Cienfuegos, Trinidad, y finalmente, Havana.

Try to see Cuba as Cuba is, not as you think it is (or should be),” our tour guide, Yanailis, told us on our first day in the country. “It might not be what you expect, but that doesn’t make it any less charming.” 


Reflecting on the first part of the trip, I’m grateful Yanailis encouraged us to observe and understand Cuba, rather than judge and make assumptions. As I mentioned in my first post, we began our trip in Cienfuegos, known as La Perla del Sur (the Pearl of the South) for a cultural, historic, and community visit that involved a stay in a casa particular (private house) and trip to Trinidad. 


In the town of Cienfuegos, our group was broken up into 2-4 people per casa particular, all within a five minute walk of each other. Our host, Ana, warmly greeted my clustermate Stephanie and I as we hauled our suitcases into her quaint pink house. Each morning, our hosts prepared a hearty breakfast of fruit, bread, omelettes with fresh juice, serving it with friendly questions about our day. Though we often ate other meals with our fellow classmates, we were grateful to have had a delicious dinner at the house one evening, which was an authentic meal of pork, rice, soup, and Cuban salad. A day trip to charming Trinidad, where we finished an afternoon of touring with Mojitos on a patio jam packed with locals, was the perfect way to experience colonial Cuba.


Monday was primarily a travel day, as we bid farewell to our hosts in Cienfuegos and arrived four hours later in Havana. It’s hard to adequately describe the beauty of first seeing Havana, with its bright colored walls, classic American cars from the 1950s, and the Caribbean ocean waves crashing a few feet from the road. After a relatively peaceful and quiet stay in Cienfuegos, we were excited to explore the restaurants and vibrant nightlife of Havana. On Monday night, many of us went to Le Chansonnier, which looked more like a house with a private art collection than a place to eat. It became even clearer that creativity and artistic expression fuel the success of many businesses in Havana. 


Tuesday morning, we heard from three incredible lecturers who each gave us unique perspective on Cuba. First, José Luis Rodriguez García, the former Minister and special adviser to the Center of Studies of World Economy, presented a brief history of Cuba’s economic and political environment while citing key statistics and indicators. Jose told us that in 1989, only 6% of the employees were non-state, compared to about 30% today. 


We later heard from the CEO of Meliá Hotels International about their historic joint venture with Cuba. In 1990, Meliá established the first joint venture of its kind between Cuba and a foreign country, during a time when many countries wouldn’t consider going into business with Cuba. (In full disclosure, our group is staying at a Meliá hotel in Havana.)


The last lecturer that morning was Gregory Biniowsky, of Gowlings law firm. Though born in British Columbia, Gregory has spent over 20 years in Cuba and serves as both a consultant and legal advisor for foreign investors in Cuba. His advice to our class was practical and honest: Gregory encouraged any of us who were thinking of doing business in Cuba to approach any negotiation with humility, respect, and patience. Though it may be normal to “ignore politics” in the United States, this is impossible to do in Cuba, whose people have historically prioritized politics and social concerns above economics. 


Tuesday afternoon, we also toured the Rum Museum at Havana Club and spoke with Miguel Diaz Vargas, the Havana Club 7 Brand Manager.  Havana Club International is a joint venture between Cuba Ron, the state-owned rum enterprise, and the French liquor company Pernod Ricard. Miguel showed us videos of the new marketing campaigns and social media promotions that Havana Club has initiated to expand its global image and consumer base. If you live in the US, you aren’t able to get Havana Club rum from Havana Club, but rather from Barcardi, which also has its roots in Cuba. If you want to learn why, I suggest reading further about that the historic rivalry, cultural significance, and legal disputes between Havana Club and Barcardi. Despite the lack of advertising allowed in Cuba, with political signs and wall paintings about socialism being abundant, the Havana Club brand and product is an economic symbol of pride.  


Cliche as it may sound, it’s hard to believe how fast my time in Cuba is going and how quickly it will soon come to an end. In a few days, I can’t wait to tell you more about the second half of the trip and the awesomeness that is Havana, Cuba.  

– Anna Aagenes ’18

Cienfuegos – photos by Stephanie Hu

Understanding Cuba

Understanding Cuba

Adam Norris ‘17

It’s been a whirlwind of a week here in Havana, jam packed with incredible speakers, paladares, and experiences (not to mention Mojitos and Cuba Libres #welcomedrinks). Here is a summary of some of the most interesting topics we’ve learned about so far, and some travel trips for anyone planning their own adventure to Cuba in the future.

Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical: Unlike most Caribbean countries, Cuba has a productive and successful pharmaceutical sector focused on the diseases most common to Cuban citizens (specifically diabetes and cardiology). The origination of this success was Fidel Castro’s interest in healthcare as he dedicated over $1B in government funds since the 1990’s, and would often visit research facilities to check in on their progress. In 1998, to facilitate drug development, doctors in Cuba were granted permission to get internet at work, a rare benefit for Cubans. Unfortunately, this has not been enough to keep the most promising talent from immigrating abroad for higher paying opportunities.

Rum: What would a visit to Cuba be without a trip to a rum museum. The most famous rum in Cuba is Havana Club, closely followed by up-and-coming Santiago de Cuba. Fueled by the ‘Special Period’ of post-USSR Cuba, the food industry was opened to foreign investment that allowed locally-owned HCI (Havana Club International) to partner with French-owned Pernod Ricard. In 1993, Havana Club produced rum for export only, as the delicious nectar was not available for local consumption until 2003. Today, HCI employs over 500 Cuban employees, produces over 4M 9-liter cases per year, and boasts a vibrant social media marketing campaign.

In case you are unfamiliar with the rum creation process, it begins with sugar cane, which is run through a machine that essentially squeezes all the juice (guarapo) from the stock. The guarapo is then heated to separate sugar crystals from the molasses light Cuban rum comes from. From there, the molasses is fermented and distilled, creating aguardiente or an unaged distilled liquor. Next, aguardiente is stored in 15-year-old barrels for at least three years before being bottled and distributed. Finally, whenever you open a new bottle of Cuban rum, it is customary to pour out the first drops ‘for the saints’ before enjoying.

And now, for some travel tips…

  1. Places to eat: Overall, the food in Cuba was underwhelming (especially among state-run restaurants), but a few gems really stick out.
    1. La Guarida is a can’t miss restaurant with delicious food served in an old home that is slowly being refurbished. Don’t forget to roll through the roof-top patio bar for breathtaking views of Havana after dinner as well.
    2. Chansonnier also stands out among the rest with solid meat and fish offerings in a renovated multi-room paladar.
    3. Finally, Rio Mar was a big hit for lunch if you’re in the mood for seafood. Try to get a table outside for lunch and enjoy the water-side view.
  2. Things to do: While our trip was primarily academic in nature, we were able to get out of the meeting room for a few can’t miss sites.
    1. In case this wasn’t clear in an earlier post, Viñales is a must-visit if you’re traveling to Cuba. With large caves and tobacco farms along the way, it’s a great opportunity to get out of Havana and experience the Cuban countryside.
    2. If you like live music and over-the-top costumes, Tropicana is a must. While it’s a bit pricey at 85cuc per ticket, it does include a bottle of Havana Club for every four patrons, along with cigars for men and flowers for women.
    3. We also went to Buena Vista Social Club, but this show caters towards an older crowd or families with children. Even so, the music here is also great.
    4. Spend the 50cuc for an hour driving around Havana in an American-made convertible from the mid-1900s. If you ask, the driver will pump up the local tunes as you navigate the city streets and earn the jealous eye of everyone you pass.
    5. While I haven’t been there yet, I plan to stop by Floridita later today to get Ernest Hemingway’s token drink: The Double Pappa Daiquiri. According to my tour guide, this is essentially a daiquiri with twice as much rum, making it easier for the diabetic Hemingway to tip ‘em back at his favorite spot. A huge tourist attraction, try it at an off hour to get your picture with Hemingway’s stature before moving on to other activities.

It’s been an absolute pleasure writing you all from Havana, Cuba and I look forward to passing along the largest lessons learned and opportunities for economic, political, and social growth in Cuba in my final post from the US.

#whycbs #havanagoodtime #cbschazen #GIPCubatropicana17

Entrepreneur in Cuba

In reflecting on our time in Cuba, we had the opportunity to meet with a wide range of companies, officials and organizations. One of our most intriguing conversations was with Enrique Núñez del Valle, the owner of La Guarida. La Guarida is one of the most famous paladars, privately owned restaurants located in Cubans’ homes.

Originally launched in the 90’s as a paladar in Núñez‘s apartment, La Guarida has expanded to incorporate multiple floors of the apartment building, a former palace estate in Havana. The owner was born and raised in the building, his family sharing one floor of the impressive mansion with some 10 other families. While Paladars sprung up in the 1990’s La Guarida was one of only ~20 that remained in the early 2000’s. However, after years of struggling with uneconomical state mandated restrictions, Le Guarida closed its doors.

When regulations evolved to allow for viable businesses in 2010, Enrique Núñez del Valle reopened the restaurant. Over the past few years, the Cuban government has been taking actions to shift employment away from state-owned enterprises with a stated goal of non-state enterprises representing 45% of employment in 2017. Today there are 200+ categories of non-state owned enterprises that are permitted by the Cuban government.

Through our conversation with Enrique Núñez del Valle, we were able to get a pulse on Cuban entrepreneurship. The packed dining rooms and buzzing bar scene at La Guarida are a testament to Núñez‘s success. Interestingly, when asked if he planned to open further establishments, following in the footsteps of La Guarida, Núñez explained that Cuban individuals are limited to one license per type of establishment (in this case, one restaurant and one bar).

Cuban entrepreneurs are hopeful of normalized relations between the United States and Cuba. Paladars (and other non-state owned businesses) in Cuba rely heavily on tourism given that the cost of one meal can exceed an average Cuban’s monthly salary.

Michael Echemendia – 2016


Arriving in Cuba

It was the morning of Saturday, March 14 and 41 of us had just gathered at terminal G of Miami’s International Airport to catch our flight to Havana. The day had finally arrived. After two months of learning about the political economy and business environment of Cuba from the classroom, through interesting speakers, case studies and student presentations on topics ranging from healthcare and education to the tobacco and rum industries, we were going to finally land in the island and experience everything first-hand. Expectation had built up, and in conversations with my classmates during our two-hour flight delay, I sensed a mix of excitement and anxiety to discover the mysticism of the culture and beaches in Cuba but also to uncover the realities of the lives of Cubans under the Castro regime.  We knew it was a particularly exciting time to visit the island coming from the US, given the recent developments towards an eventual lift of the existing embargo imposed by the US decades ago. We knew a lot would change in the country and we did not want to miss the opportunity to explore it before it begins to open and develop. It was 3pm and after five hours in the airport we had all finally boarded our Global Atlantic charter flight bound to Havana. In 30 minutes we would set foot in the island and begin what would be an unforgettable week.

– Mario R. Graniel ’15

Giant Buddha-bound

Greetings, fellow Chazen students!

I’m writing this from the bus as we’re on our way to see the Giant Buddha—one of the largest in the world, we’re told– and eat lunch at a monastery. No surprise this exists in Hong Kong if you’ve seen the size of the skyscrapers here. It seems like the city is big on building large and building high. That has made for some great views so far.

Our days have been jam-packed with meetings at real estate companies. We kicked off our stay in Hong Kong with a trip to Vanke. We learned about recent trends in property prices, which had been rising for years until the government introduced stamp duties to cool the market. The developer is expecting prices to decline further as a result of such measures.

I was surprised to learn that bringing a building to market in Hong Kong is quite the complicated process. Luxury redevelopments like the Gramercy are rare. Private equity firm Phoenix Property Investors told us the reason: When you redo a building here, you have to buy out 80% to 90% of individual condo owners. When the property has hundreds of different owners, this can take a while.

Overall, Hong Kong feels pretty Westernized. The nightlife is similar to New York, and the malls are filled with luxury retailers ranging from Alexander McQueen to Tom Ford. We’re told the shoppers are mainly wealthy tourists from mainland China. (Whatever the case may be, the target demographic is definitely not CBS students. I spent my money on fried fish balls, octopus and bubble tea at Ladies Market.)

UPDATE: The Buddha was pretty awesome. We climbed up several flights of stairs to get there. The food at the monastery–which included a sweet bean curd, lotus root and some type of amazing fried tofu dish–was the best I’ve had so far.

Onward to Beijing, where I’m sure our cultural experience will be largely different!

aa1 aa2 aa3 aa4

-Anjali Athavaley, ‘14

Chazen Shanghai: Days 1-3

Our first few days in Shanghai have been pretty packed! On Monday, we kicked off our program with a presentation from the Chief Economist of Haitong International and the Head of Markets of Citibank China. Our discussion focused on how the growth model in China has to change due to internal pressure related to labor costs and civil demands, as well as external pressure related to trade and currency frictions. We looked at how China is shifting from a “made in China” approach to a “designed in China / made for China” approach and the movement towards the service industry. Additionally, we deliberated on how high investment and consumption will propel China’s growth towards another golden decade ahead. Later that day, we visited the Shanghai office of PwC where we had an interesting discussion on the various challenges of doing business in China, ranging from rising cost, domestic competition, corruption and fraud.


Exploring Shanghai after school.

On Tuesday, we visited the headquarters of Yihaodian (translation: “#1 store”), an online grocery store that is growing rapidly in China. On the day of our tour, there was a flurry of media correspondents on site to document Yihaodian’s successful setting of a new Guinness World Record for  “most amount of imported milk sold online in 24 hours”, an achievement that was reached within the first hour by selling 600,000 boxes. The presentation discussed the e-commerce opportunities ahead given that China has the biggest population of internet users (568 million). We also examined the challenges in this space including forecasting demand and managing delivery at high fluctuating cycles.


Yihaodian has “virtual stores” that exhibit images of stocked grocery shelves on walls and other surfaces in urban public areas in China. Customers passing by can scan codes underneath the images with a mobile device to purchase the corresponding groceries online. 

On Wednesday, we took a day trip to Hangzhou, a city with a population of 9 million. In the morning, we visited China Ting, a vertically integrated garment manufacturer, exporter and retailer. We had a comprehensive tour of China Ting’s industrial complex, which included its showroom and design school, as well as a sneak peek at its screen printing, weaving, and manufacturing facilities. It was interesting to see that many of the brands we are familiar with back home, such as Ted Baker, BCBG, Tory Burch, Alexander Wang, Express, and Missoni are all manufactured in the same facility.


Learning how shirts are made.

sccloth image

Silk screens, hot off the press!

Our day in Hangzhou ended with a fun group dinner at a restaurant by West Lake. The weather in Hangzhou was grey and rainy but hopefully we will continue to enjoy warm sunshine in Shanghai for the rest of the week!


West Lake on a rainy day.

Sarah Cheng ’14


Leaving on a Jet Plane

I am so excited to take part in the Global Immersion Program in Shanghai next week! This is my first time participating in a Chazen program and I’m glad I could check this off my CBS bucket list before graduating in May.

In our class sessions with Professor Shang-Jin Wei, we’ve been discussing how China is at crossroads after more than 30 years of rapid growth. It has been interesting to learn about how China is attempting to adapt its growth model to be driven more by consumption, innovation, and domestic demand. Now we are off to Shanghai for a week where we will meet with business leaders from China Ting, Chongyang Investment Company, PayPal, Wanxiang, and Rio Tinto. The week will definitely be action-packed but I am looking forward to it. I will be posting throughout the week – happy spring break, everyone!

Sarah Cheng ’14

Tunisia: Day 3 & 4

Today is Friday, which means that it is our last day of GIP Tunisia.  By this time tomorrow, many of us will already be heading back to snowy NYC to do battle with the weather, classes, job searches, and one last round of happy hours at Uris Deli.  But for now, I would just like to reflect on the past few days, and to capture a few “lessons learned”.

We have been fortunate enough to hear from leaders from a wide range of industries, functions and political/social views.  We got a window in to the Tunisian telecom industry on Wednesday morning, when we had the opportunity to meet with CEO Ken Campbell.  Over (delicious) croissants and strong coffee, he talked to us about the history of the company, and Tunisiana’s hope for the future.

We were interested to learn that smartphone penetration in Tunisia is currently sitting at 15%, a fact that Tunisiana hopes to change in the near future.  3G was launched in 2012, and since that, the 3G user base has tripled.  As the economic and political situation continues to improve, Tunisiana is hopeful that its customers will continue to adopt data-heavy usage patterns that are similar to those of CBS students.  Company leadership cited the following challenges to these growth aspirations: macro-economic conditions, weakening of the TSD, and wide-spread unemployment.

The afternoon of Day Three was devoted to group project time.  Groups traveled around (and outside of) Tunis to meet with company representatives, and to attempt to glean information and insights that would help them reconcile their previous research with their current experiences in Tunisia.  I would have to say that the group who emerged from their meeting at La’andor with giant bags of cheese was probably the most victorious.  It pays to pick companies who have food to give out!

Thursday was probably the most interesting mix of speakers/topics of the week.  In the morning, we met with the President of the Republican Party.  He candidly discussed the root causes of the revolution (unemployment, gap between coastal and inland areas), as well as the transition that is currently in progress.  Unlike many of the other officials that we have met on this trip, this man was willing to give us an honest (albeit a tad pessimistic) view of the uphill battle that Tunisia faces before being able to right itself in the eyes of its citizens, as well as the international community.  While holding hope for the future, and the establishment of a legitimate, stable government, he was not afraid to discuss the setbacks and challenges that Tunisia continues to experience.

In the afternoon, our class set off to visit enda inter-arabe, which is a microfinance company geared towards the empowerment of Tunisian women.  Michael Cracknell, co-founder, walked us through the history of the company, and gave us an overview of the impact that enda inter-arabe has had over the past 25 years.  The company currently has more than 235,000 active clients, with an average loan of 700 TSD.  Clients use this money to establish/run small businesses, which allows them to contribute to their family’s income each month, and to employ other members of the local community.

We were fortunate enough to meet 6 of the entrepreneurs sponsored by this inspiring company.  The woman who caught my attention was named Amel, and had been a client since 2002.  She began by borrowing 200 TSD to start a small tailoring service.  Since then, she has expanded her business to include jewelry and silk painting, and is able to employ up to 8 people in the “high season”.  After the meeting, she walked over to a table and pulled out dozens of samples of her jewelry, signaling to all of us that she was the most serious entrepreneur in the group!

Last, but not least, we visited Carrefour Tunis.  We were given an overview of the Tunisian shopping market by the Besma Kriaa (Chief Marketing Officer) and Lassaad Zribi (Chief Information Officer), who emphasized that the traditional distribution pattern (corner stores, convenient locations) still commands 77% of the market.  Carrefour Tunis is working to disrupt this pattern, with a push towards modern distribution patterns (which includes supermarkets, hypermarkets, etc).

Carrefour emphasized their focus on building a strong, emotional connection with shoppers, and described their store as “more than just a distribution point, it is a marketing medium”.  In Tunisia, Carrefour has a dimension of “leisure”, and the brand is meant to be a bit “aspirational”.  This was evident when we visited the floor of the Carrefour store, which seemed like a place where you really could find anything that you wanted.  Compared with the small shops that are characteristic of the towns that we have visited in Tunisia, so far, it is clear that Carrefour does stand for something more than just a place to buy bread and a lawn chair set!

Setting off on our fifth and final day!  Although I will be sad to see this trip end, I am looking forward to reflecting on the trip, as a whole, once it is concluded.

Katie Horgan ’14

GIP Tunisia: Financial Markets & Flight Simulators

GIP Tunisia is off to a fantastic start!  Our first 48 hours have been busy.  We have already attended five official meetings with Tunisian companies and businesses, toured a factory, tested out a flight simulator, and sipped mint tea while discussing critical social, economic and business issues with key Tunisian business leaders.  A quick recap of our first two days:

Day One began bright and early, at 7:15 am.  After a quick trip across town, our “delegation” (as we have taken to calling ourselves) arrived at the Hotel Paris for a meeting with the Tunisian American Chamber of Commerce (TACC).  Panel speakers Fadhel Abdelketi (CEO Tunisie Valeurs & Chairman of the Tunis Stock Exchange) and Amel Bouchamaoui Hammami (AmCham President) discussed the current state of the financial markets in Tunisia, and the role of these markets in continuing efforts to bolster national growth and attract foreign investment.  Prompted by questions from CBS students, the speakers continually re-emphasized the desire for the government to set the conditions needed to increase international confidence in Tunisia.  All present expressed sincere hope that the Constitution, scheduled to be finished this week, will set the government on the path of stability and allow the financial markets to continue providing the Tunisian economy with the capital necessary for continued growth.

In the afternoon, we met with the African Development Bank (ADB).  The ADB’s mission is help development efforts on the continent, by making funding available to both private and public sector entities.  The discussion was led by Jakob Kolster (head of the North Africa Division), who emphasized the ADB’s commitment to promoting infrastructure improvements, skills and technology, and private sector development, among other issues.

Day One ended with a visit to AfricInvest, which is a P/E firm that looks to invest in SME’s, and to make them regional champions.  All speakers emphasized the attractiveness of African investments, citing an improving macro environment, an increase in intra-Africa trade, and sectors (such as healthcare and education) that are experiencing high growth.

Day Two kicked off with a visit to the COFAT factory, which is about one hour outside of Tunis.  Before touring the factory, our class enjoyed a presentation explaining the organization of the Elloumi Group, which owns COFAT.  The Elloumi Group owns 30 companies, and is one of Tunisia’s only multi-national companies.  The Group’s portfolio mainly focuses on the manufacture and distribution of parts, systems and appliances, and boasts such customers as 3M, Kellogg’s and Volvo.

Following the presentation, our class had the opportunity to tour the factory floor.  Our guides walked us through the path that a part takes at the COFAT factory: from receipt of the raw material, to assembly, and finally to QC and then outbound shipping.

We wrapped up Day Two with a visit to TunisAir, where we had the opportunity to hear from CEO Rabah Jerad.  He discussed TunisAir’s plans to continue expanding in to Africa, and to build a network across the continent that will facilitate entry of the airline in to the One World Alliance.  Perhaps the most exciting part of our visit to TunisAir occurred when we had the opportunity to tour the flight simulator that is used to train the pilots.  CBS at the very center of … pilot training!

The first two days have been filled with quite a bit of information, and I think that most of us are still trying to digest/make sense of the various facts and opinions that we have heard.  Many of us are extremely interested in the effects of the 2011 popular uprising, and cannot resist asking the panelists and business leaders for their opinions on the future of the business/economic environment in Tunisia.  Overwhelmingly, I have found these business leaders to be incredibly optimistic about the future of their country.  They are confident that the Constitution will be finished in the next few weeks, and that a stable, lasting government will be put in to place.  I look forward to confirmation that this important step has been taken, as it is absolutely required for the attraction of foreign investment, and the continued success of Tunisian companies.

Katie Horgan ‘14

CBS embarks on a NOLS adventure

In just under 48 hours, 25 second year students will meet with their National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) guides in Coyhaique, Chile to embark on a ten day leadership expedition in Patagonia.

NOLS is a world leader in wilderness education. They take students of all ages on remote wilderness expeditions and teach them technical outdoor skills, leadership, and environmental ethics. What NOLS teaches cannot be learned in a traditional classroom. The backcountry provides the ideal setting for this unique, experiential education—NOLS classrooms are some of the world’s wildest and most awe-inspiring locations, including Patagonia.

Last year, 11 students participated in the tour, organized by Maya Mandel ’13. They carried 60-lb backpacks, crossed rivers, climbed mountain passes, drank Maté, devoured the dulce de leche treat, handled fatigue and injuries, enjoyed 2-3 sunny mornings, and witnessed first-hand how in such a short time period we learn new skills, adapt, grow, and lead (and become really good at it!). I’m hoping we have the same experience, but without any of the rain!

The reasons we signed up for this are as diverse as the terrain we’ll be encountering. My primary motivations were to experience this remote part of the world and get to know some of my classmates in a more intimate setting. Lindsey Pete ’14 enrolled in the class because she loves adventure and exploring new places and thought this trip would be a great hands-on experience to help her improve my leadership skills.  Anton Chtcherbakov ’14 on the other hand felt compelled to sign up after seeing the incredibly enthusiastic presentation from last year’s participants.

As the start line comes into sight, I have so many mixed emotions. Like Kim Issa ’14, I’m worried about whether my body will be up for the physical challenge.  Like Tyler Walk ’14 and Anton Chtcherbakov ’14, I’m excited to learn more about myself and others through this experience. I’m worried about the notoriously volatile weather in Patagonia, and even more worried about just how much I will smell after ten days of physical exertion and no showers. That being said, I’m trying to keep a positive outlook and deal with each challenge as it comes, starting with the 20 hours of travel between New York and Patagonia.

Jennifer Dyck-Sprout ‘14