Chazen Argentina: Lessons Learned

Upon reflection, our experience in Argentina taught us a number of lessons related to the true state of political economy and macroeconomics in the country. It is no secret that Argentina has had a complicated and tumultuous history related to the consequences of its economic policies instituted by its political leadership. Argentina has defaulted on its debt twice since 2001 and has had limited access to the international capital markets since then. Moreover, high inflation, approximately 25% inflation each year, has also been a part of the Argentine narrative. Given these factors, we expected to see a much different political and economic climate than we observed. Below are our takeaways:

High inflation and Argentina’s tough economic climate is part of of Argentina’s narrative but does not define Argentina. When we toured the country, many of the individuals (everyday citizens, business leaders, politicians) all agreed that inflation and a more stable economic climate is a major goal for Argentina. However, this is not at the forefront of the national psyche on a daily basis. To us, Buenos Aires and Mendoza did not appear to be in a state of crisis and individuals proceeded with their daily life similar to countries with less severe economic crises. I think this was eye-opening for us as the picture of Argentina painted internationally does not always reflect the reality of everyday Argentina.

Optimism and change are a major theme throughout Argentina. The election of President Macri in late December has been met with a new wave of optimism throughout the capital city of Buenos Aires. During our company visits, business professionals expressed excitement about the possibility of a better environment for business in the country. Moreover, Argentina remains close to resolving its outstanding debt and many are looking forward to Argentina’s future participation in international capital markets.

The Macri Government has the potential to change the way Argentine government operates. Chief of Staff Marcos Pena spoke about opportunities to reign in fiscal spending and creating government budgets that provide more benefits to Argentine citizens. The overall goal is to spend money more efficiently moving forward. These type of policies are both business friendly as well as friendly to the individuals who also need more public services.

Looking back, our visit to Argentina reflects a country that appears to have a promising future. While Argentina does have considerable challenges, it should not be defined by them as the Argentina we saw reflected a more nuance picture. Our opportunity to be fully immersed in the culture, speak with major business leaders and government officials has allowed to see Argentina as it should be seen – a country with major potential to be a prominent international player once again.

Visit to the Pink House and Mendoza

Ariel Williams ’16

We spent the last day of Buenos Aires at the Casa Rosada, or the headquarters of the President of Argentina. Similar to the White House, the Casa Rosada houses the offices of those working for the Argentine government. However, unlike the White House, presidents of Argentina live elsewhere.  The house is emblematic of Argentina’s Belle Epoque era and highlights many aspects of Argentine history. One of the highlights for me was getting the opportunity to stand on the balcony that former President Eva Peron once stood to communicate with Argentine citizens.

IMG_0134.jpgVisiting the Pink House in Mendoza was an excellent way to finish off our time in Buenos Aires. 

In addition to our tour of the Casa Rosada, we also had the opportunity to meet with President Macri’s Chief of Staff, Marcos Pena. It was a rare chance to ask questions about the new government’s plan for Argentina. Pena was very open when discussing Argentina’s current challenges, but was also pragmatic in their government’s approach to  addressing the country’s major issues.

Once we left the Casa Rosada, we all traveled to Mendoza, where we met with with Governor of Mendoza. It was really interesting to see the contrast between the challenges of Argentina’s national government with the concerns and challenges of the country’s regional governments. He spoke about a number of issues relating to Mendoza including decreasing poverty, increasing investment in education and supporting industries in Mendoza, including the wine and energy industry. Because Mendoza is known for its wine, we  took advantage of the opportunity to visit a winery. We spent time learning about the operations behind wine making at  winery Salentien where we toured the facilities and had a traditional Argentine asado (barbecue). It was definitely a highlight of the trip!

IMG_0125.jpgA top down photo of the oak barrels where wine is housed at Salentein. Once a year a concert is held in this space.

Company Visits in Buenos Aires

 

Ariel Williams ’16

In my last post, I highlighted many of the cultural aspects we encountered during our first few days in the city. Since then, we have had the opportunity to learn more about government, business and society from our visits in Buenos Aires. While the visits represented a number of different industries throughout Argentina, many of the firms echoed the same optimism about Argentina’s ability to be a much better environment for business in the coming years.

DAY 1 of COMPANY VISITS

We first visited Banco Galicia, one of the country’s oldest and largest private banks, where we met with CEO Sergio Grinenko. The visit highlighted how different the commercial banking industry was from other countries. Banco Galicia focuses mainly on transactional operations and short-term lending. This differs greatly from banks in other countries where mortgages and long-term lending play an integral role in their core business. The differences are reflective of the tumultuous economic environment that has plagued the country since the turn of the century. But despite the high rate of inflation, the government defaults, and mismanaged economic policies; Banco Galicia has been able to persevere for more than 100 years.

We then also had the opportunity to meet with prominent economist Miguel Kiguel (Columbia University Grad!) who gave us an overview of Argentina’s potential for growth in the next few years. Kiguel’s remarks focused on the future of Argentina in the context of the Macri government and he expressed that new policies would help Argentina to resolve its debts and begin to experience a healthy growth rate. When we heard from Puente, CEO Emilio Ilac illustrated how these policies would positively affect their plan to expand aggressively and serve as the prominent Argentine small/mid market investment banking and financial services firm.

Columbia University visits PUENTE.JPGVisit with Puente.

DAY 2 of COMPANY VISITS

Our second day of company visits focused on media, agriculture, and real estate. Grupo Clarin, which is a media holding company, highlighted the challenges they have had operating under the previous Argentine government. It was interesting to see how impactful government could have on the ability of businesses to operating efficiently. Similar to previous visits, Clarin expressed excitement about being able to manage their businesses under a much better working relationship with the new government. Our visit with CRESUD reflected the new transition to develop agriculture and technology related to farming. In addition, it also illustrated the government challenges the firm faced when transitioning from an agriculture firm to a firm focusing on developing real estate.

That same day we met Domingo Cavallo, a famous economist who was instrumental in developing the fixed peg to the U.S. dollar in the 1990’s. It was fascinating to hear from him as he helped to illuminate the rational for developing the fixed peg (to stabilize inflation) and he was also frank about the missteps the country faced in managing the peg, monetary and fiscal policy.

DAY THREE of VISITS

Our third day of visits brought us an opportunity to connect with a fellow Columbia Business School Alumnus during our company visit at Tenaris. Tenaris, a supplier of finished steel piping to the oil and gas industry is part of a major international conglomerate Technint. The business was my first opportunity to visit a manufacturing firm where we learned how important process and quality control is to creating the pipes that move our energy. Moreover, the visit brought a lot of insight into how the effects of a global glut of oil will impact their business. It  not only was great to see a company with such a commanding international presence in Argentina, but it was also great to see the efforts Tenaris has made locally to impact their community.

IMG_0696 (1).jpgLearning about the steel making pipe process from the factory.

CBS at Tenaris.JPGAs part of our visit with Tenaris, we visited a technical and engineering school they created near their headquarters

We finished our day out with one of my favorite highlights of the trip – visiting River Plate, Argentina’s largest (and best!) soccer team. Chazen organizer Nicolas Kiguel (a very loyal fan) said that visiting the stadium would teach me the meaning of true passion. He was definitely right!

IMG_0712.jpgChazen organizer Nicolas Kiguel teaching us about passion!

I look forward to updating you all on our visit to the Casa Rosada and our adventures in Mendoza next time!

 

Bienvenidos a Argentina!

Ariel Williams ’16

Our Argentine adventure began early -3:30 a.m. to be exact- when we landed in Buenos Aires on Saturday morning. I was exhausted, but also I was too anxious to sleep as I was excited to get started on some of the activities we had planned for the next two days. Below are a few of the highlights from our first two days of cultural immersion.

DAY 1

Our first activity began with a tour around the northern part of the city. Buenos Aires is quite large with 48 neighborhoods or barrios. We first stopped at the Casa Rosada (the Pink House), which is similar to the White House as it serves as the president’s headquarters. This is where Eva Perron, one of Argentina’s most iconic political figures worked (this is also where Madonna filmed the biopic Evita!). Unlike the White House, the Casa Rosada  is only for government work as the President lives elsewhere in the city. The area around the Casa Rosada is primarily used for demonstrations – much like the National Mall in the United States.

IMG_0534La Casa Rosada

While on our tour of the city, we also stopped at Buenos Aires’ most popular tourist attraction – La Recoleta Cemetery. This cemetery is quite distinct as the grave sites are mainly vaults and mausoleums. It is considered one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world as the different grave sites reflect a number of architectural styles. These graves hold some of Argentina’s richest and most prominent families including the Eva Peron and her family. Accordingly, the cost to own a plot is literally some of the country’s most expensive real estate and some of the mausoleums have costed more than $1M USD to complete.

IMG_3705.jpegLa Recoleta Cemetery

DAY 2

We began our day with a boat tour of the Tigre Delta, a river delta that flows into the Rio de la Plata and the Rio Parana. This delta is one of the largest in the world and is unique because it does not empty into an ocean or sea. The destination is reminiscent of the belle-epoque era and many of the structures we saw built alongside of the delta reflected this fact. Today, the area has once again attracted many visitors to its shores as we saw a lot of vacation homes on the river banks.

IMG_0026.jpegTigre Delta Boat Tour

Following, the delta tour, many of us heading toward a polo ranch to learn about the business and how to play the game of polo. Argentina is home most of the world’s best polo players. While polo is not nearly as popular as soccer, is well regarded throughout the country and around the world. I have to admit, I was a little nervous playing polo as I had not ridden a horse in many years. The fact that we had to hold a polo mallet while riding a horse and playing a match seemed like an ambitious goal (not to mention it was also raining when we arrived)! However, the sun cleared up and we had a great opportunity to tour the fields (fun fact #1:more than nine soccer fields fit into one polo field!).

First, our instructors taught us about game strategy, the different techniques used to swing the mallets. Then they had us practice with the mallets (san horses!). Once we had “mastered” our mallet technique we each had the opportunity to get on a horse and attempt (I had many, many attempts) to hit the ball while on the horse. Watching everyone on the horses was quite comical – to think professionals do this riding at top speed is really impressive. I enjoyed learning about the game and spending time with the horses. Fun fact #2: more than 200 horses were at the polo ranch! Additionally, to play a  full match, a single player needs on average 4-8 horses!

IMG_5855.jpegMallet Practice

IMG_5719.jpegPolo Horses (!)

IMG_3234.jpegPolo Play

We concluded our day with a Tango show. This show took us through the history of tango in Argentina and reflected a number of different periods in Argentina’s history beginning with the late 19th century. As a dancer, I really enjoyed watching a style of dance I’ve never seen performed. The dancing was full of drama and the footwork was incredibly intricate. My only regret was that I didn’t have the opportunity to take a lesson myself! I’ll keep this in mind for my inevitable return to Buenos Aires.

Now that we’ve had several days of cultural immersion, I look forward to visiting with top Argentine firms and understanding Argentina’s business climate.

Stay Tuned!

Countdown to Argentina!

Ariel Williams ’16 – Argentina

Happy New Year Everyone! I’ve finally made it to 2016 (which is awesome) but, more importantly, I’m excited that I’m less than TWO days from the start of my study tour of Buenos Aires and Mendoza, Argentina!

I’m going into this trip knowing very little of Argentina’s culture, history and business environment. I’ve done a little preliminary research and asked a number of individuals who have been to Argentina before (they all have made me very keen on tasting the steak and wine!), but I really want this trip to be a nine day adventure in discovery. With that said, I’m going to dedicate this post to all of the things I’m looking forward to discovering as I make my way through the country.

We will begin the trip in Buenos Aires, where the plan is to visit seven prominent businesses representing a number of industries. Two of our visits will be with financial firms, Banco Galicia and Puente. Argentina has had several major financial crises in the few decades, including the 2001 economic crisis where the country ultimately defaulted on its debt. These two banks certainly have managed to survive that crisis and I think our visits could provide unique insight into Argentina’s fascinating and sometimes turbulent economic history.

Additionally, we will visit Grupo Clarin, a media holding company, Tenaris, a supplier and service provider to some of the world’s leading oil and gas companies, and Cresud, a business specifically involved in agricultural services. We will also get the opportunity to meet with Economist Domingo Felipe Cavallo and Marcos Pena, chief of newly elected President Mauricio Macri’s cabinet. Visiting Argentina so soon after the election will definitely be a great opportunity to understand the current political, cultural, and economic climate in the country. I am especially excited for the visit to Club Atletico River Plate, one of Argentina’s sports clubs and football teams. I previously worked in the sports industry and have dedicated a lot of my graduate studies learning about the international sports industry.

We will move on to Mendoza for the final leg of our trip. While I know even less about Mendoza than I do about Buenos Aires, I know that Mendoza is wine country in Argentina. Naturally, visiting winery Salentein, will be a great educational (and tasty!) experience. We will have one other official visit (with the Governor of Mendoza) while in the region, and will dedicate the rest of our time to some outdoor activities. I imagine hiking so close to the Andes and river rafting will definitely be memorable.

There are so many things that I haven’t mentioned that I’m also looking forward to and perhaps a little nervous (read: polo!) to experience. Having lived in a Spanish speaking country previously, I look forward to communicating in Spanish. As a dancer, I look forward to watching a Tango performance and experiencing the night life. And most importantly, as a member of the CBS community, I look forward to experiencing all of these things with my classmates and friends. Now I’m off to start packing. Stay tuned for updates from Argentina!