Top 10 Moments from GIP: Economic Growth in the UAE

It’s hard to believe our trip to the UAE has come and gone so quickly. Our whirlwind week brought us from soaring skyscrapers to desert safaris, sovereign wealth funds to night clubs, man-made islands to mosques.

Leaving the UAE, I’m left with a few most striking impressions. First, the country is a crazy case of development done right upon the discovery of oil. The UAE is second to none when it comes to the astute management of natural resources. The country’s leadership truly did an exceptional job diversifying the economy beyond oil and gas, allowing the relatively oil-poor Emirate of Dubai to become a global financial center and tourism destination to rival few others.

Second, the UAE is a country of stark contrasts. In a matter of minutes you can travel from beach resorts to an urban metropolis, and then drive off into the desert horizon. You can see a man trailed by his four wives in a mega-mall of retailers from Europe and North America. The UAE is home to the planet’s largest mosque, which was built in the past decade. And you’ll find groups of women in headscarf letting loose at pricey nightclubs. Put simply, the UAE is a very unique place, that feels like no where else I’ve ever been.

In an effort to sum up such a jam packed week, I’ll share 10 of the top moments from the trip:

  1. Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. The massive and beautiful hospital — believe me I never thought I’d describe a hospital that way — that was built two years ago and offers free healthcare to Emirati citizens. In addition to an array of cafes, restaurants, and a salon, the hospital has VIP suites with adjacent hotel rooms for family members to stay.

IMG_3395

2. Shopping malls galore. After visiting so many of the world’s largest malls, it’s safe to say I’ll never view shopping malls the same way again. Dubai’s malls — which all seem to be connected by elevated walkways — don’t just feature some of the stores from back home, they’s feature all of the stores from back home, as well as from Europe, Asia, and a swath of local Middle Eastern retailers. What’s more, inside the malls you’ll find things like indoor skiing, pictured below.

IMG_3883

3. Enviable Office Buildings. Living in New York City, you never expect to return home and feel like your city is filled with old, modest buildings. But after a week in the UAE, that’s bound to be your feeling upon returning home. Pictured below, we attended a meeting at the Dubai International Financial Center, one of the “Free Zones” that allow foreign business ownership.

IMG_3626

4. Camel selfies. During our desert safari on our last day, we rode SUVs through sand dunes, rode camels, got henna tattoos, and watched fire and belly dancers. As nice as it was to be out in the desert, it was crazy to see just how many SUVs of tourists were out in the same part of the desert, suggesting that Dubai could be doing more to promote desert tourism.

IMG_3827

5. The Palm Islands. One of the most memorable company visits was to the real estate developer, Nakheel, responsible for developing the Palm Islands and The World. We toured the original palm-tree shaped, reclaimed land island by boat, seeing the expanse of the project that doubled Dubai’s coastline. I found touring the original Palm Island, Palm Jumeira, to be so fascinating I devoted an entire blog post to it.

IMG_3596

6. The Sheik Zayyed Mosque. The construction of the Sheik Zayyed Mosque was completed less than a decade ago, making it an unusually modern national landmark. Visiting the picturesque mosque was a special break from a week of company visits, as we got to see another side of the UAE, pertaining to the country’s cultural heritage.

IMG_3455

7. Music Hall. It’s rare to have high expectations for a place and to have them surpassed, but that was our experience at Music Hall, a night club in a hotel on the Palm Island that was a unanimous favorite experience from the trip. Featuring a variety show of musical guests from around the world, Music Hall delivered on its reputation set by our professor and TA. We’re proud to say we closed the club down.

IMG_3751

8. Emirates Training College. Touring Emirates Airlines, one of if not the top global airline according to many rankings, training facilities was a treat. During the super interactive visit, we tested life jackets in a lesson on flight safety, learned about flight attendant hair and makeup, and tested the different first and business class seats in an out of commission airplane.

IMG_3729

9. Burj Khalifa. Visiting the 125th floor of the world’s tallest building was exciting even for New Yorkers, used to being surrounded by tall buildings. From across Dubai, you can see “The Burj,” the super modern skyscrapper that is soon to be replaced by an even taller building in Dubai.

IMG_3665

10. Old Dubai. It’s hard to find remnants of the fishing village along the Dubai Creek that was the entire city of Dubai less than a half century ago, but if you look hard enough, you can find them. After touring the souks, frequented mostly by locals unlike in some other Middle Easterern countries, we stumbled across some non-modern boats used for transportation by foreign workers who flock to the UAE by the millions. That boat ride across the Dubai Creek was one of the most fascinating experiences of the trip, as one of the few glimpses into the village that was.

IMG_3559

 

The Disney-like Development of Dubai

Contrary to popular belief, the Emirate of Dubai doesn’t have much oil and it never has. Its leaders recognized early on that it would need to grow other sectors to develop economically, and turned to trade, aviation, tourism, and finance. The Sheik of Dubai set aggressive targets for tourism, and real estate developer Nakheel, one of the most fascinating companies that we met with this week, responded with a creative solution. To create more tourist attractions, beaches, and waterfront property, Dubai would need a longer coastline. The Emirate of Dubai only had 70 kilometers of coastline, and it was already nearly entirely built up.

Nakheel is the company responsible for literally reshaping the map of Dubai through the development of the reclaimed land Jumeira Palm Island (and the new reclaimed land Jebel Ali Palm Island) as well as the World, the archipelago of man-made islands off Dubai’s coast. During our fascinating visit Wednesday morning, we learned about the company’s unprecedented development projects and toured the original Palm Island by boat. We learned that the palm tree shape was chosen because of its local significance, beating out a falcon and an old boat, as well as for the tremendous surface length that would double Dubai’s coastline, adding 70 kilometers of beachfront real estate. We watched a handful of videos about the civil engineering that went into creating the Palm, from projecting sand in a “rainbow” shape from nearby parts of the ocean floor, to vibrating the new sand masses to speed up the compression of particles closer together. Nakheel even transplanted coral that was located closer to the Dubai Port and was in the path of larger ships to its newly created barrier islands.

IMG_3596.JPG

Put simply, this was a fascinating visit. But it also raised a tremendous amount of questions. Nakheel doesn’t share information about the costs or profitability of the Palm Islands development. The company’s prepared response about the environmental sustainability is a bit unsatisfying, reporting that the islands could survive a half meter change in sea level and that the region doesn’t suffer from hurricanes or tsunamis. And Nakheel doesn’t share a timeline for the development of its latest reclaimed land mass Palm Jebel Ali, which is twice the size of Palm Jumeira.

Following the boat tour of Palm Jumeira with Nakheel, I visited the island twice to spend time at two different hotels. Some 15 years after the project’s development commenced, there are still portions of the Palm that are yet to be developed. And driving along the outer road that surrounds the palm tree branches one has no choice but to wonder where so many five-star hotel travelers come from. Driving past five-star resort after five-star resort, and as in many other parts of Dubai seeing more construction equipment than people, I really wish there was public information about the occupancy of the hotels or condominium complexes. The supply and demand curves do not seem to meet at a point that will create value any time soon for Nakheel or the Emirate of Dubai.

Zoe Fox ’17

Global Immersion: Economic Development in the UAE

5 Takeaways From Abu Dhabi

Halfway through Global Immersion: Economic Growth in the UAE, I feel as though I’m still being surprised daily about the country, its rapid development story, and the people who do business here. During the first three days of the trip and the portion of the program in Abu Dhabi, we visited the state-owned investment fund Mubadala, a family oil and gas construction business Alsa, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, consulting firm Strategy&’s first Middle East office, the Ministry of Climate Change and the Environment, and the Sheikh Zayyed Mosque, the largest mosque in the world.

IMG_3530

Here are my five most significant takeaways from Abu Dhabi, as we move on to Dubai:

  1. It’s great to be a UAE national. Making up just 11% of the country’s 9 million population, Emiratis have it good. The country really takes care of them, having been population whose land oil wealth was discovered upon. As a local, the government provides free health care, housing, and education, including many opportunities to study abroad. In turn, the UAE does not suffer from the “brain drain” phenomenon — its highly unlikely for an Emirati educated abroad to stay abroad because their quality of life is so good at home.
  2. Despite being on the largest economies in the Gulf and Middle East, the UAE is not and has never been a regional super power. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the most important regional player, despite having a much less wealthy population (per capita).
  3. The UAE’s development story is an anomaly. Many other countries, including regional neighbors Kuwait and Qatar, have tried to grow into economic powerhouses like the UAE, but they have not succeeded to the same extent.
  4. The secret to the UAE’s development success was diversification. When the country was founded 44 years ago, Sheikh Zayed famously said that the country could not rely on its oil wealth. Developing deep finance, real estate, aviation, and logistics industries, beyond the low hanging fruit of their natural resource wealth lying in oil and gas, is what has made the UAE the nation it is today.
  5. Abu Dhabi, however, felt somewhat like a ghost town. Many of the people we’ve met so far –especialy expats — have been commuters from Dubai an hour and a half away. Abu Dhabi is filled with skyscrappers and parking lots that appear to be empty. Some people have hinted to us that this is the result of the drop in oil prices over the past couple of years. But more than that there seems to be a “build it and they will come” feeling.

Zoe Fox ’17

Global Immersion: Economic Growth in the UAE

Arriving in Abu Dhabi   

We’ve all seen those side-by-side photo comparisons, laying photos of Dubai in the 1990s next to those from today. From the dusty dessert town on the gulf emerged a souring steal metropolis, whose modern skyscrapers are quite literally second to none other city on the planet. And just as the buildings grew into the clouds above the dessert, so did the land-filled islands off the city’s coast, most notably the infamous Palm Island resort, a global landmark visible from space. Before the semester began, I had a slanted perception of the UAE’s economic development story, assuming that the construction boom was a direct response to the oil boom. I’ve learned during the past six weeks taking Global Immersion: Economic Growth in the UAE that the story is a bit more complex. That the UAE’s darling development tale can also be attributed to astute decisions on behalf of the country’s leadership; most notably, to diversify beyond oil revenue.

 During the six weeks leading up to the trip we were introduced to the complexity, and at times simply incongruous business landscape and history of the United Arab Emirates. We heard from experts on the GCC oil countries, the burgeoning Islamic financial hub in Dubai, and migrant labor in the UAE. But perhaps most interestingly, it became clear that the narrative we’d hear in meetings would not necessarily be the one we’d witness, or have read about in the news. The UAE’s success can be attributed to its oil and its untold stories; its foreign workers who build its skyscrapers and amusement parks.

If I learned one thing in the six weeks leading up to the trip it’s that in this hub of business — where just 1 million of the country’s 9 million population are citizens — there will be the stories we’re told by businessmen and government representatives and the ones that we may not see. I’m excited to gain a deeper understanding of the country and its business landscape over the next week, as we visit Abu Dhabi and Dubai. We will visit local companies such as Emirates airlines, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, and Nahkeel, as well as meet with the Ministry of the Environment, tour the monumental Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Emirates Palace, and visit some of Dubai’s world famous shopping malls. Stay tuned for what’s in store!

Zoe Fox ’17

Global Immersion: Economic Growth in the UAE

 

 

Taking Tunisia Home

FullSizeRender (4).jpg

It’s been a week since we returned from Tunisia and I’ve had some time to ruminate over what we saw during our time in country. If I were to distill what I observed over the week into one sentiment it would be empathy for the country, which has so much potential to be a regional leader yet is very much haunted by three terror attacks in 2015.

I was truly convinced during our visit that Tunisia has the potential and is well positioned to be a regional leader — it has a booming entrepreneurial scene in Tunis; quality exports shipped across the region, to Europe, and to the U.S.; and tremendous natural and cultural beauty that should attract tourists. Yet the country’s reputation has been severely damaged, which understandably detracts tourists and investors alike. Exporting crops (like olive oil) and manufactured products (like paper goods) are the only industries that we observed that are not hurt by the recent wave of terror in the country.

What will it take for the country to recover from the three attacks — two of which explicitly targeted tourists? Perhaps it will just take time, or perhaps the country’s tech entrepreneurs or quality produce (often sold around the globe under the label Italian) will begin to rewrite the country’s story in a more favorable light.

An U.S. embassy official told us that when he brings potential investors to visit the country it has just one shot to appear ripe for investment — they won’t come back for a second time if they don’t like what they see on their first visit. I found this to be disheartening, and am hopeful that as a professional I will strive to see more of a market and its story than these fly-in, fly-out investors. AfricInvest, a private equity group which hosted us for a significant portion of our business told us that their key to success is that most of their investment team lives locally. If I take away nothing else from the trip, it will be that in order to be successful working in a market like Tunisia, a superficial quick trip will not show me the real potential of a country. I’ll need to invest time and dig deeper.

-Zoe Fox ’17

Global Immersion Tunisia

The Other Middle Eastern Oil Export: Discovering Tunisian Olive Oil

Moulins Mahjoub 1.jpgEarly in the fall, my study group for Global Immersion: Doing Business in North Africa made the somewhat serendipitous decision to study the Tunisian olive oil industry for our term project. We made this choice with little information — other than that olive oil is Tunisia’s largest export and that the industry is the country’s largest employer — but I couldn’t be happier that we got to spend the trip taking a deeper look at olive oil.

moulins-mahjoub-2

On Wednesday, we spent the day at Les Moulins Mahjoub, a 70-year-old, family-owned olive oil producer about an hour outside of Tunis. Despite being a relatively small producer of 200,000 liters per year with no intention of increasing its outputs, there’s a good chance you’ve tried Les Moulins Mahjoub’s products, available in the U.S. at Whole Foods and as the house brand at Le Pain Quotidien. Now in its third generation, the business is co-owned by three brothers and seven sisters. One of the brothers, Abdel-Majid Mahjoub, who serves as the general manager, gave us a tour of the production press, explaining to us the cold press process, which still very closely resembles the ancient process.

moulins-mahjoub-3

Les Moulins Mahjoub has no intention of increasing its production because it is happy with its position as an upscale, boutique producer.  It has no intention of competing with Bertolli, or of providing unbranded liters to European producers who will blend it with Spanish or Italian oil. Roughly 90 percent of Les Moulins Mahjoub’s oil is sold under its own brand, although the remaining 10 percent is sold under the brand (or in the case of Le Pain Quotidien, co-brand) of select partners. The company also sells Tunisia condiments, including its top product by volume, Harissa, which has recently exploded in global popularity.

moulins-mahjoub-4

The highlight of the visit, which served as a microcosm for the industry overall, was eating lunch prepared by the family in their tasting room. We enjoyed olives and spreads, as well as numerous Tunisian dishes ranging from the familiar, shakshuka and cous cous, to the unfamiliar, breadcrumbs mixed with preserved lemons, garlic, harissa, and chickpeas prepared in broth. The third-story tasting room provided aerial views of the olive groves and farmland, which stretched into mountains in the horizon, a surprisingly beautiful setting reminiscent of Californian wine country.

moulins-mahjoub-5

Despite its premium product, Tunisian olive oil faces two challenges in its luxury positioning: first, there’s a lot of olive oil labeled as extra virgin that isn’t in fact extra virgin; second, Tunisian olive oil lacks the brand recognition of olive oil from countries like Italy and Spain. Tunisia was featured at New York’s Fancy Food Show this year, suggesting the beginning of its improved global recognition, but there’s still a ways to go. After sampling numerous brands of Tunisian oil and spending a day at Les Moulins Mahjoub, Tunisian olive oil gained another 30 brand ambassadors in our class.

-Zoe Fox ’17

Global Immersion: Doing Business in North Africa

Tunisia’s Female Entrepreneurs

 

dar ben gacem.jpgOne of my first questions about visiting Tunisia was whether the women’s rights awarded at independence in the 1950s had an impact on society. A couple days into Global Immersion: Doing Business in North Africa and I already sense that the answer is a resounding yes.

Our first night in Tunis, before the program officially kicked off we visited Dar Ben Gacem (pictured above), a stunning seven-room guesthouse in the historic medina, city center, which is a restored 17th century home adorned at every corner by works of local artisans. But the house is only half of the story. Dar Ben Gacem’s founder, Leila Ben-Gacem, is a biomedical engineer turned social entrepreneur, who is simultaneously running a hospitality business as she works to untap the potential of Tunisia’s medina. She got her start in 2006 running training programs for local artisans, ensuring they could continue to practice their crafts as sustainable livelihoods so that the country wouldn’t lose that aspect of its heritage. Put simply, she was an incredibly inspiring woman to meet on our first night in Tunisia, making a strong case for that the country’s women are distinctly empowered.

The first official company visit was to Lilas, a paper products company, the first of its sort in North Africa. In a region lacking forests, Lilas imports pulp from Brazil and Scandinavia and produces a host of paper products that it exports across throughout North Africa and to 18 total countries on the continent. We toured its modern factories and saw just as many women working on the floors as men. But what’s more impressive is that Lilas was founded in 1994 by Mounir El Jaiez and Jalila Mezni, a husband and wife team. She, not he, serves as CEO. Though we didn’t meet Mezni, her company’s steady growth over the past two decades makes a good case for her success as a CEO in Tunisia.

It’s more than these two cases. Our tour guide told us that 62% of the country’s university students are women. The economist who presented to us at the African Development Bank was female. What feels like a majority of a group of student entrepreneurs that we met were been female. We met two successful female entrepreneurs, one who co-founded Tunisia’s first co-working space and the other who founded a sustainable agri-business, during a social enterprise panel this afternoon. The country may have its challenges, but its women are ready and able to tackle them.

-Zoe Fox ‘17

5 Questions I Have Before Arriving in Tunisia

Image result for tunisia image large

It’s hard to believe that it’s finally time to visit the country we began studying the first week of the fall semester. The anticipation has mounted over the past four months, as we’ve listened to lectures on the country’s history and business opportunities, and worked on projects examining different industries.

Writing from the Istanbul Airport, about to board my final flight leg to Tunis, there are a handful of questions on my mind. I wanted to share the five most burning questions I have heading into the week.

1.  How different is Tunisia from its regional neighbors?

One of the first things Professor Jededi told us about his home country was that it was the most “European” of Middle Eastern and North African nations. Women had far more rights, it now has a liberal constitution following the Arab Spring, and education has long been a national priority. I’m curious if this is a difference that will be palpable to me, having visited a handful of Tunisia’s neighbors.

2. How has the Arab Spring changed the country?

As the birthplace of the Arab Spring, the revolutionary movement that spread across the Middle East six years ago, Tunisia saw unique success. The movement — at least as has been reported in the media — brought real changes to the country, such as the peaceful transition of power away from the long-time dictator Ben Ali, democratic elections, and the passing of a liberal constitution. I’d like to ask this question of Tunisians, to gain a deeper understanding of how the average person’s life is different now than before December 2010.

3. Is there truly a significant business opportunity in Tunisia for foreign investors?

The focus of our course is doing business in North Africa, and I’m eager to access whether Tunisia’s relative political advantage over its neighbors is enough to make it a competitive threat. Tunisia is much smaller in size and population than Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria. What is its government doing to ensure that good jobs for educated young people — the issue which sparked the Arab Spring — will come to the country now?

4. What industries present the greatest opportunities for economic growth?

After grasping the extent to which there’s a competitive opportunity in Tunisia, I’d next like to understand which industries the country is best poised to compete. The country’s long-time reliance on tourism has proven to be an unsustainable driver of growth, as terrorism has prevented the country’s image from complete repair post-Arab Spring. Student teams in our class are looking at opportunities in agricultural exports, olive oil and wine, venture capital, and real estate. But have we missed something? Is there an entrepreneurial scene budding in Tunis?

5. What North African business trends will be most relevant to my classmates after we leave?

Finally, the goal of this class is for us as MBA students to gain a better understanding of the global business climate. Which trends in North Africa will prove the most relevant to our future careers, assuming many of us will not have careers directly focused on the region? Are general themes of emerging economies most relevant? Or will they be those related to global security uncertainty?

-Zoe Fox ’17

Chazen Japan: 15 Moments That Sum Up the Trip

We’ve been back in New York after returning from Japan for a week now, and as the jet lag subsides it’s been hard to distill the whirlwind trip to Japan into a few memories. Here are 15 highlights from the trip that stand out, looking back on our week on Chazen:

1. Meeting a Maiko, a Geisha in training

IMG_4748

Our dinner entertainment during our first night was provided by a Maiko, a Geisha in training, who danced to traditional Japanese music and answered our questions about the rigorous training that goes into becoming a Geisha. I hadn’t realized that Geishas were an official position that required training before hearing from the Maiko. She is one of just 100 Maikos apprenticing to become a Geisha. Traditionally, Maikos are between 15 and 20, and study traditional Japanese arts such as music, dance, and flower arranging.

2. Learning to Meditate from a Zen priest 

IMG_4776

The first jam-packed day of our tour began by slowing down. We visited the Taizo-in Zen Buddhist Temple, built in the 15th century, to learn to meditate. The Zen Buddhist priest condensed a normal hour-long meditation session into just 15 minutes, because, he explained, we wouldn’t be able to last one hour during our first attempt at meditation. After the meditation session, we toured the temple and its gardens, learned about Zen Buddhism, and enjoyed a vegetarian meal.

3. Visiting our tour organizer’s employer, SCREEN

IMG_4801

Our first company visit, and sponsor company of our trip organizer Joji, provided us with a warm welcome to Japanese corporate culture. The Kyoto-based company was the perfect introduction to Japan’s business environment, where we learned that despite its 1868 establishment, SCREEN isn’t even considered to be an old company in Japan, home to some of the world’s oldest business. SCREEN has adapted over the years from its roots as Kyoto’s first printing shop to today being a leading producer of of semiconductor manufacturing equipment, flat-panel displays, and printing hardware and software.

4. Seeing robots create cars at the Toyota manufacturing plant

IMG_4860

After learning about Toyota’s lean manufacturing in the core, we were all very excited to see the famous supply chain in action. But I don’t think any of us expected to find the plant to be completely removed of people. The first stop on the Toyota assembly line featured robots stamping, welding, painting, assembling, and molding the cars. The supply chain was making a few different types of cars that traveled through the line in a random order, and the robots knew to adjust their process depending on the car type.

IMG_4867

5. Singing karaoke in yukatas at the Rayokan

Our night in the traditional Japanese Rayokan stood out from the rest of the week in modern business hotels: we slept on the floor, wore yukata robes (essentially a kimono to the untrained eye), and performed karaoke in Japanese, English, and Chinese. Our Rayokan was situated in a hilltop town beside a lake and above natural hot springs. Taking a dip in the natural spa provided a restful break from a hectic week.

6. Riding the bullet train and seeing Mt. Fuji

FullSizeRender

It’s hard to say what was more exciting: waiting for the bullet train to arrive at the station as we watched other “express trains” skip our stop and whiz by in a matter of seconds, or squeezing by the windows to catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji emerge through the clouds as we road the bullet train south of the storied mountain. Definitely will take any remaining ounce of thrill out of riding the Amtrak in the states.

7. Asking our most pressing questions from Nobuhide Minorikawa

IMG_4936

Four days into our trip our group had come up with a decent list of difficult questions about Japanese culture, business, and politics. Visiting Nobuhide Minorikawa, a member of the House of Representitives and Columbia SIPA alum, provided us with a perfect outlet to ask some of our most difficult questions about Japan’s limited recognition of its wartime atrocities committed against the Chinese during World War II and why we’d met so few female business leaders.

8. Learning about robotic exo-skeletons from the CEO of Cyberdyne

At an alumni event hosted by the Columbia Business School Alumni Club of Japan we heard from Yoshiyuki Sankai, a University of Tsukuba professor who’s also the CEO of robotics company Cyberdyne. Cyberdyne’s main product is a robotic exo-skeleton that uses brain signals to control the movement of people with impaired movement. Watching videos of the product in action truly felt like a scene from a futuristic movie.

9. Walking up close to the planes on the ANA maintenance floor

IMG_4935

On Thursday morning we visited ANA, one of Japan’s two premiere airlines, at Haneda Airport. After putting on hard hats, we toured the maintenance floor and were all impressed by how large commercial airplanes seem while standing next to them. Following the floor, we spoke with company reps about the airlines future plans, including its goal to be the main connector between the U.S. and destinations further into East and Southeast Asia.

10. Eating Standing Sushi … and lots of other sushi

IMG_4946

From ramen to sushi to tempura, sampling Japanese cuisine was one of the most anticipated parts of the trip. For me, eating at Tokyo’s Standing Sushi was the highlight of the week’s food. At the chain of sushi bars located around Tokyo, you order each piece of fish one by one and watch as the chefs prepare it in front of the standing counter. There was certainly other sushi consumed this week – including for breakfast after the early morning tuna auction and at upscale restaurants – but for me, the casual standing bars were the highlight.

11. Learning about Englishnization at Rakuten

Our final company visit of the trip was to Japan’s largest e-commerce platform, Rakuten. After a week of meetings in business formal environments, Rakuten stood out for its Silicon Valley startup-esque vibe. We met with Kyle Lee, the head of human resources, who discussed the company’s Englishnization program, began four years ago, which mandated all employees achieve fluency in English and that all business is conducted in English.

12. Enjoying the view from the Park Hyatt’s New York Bar from Lost in Translation

IMG_4949

As a New Yorker, I don’t often get excited about visiting locations featured in movies. For that reason, I was skeptical of the Park Hyatt’s New York Bar, featured in the movie Lost in Translation. But boy was I wrong about this place. Located on the 52nd floor of a hotel on a hill, New York Bar at night provided an almost other-worldly view of Tokyo’s urban sprawl from above. Though the Tokyo Tower that we visited the following morning has a higher observatory, it really couldn’t compete with New York Bar’s floor to ceiling views of the city lit up at night.

13. Exploring the narrow allies of Golden Gai

Tokyo’s Golden Gai neighborhood boasts then highest density of bars in the world. In the space of a few city block are narrow pedestrian allies packed with closet-sized bars. Each of the tiny drinking spots is distinctly decorated, each with just a half-dozen seats. During our visit to Golden Gai, our group pushed the seating limits at one of the small spots, where we sat in a bar under a stairwell, resembling the fictional bedroom of Harry Potter.

14. Taking in a bizarre show at the Robot Restaurant

IMG_5056

Tokyo is renowned around the globe for its wacky-weird entertainment sensibility. Experiencing one of the city’s themed restaurants and cafes makes anyone’s list of must-do activities when visiting. For much of our group, the Robot Restaurant was the café of choice. I’d been looking forward to the café for years, after Anthony Bourdain visited on Parts Unknown, yet I couldn’t have anticipated just how unusual the two-hour variety show filled with unrelated characters and neon lights truly was.

15. Singing karaoke on a dinner cruise in the Tokyo Bay

IMG_5092

The trip officially concluded with a dinner boat cruise in the Tokyo Bay. We ate tempura and  sashimi, sang karaoke, and enjoyed views of the city’s illuminated skyline from the water. We toasted our organizers, the group of students that the Chazen study tour lottery brought together, and the country we’ve enjoyed getting to know over the past week.

-Zoe Fox

Japan, Spring 2016

Chazen Japan: Cultural Misunderstandings

IMG_479982829.JPG

It’s been a busy 48 hours since I last posted. We spent an exciting day visiting the Toyota factory and showroom, stayed an evening at a traditional Japanese Ryokan hotel, rode the high-speed bullet train to Tokyo, met with a member of the House of Representitives and SIPA grad Nubohide Minorikawa, attended an alumni reception hosted by the Columbia Business School Club of Japan including a presentation by the CEO of robotics company Cyberdyne, toured airline ANA’s maintenance floor, and visited e-commerce company Rakuten’s headquarters.

I’ve been thinking this week about how terms like the “developed world” and the “western world” are often used interchangeably, yet Japan truly disproves that “developed” and “western” are one in the same. Because of how developed the country is, it’s differences from the U.S. feel even more striking. During our conversation with Mr. Minorikawa, he shared what he believed to be the two most difficult things for Japanese people to understand about Americans: our lack of gun control and our limited social welfare programs. Bernie Sanders, he explained, is proposing “progressive” legislation that is considered an integral part of Japanese society. Roughly one third of Japan’s national budget is spent on social welfare, partially due to providing for its aging population.

On the other hand, Columbia Business School students have had some difficult realizations about Japanese culture. One key observation discussed throughout the week by the women on the trip was the lack of female business leaders in the companies that we’ve visited. When we asked about female participation in the workforce and female leadership we learned that its traditional for women in Japan to attend college, join a company, and find a spouse through work. Once the young couple marries and has children, the women’s career will end. While this isn’t completely unlike American culture, many companies and policy makers in the U.S. take active roles in reversing this trend. Japan, we’ve learned is just at the very beginning of these discussions. We heard discussion about a new government mandate that companies report the number of women employed in management roles, but this policy is just at its beginning stages.

Despite our shared status as “developed” countries, the U.S. and Japan, we’ve learned, have different ideas about societal progress.

-Zoe Fox ’17

Japan, Spring 2016