

Old and New: Istanbul at the Cross Section of Time

It’s officially Day 2 of our Global Immersion in Istanbul and our group of 40 has done so much already! Many of us arrived a day early and had the opportunity to tour the city. While catching up on each other’s winter break stories, we walked through ancient structures that date back as far as 500 AD. Our group looked up in awe at the magnificent domes covered with intricate blue and gold painted tiles in the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or more commonly known as the Blue Mosque. Not to be overlooked, the Hagia Sophia stands directly across the Blue Mosque to create the most visited area in the Old City. Standing between these two iconic sites, I couldn’t help but wonder, how did people back then build all of this?

The admiration extended into the first official day of our program. Boston Consulting Group welcomed us into its Istanbul office and provided us with a very insightful overview of Turkey’s current economic situation. We were then whisked away to Fit Startup Factory, one of the first startup incubators in Turkey. As we learned more about the resources made available to entrepreneurs in the last few years, it was incredible to hear how much Turkey has changed.

Yet at the same time, Turkey still seems to have a lot of catching up to do. From the discussions in our meetings, the biggest hurdle facing entrepreneurship in Turkey is the people’s mindset that stems from an older generation. Parents have instilled in their children an aversion to taking on the risks of starting their own companies; rather children are encouraged to find a stable corporate job in which they have a predictable salary. This sentiment was reinforced when we spoke to entrepreneurs at Boğaziçi University’s incubator today.

It will be interesting to see what else we will learn as we continue to explore and analyze the startup scene in Istanbul in the coming days. Oh, but don’t worry, we will of course enjoy as much as the city has to offer in true CBS fashion. Follow our journey at #GIPTurkey and other amazing CBS Chazen trips on #cbschazentravel on social media!

Turkish Delights at the Spice Bazaar
Turkish Delights at the Spice Bazaar

Cuba Nueva

Greetings from Havana! Global Immersion Cuba is on. In our first couple of days here in sunny and warm Havana, our group of 40 students has attended thought-provoking presentations covering the Cuban economy, international trade, the financial and banking system, famed Cuban cigars, the rich historical heritage of Havana, and attended an energetic (to say the least!) baseball game.

We have more questions than answers. Every answer leads to more questions. This is Cuba in 2015. We cannot escape discussion of the embargo or the recent decisions made by the Obama administration to loosen restrictions and seek to restore ties between the United States and Cuba. The United States looms large in the Cuban psyche; it’s obvious from every presentation, our interactions with local people on the streets, and signs are everywhere.

It’s hard to understand how it works here. And by it, I mean, everything. Cuban socialism is its own system, that affects everything about the economy to personal values and priorities. Cuban socialism has qualities of the Soviet system, but at the same time feels like a small island culture. As capitalists from an American business school, it’s hard to think without reference to a “market” because we are so accustomed to concepts of “profit” and “ownership” but in reality those concepts are more complex than the words imply when used here in Cuba.

You also can’t escape the charm. The classic cars, national pride and the sense of the former wealth of Havana. It’s a beautiful city filled with polite and welcoming people.

There’s a lot to see and do, and so much to learn! This is Cuba in 2015, and the beginning of a new chapter in Cuban history. #cubanueva