I arrive at the Manila airport to find that it’s still Christmas in the Philippines. The terminal remains stubbornly decked out with colored lights and trees. Singers serenade the travelers.
Filipinos adore Christmas, and they don’t want it to end just because the calendar says so. The decorations start appearing in September and stay up through mid-January. It’s just one of the many quirks of this unique Asian country steeped in American and European culture, a reminder that there are some mysteries for us to solve in our 7 days on the ground.
The Philippines is a land of contradictions. It’s a country with a remarkably high level of education, yet it hasn’t matched the explosive economic growth of its East-Asian neighbors. It’s a place where a cruel, populist president can have an 87% approval rating, yet it is also, reportedly, the home of the most friendly people on Earth. It has brilliant business leaders, but somehow they struggle when they try to expand their brands outside the archipelago. And since the Philippines used to be an American colony, my personal goal on this trip is to understand how much responsibility the United States shares for the country’s successes and failures.
The 30 of us on this Chazen trip have read the case studies, watched the historical documentaries and done extensive research on the companies we plan to visit; now we have just a week to figure this place out.
Robert Smith is a journalist and 2020 MBA candidate at Columbia Business School.