Today is such an amazing day not only because the places we went are amazing but also because we were all awake for almost 20 hours! Our schedule was tight but it was totally worth it!
At the very center of Praza do Obradoiro
A Walk in Alameda Park
We woke up at 4 am, checked out from the hotel and went to the airport. We took an hour and a half flight to the old town, Santiago de Compostela which was inscribed to be UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985. Another amazing thing is that we were so lucky that the weather was so nice that we got to enjoy our walk exploring the town; normally, rainfall in the town is abundant and it rains 2 weeks in a month. Santiago de Compostela is a famous historic pilgrimage site, the destination of the over 200,000 Christian pilgrims and many others each year. Everywhere in the town is very beautiful.
After our lunch, we departed the old town and head to Inditex headquarter. I was super excited for the visit with many reasons. Inditex is the world’s largest apparel retailer and the owner of my favorite brand, Zara. The company’s owner, Amancio Ortega, was also the second richest guy in the world in 2016. We spent over four hours at the company and explored almost every corner of the headquarter, from the working space of all the country managers, designers and marketing teams to their fashion shooting studios, mock-up stores of all types, distribution center and production factory. I am truly impressed how they can fully integrate all the process from the beginning of designing to production and distribution as well as in-store execution seamlessly.
After the visit, we went straight to the airport to get to our next city to explore. It cannot be anywhere else but Madrid, the capital city of Spain. So, I will come back to update about our experience in the city soon!
And just like that, our Japan Chazen Spring Tour comes to an end!
We finished the final days, visiting a couple of more traditional Japanese food and tea makers as well Mitsubishi Real Estate, visiting their wonderful We Work-esque spaces in a part of town called Marunouchi. The group had extra time on the last two days to explore the city. Some folks went to the Tsujiki Fish Market to eat its famous omakase sushi, others went to Tokyo Disney to relive childhood dreams, and some like myself simply wandered the streets of Tokyo from one neighborhood to the next.
I personally walked around 8-9 miles each on Friday and Saturday, taking the train as far as I could and walking back to the hotel in pure exhaustion in time to catch the group dinners. Tokyo is similar to New York in that its neighborhoods are very distinct yet compact. For example, Roppongi (the area where we stayed) is known for their bars and nightlife; Akihabara is know for its anime, electronics, and gaming filled streets; Marunouchi is highly comparable to the midtown of NYC serving as the financial and business hub of Tokyo; and Ginza is known for its premium shopping and dining experiences.
Spending two weeks in Japan is the perfect amount of time to really get to know the country even though there is so much more. The food, people, culture, and innovation makes this country an incredible place to visit. I would put it on the top of my list to return to in the future!
So with that, arigato (thank you) Japan, our wonderful hosts, and amazing classmates on this trip. Sayonara (goodbye) until next time 🙂
New York—I’m back in the United States attempting to recover from the 13-hour time difference by donning one of the 43 Korean face masks I did not at all impulsively purchase on Dongdaemun Street, so there’s no better time for me to take a few minutes (the directions advise 15-20) to reflect on our whirlwind week in Seoul.
It was a truly fascinating time to be in South Korea. Many in our group arrived in Seoul the day after the president’s impeachment was upheld. Just blocks from our hotel, there were rallies both supporting and protesting this decision on the Saturdays that book-ended our trip . (Video above from March 11, courtesy of Heather Liu.) To top it off, United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spent some of Friday in Seoul due to mounting tension with North Korea and China. This tension also meant that there were significantly fewer Chinese tourists in the country, which, while bad for the South Korean economy, made for an interesting and somewhat empty experience for us. This is all to say that our time spent visiting the DMZ and the Korean War Memorial felt like it held just a bit more significance than it ordinarily might as the historical implications of such a young country could be felt everywhere we went.
The importance of this history was the backbone of many of the companies we visited. Take the skin care and cosmetics company Amore Pacific. Even as its grown to be one of the world’s largest beauty companies, more than half of its company presentation was devoted to its humble origin story about the company’s founder’s mother. This emphasis on a foundation story was true of Lotte and Samsung as well. Even the country’s former president was in the family business. On the other hand, all the companies we visited emphasized their plans beyond South Korea and into international growth. Our meeting with newer companies, like YG Entertainment, SendBird, and Line were informative for us, but also served as mini focus groups for our hosts as they think critically about the opportunities for U.S. expansion. One of the biggest challenges for them is thinking about how to maintain their identity and home base while also appealing to a wider audience. At places like YG Entertainment, this is a particular challenge with language and style presenting a particular challenge, one that I look forward to seeing how they approach.
During our final night (post DMZ, pre Octagon) we had a few moments to debrief in small groups at dinner. My table was interested in looking forward. Coming from the DMZ, we were all wondering if it would be possible for the two Koreas to reunite. The discussion turned into a debate about whether it was economically feasible for the south to absorb the north, or if Russia or China would get to it first. The one image I can’t get out of my mind though is how cut off from the rest of Asia, and by extension Europe, South Korea is by land. At the DMZ, we visited a train station that was meant to be part of the Trans-Asian Railway. It was eerie to see hopeful signs that say “To Pyongyang” despite the fact that North Korea hasn’t agreed to anything yet.
And no, I didn’t forget about the live octopus dinner. For the queasy (me) or vegan (me) I’ll just link to them here and here.
Spending ten days in Myanmar was a fascinating experience for me personally. I studied development economics in New Delhi for a semester in college and, since then, have debated the best way to leverage my career to improve the lives of those who have not yet caught the growth wave in emerging markets. This trip offered a firsthand vantage point of a country recovering from decades of decline and the work being done with a variety of strategies to help Myanmar live up to its full potential.
Reflecting on the week, some of the key takeaways for me were the challenges to development in Myanmar that are strongly felt across the board by those working in Yangon.
1) Human capital
During the half-century of military rule in Myanmar beginning 1962, the country’s education system was decimated. The University of Rangoon was closed down, meaning there was no way for Burmese citizens to receive a college education unless they were wealthy enough to send their children abroad. As a result, the current population aged 30-50 has virtually no education past the high-school level. From a business perspective, this creates a challenge in that locals are not trained for positions in middle management and have little to no experience with leadership roles. Human capital must either be trained internally by businesses themselves or replaced with expats and/or “repats” (Burmese natives who left the country for work/education and are now returning) who require higher salaries.
Those Burmese who have been working throughout the time of military rule also have little to no ambition or instinct to think creatively or proactively. Military appointees filled all senior positions for decades, so there was never opportunity for the Burmese to grow into higher-level positions; hence, it has been culturally engrained in them to do only as told, no more and no less. This also presents a challenge to businesses seeking to grow talent internally, but business leaders are optimistic about the Burmese willingness and strong desire to learn.
2) Political uncertainty
Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK) and the National League for Democracy (NLD) have been in power for nearly a year, and many are concerned with the lack of immediate, rapid change. ASSK is largely focused on creating peace amongst the five ethnic-driven civil wars taking place in the north of the country, in regions that are completely closed off to the rest of Myanmar. She also inherited an intensely bureaucratic government system, and while she replaced military leaders with her own appointees, many of them have little experience working in government. Her ability to create visible change in the country will take time, and there is concern that the Burmese people could become frustrated with her rule leading up to the next election.
Meanwhile, the former military ruler General Ne Win still resides in his mansion in Naypyidaw, oftentimes receiving visits from foreign ministers despite the fact that he is no longer in power. Some say he has masterfully crafted his image as he transitioned out of power; by allowing the country to open up and have free elections, the general was able to preserve his position rather than be overthrown. He and his cronies have arguably benefitted the most from the country’s reopening, as they own the majority of large businesses in the country (including large hotels, Myanmar beer, and others) that have done extremely well over the past few years. It’s difficult to predict what could happen with politics in the country in the years to come.
3) Business environment
“Everyone wants to help Myanmar; it is both a blessing and a curse,” said Ian Porter from IGC. The business environment in Myanmar is becoming crowded, making it difficult and even slower for things to get done. The government is constantly advised to do one thing by one party and the opposite by another – for example, invest in coal, or invest in gas? Because of these competing viewpoints, decisions are dragged out and business interests stalled. Similarly, resources are fragmented to different groups working to achieve the same goal, rather than all coming together to fund one unilateral project. This creates a unique challenge in a country where much is to be done.
Despite these challenges, Myanmar is full of potential. Never have I heard such universal praise for a population than from the leaders we met with on this trip in their descriptions of the Burmese people. It’s impossible to leave Myanmar without a tremendous sense of hope—I look forward to returning to the country one day to see the progress that has been made by and for the Burmese. Thanks to Professor Amit Khandelwal for the thoughtful lessons, Jennifer and Caitlin with the Chazen Institute for a seamless trip, Rayhan Arif for fun social and cultural activities, and President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for making this trip possible for us (and many Americans to come!).
Impressive is the only way to explain the final visits of our Ciao Chazen trip at Villa Antinori, Gucci, and Brunello Cucinelli. These three brands all exemplify the true craftsmanship and attention to detailed design that we associate with luxury, however, they all do so in a way that is true to their own heritage.
Antinori is one the top 10 oldest family run companies in the world as it started wine production in 1385. Aside from making some of the best wine we tasted all trip, Villa Antinori is a luxury masterpiece with the vineyards, winery and facilities all designed by 50 top architects. Even though the current Antinori CEO said that the capex investment of this facility may not be justifiable, it is clear that it will solidify the legacy of the family brand into generations and likely centuries to come.
At Gucci we learned about their remarkable turnaround since 2015 that saw 21% growth in the 4th quarter of 2016 when you have the right combination of business and creative leadership. We heard from the CFO who talked about the current Gucci turnaround starting in 2015 when the new CEO Marco Bizzarri took a risk promoting a current Gucci handbag designer Alessandro Michele to the coveted role of Creative Director ahead of many high profile designers to transition the brand back to its bold fashion-led heritage. Additionally, we were able to see the entire production process from a foot 3D printing mold to the finishing laces of a custom Gucci shoe. The complexities of the technology and craftsmanship were truly inspiring and explain why these shoes continue to fetch the prices they do.
The Brunello Cucinelli visit took place in the beautiful medieval town of Solomeo. Brunello Cucinelli started his company in this region of Umbria and has continued to return company profits into the development and restoration of this town. As a man of humble beginnings, he has built his company around a mission of “humanistic” capitalism where profits can be sought without damaging mankind. They have really put their money where their mouth is as they pay their employees 20% more than the industry average, have strict working hours to ensure work-life balance, and reinvest a significant portion of the profits back into the town with theaters and one of the best restaurants we ate at all week as a “company cafeteria”!
Though all three are all luxury retail companies, the unique heritage and story of each of these companies has led to truly distinct cultures and business models — and I can’t wait to watch as their future unfolds!
Our arrival to the magnificent Tokyo signaled a shift in the nature of the tour from the private sector to the governmental one, and from moral traditional Kyoto to the more modern and hectic Tokyo.
The Tokyo experience began with an alumni reception, where we had a privileged insider’s look at some of the challenges Japanese corporations are facing and the restructuring efforts many companies are currently undergoing. The lecture identified both economic and cultural root-causes, which served as the perfect segue for the following discussion. During an engaged Q&A session we discussed with the active alumni members about the balance between the Japanese style of management and its differences from the western/American one, and how the strength in the 1970’s became the weakness of today. One of the alumni concluded that “Japanese companies need to infuse American style, while American companies need to adopt some Japanese elements”. The reception that followed was as lovely as the setting – a beautiful space with Tokyo views where group members had the opportunity for more intimate conversations and networking. Although not always in full accordance with the proper etiquette unique to Japan (there is a little ritual behind this seemingly simple interaction), multiple business cards were exchanged.
The next morning, we visited the prime minister’s office where we were awestruck by the beauty of architecture and Zen in the design. It was impossible to resist the opportunity to take a group photo on the stairs where the famous Japanese cabinet photo is taken. Rather appropriately, in the cabinet offices we had a lecture by prof. Takeuchi Seiichi, a renowned author and expert on Japanese Zen and its relation to government and business.
The next day we suited up for the last time to visit the Bank of Japan where we had an opportunity to hear about BOJ’s views on monetary policy and the burden of being a trailblazer in fiscal behavior of central banks. At the beautiful BOJ complex we not only peered into the future, but also into the past, visiting the old building, the vault, and riding the oldest elevator in Japan.
It would be impossible to write about Tokyo and not touch briefly on the culinary heaven that this megalopolis symbolizes. From street stands to decorated Michelin star restaurants (of which there are many – 227, by far the most in any city in the world), team members tasted it all.
Many group members further dove into the local culture by attending the famous (and very early) Tuna auction, taking a sushi class and participating in a traditional tea ceremony (Chadō).
The tour was concluded with a cruise around Tokyo bay during which we enjoyed our last Japanese dinner and, of course, a healthy portion of Karaoke. The intense singing further amplified the lifelong friendships created during the trip.
Although it’s only been a week we had an astounding opportunity to immerse ourselves into Japan’s business, government and unique culture, and for this we will be forever grateful.
COPENHAGEN – Um, well, COPENHAGEN-ish. Mostly written on a flight from Copenhagen to London, which means I’m still very technically on the trip! And feeling much better; thanks for everyone who expressed concern (both of them).
OK, so, last blog post, I wrote mostly about the Nordic part of this trip. Obviously, there’s another critical component of the class: family business! It was pretty amazing hearing the stories of so many people in the Three-Circle Model of the Family Business System, especially those with close connections to CBS. One quick caveat before I get started: our hosts were incredibly open with their personal experiences, so some of the references below are slightly changed or frustratingly vague in order to protect their privacy.
One big overall theme was the idea of pervasiveness, which manifested itself in two main ways. First, literally everyone, and I mean every one, who was a family member talked about how family dinners would always revolve around the family business, unless someone, almost inevitably Mom, banned the topic. For anyone who didn’t grow up in a family business (author raises hand), this is a sobering reminder of the all-encompassing nature of such a venture.
Second, we spoke a lot about the “long shadow” effect of company founders, even long after retirement or death. At Maersk, our host spoke in hushed reverence of Mr. Moller, the only person he didn’t refer to by first name. At Ikea’s headquarters, our tour guide told the story of Ingvar Kamprad, Ikea’s founder, coming in with an eleventh-hour request (ha, no, it was definitely a demand) that the restaurant be removed from the first floor of the massive open-concept four-floor complex. He felt that if employees wanted a hot meal, they could trek ten minutes across the parking lot…to an Ikea retail store.*
The other word that every presentation contained was choice. The amount of choices that need to be made in a family venture are enormous, and start at a very young age. One current CEO spoke of his father pointing to a chair and telling him that he’d sit there one day – no choice for the five-year-old kid there. More than one had lives and un-related businesses in other countries when the call came – would they give it all up to come home?
This choice element seemed to me to hint at why family businesses have so rarely persist beyond three or so generations. Does the grandson truly want to be there or is it just expected? Are there the right management skills to go along with the last name? Current CEOs we spoke to who had experienced the chance to work outside the family business before moving back seemed much more happy with their firms, as it was largely their decision to be there. Others felt trapped – one even mentioned possibly selling the company, but as he put it, how could he? It’s his name – his legacy – on that bottle!
That will do it for in-country updates from me. Time to figure out where and when my classes are tomorrow! I’ll see you again in a week or so with a final recap of the trip.
*Alright, this is a little harsh. His reasoning was that upper management couldn’t lose sight of what was happening in the stores and this was a good way to keep them engaged there. Ikea also seems to fancy itself a bit of a socialist workers’ paradise, constantly stressing that if something is good enough for an entry-level employee, then it must be good enough for management as well. In the end, a small-ish cafeteria with prepared meals replaced the restaurant.