Guatemala: Foundations

Guatemala’s GDP per capita is comparable to that of the US in the late 1800’s. There is a long way to go for the country to achieve a good level of development. With such large challenge, who is leading this much-needed growth and making the necessary investments? At the moment, a few family-run conglomerates are taking the lead and setting the foundations for Guatemala. As we try to relate to the business environment in America, the scenario has similarities from how the US was in the late 19th century, but brings new challenges. We visited two of those business groups, in the construction and in the food and beverage industries.

Cementos Progreso manufactures cement and aggregates. The facilities are world-class, as could not be different as they operate in a global environment. However, they face two challenges that are unique to developing countries. In order to keep expanding, they first need to look externally for investments. Secondly, they need to look internally to develop their community. As an example of the external investment side, the company is currently building a new plant which required over 700M dollars. The financing came from retained earnings, loans from local banks, and an international bond. Only mature companies are able to build this complex financial structure in the country.


Field tour at Cementos Progreso

Cerveceria Centroamericana is in the food and beverage industry, with beer as its main product. They are currently doubling the capacity as they face competition from AB Inbev, the largest beer company in the world. The group also has investments in energy, packaging, infrastructure and real estate. Their CEO, Guillermo Castillo, sees himself as an asset manager who seeks opportunities for growth in different lines of business.


With Guillermo Castillo, CEO of Cerveceria Centroamericana

Both businesses are aware of the need to develop their communities. In Guatemala, it is not enough to work on the supply side. Smart business also need to help aggregate demand expand. Among other initiatives, they run amazing projects focusing on education and food. A lot of kids in Guatemala do not get adequate nutrition, preventing them from reaching their full intellectual capacity. In order to tackle it, Cementos Progreso runs a program to cultivate a local tree that is rich in nutrients. Cerveceria Centroamericana runs a program through their foundation, providing daily meals to hundreds of students at school. In addition, both groups run schools and even employed some of their students after graduation. The ultimate goal is to create a virtuous development cycle.

Social projects at Cementos Progreso

The final part of the Chazen tour will focus on more initiatives with social impact. Before that, a final message from José Raúl, CEO of Cementos Progreso: “If you want to help people, create jobs that generate wealth”.


– Pedro Barata ’18

Searching for South Africa’s Entrepreneurs

After the impossibly beautiful nestled-between-the-sea-and-hills views of Cape Town and the primordial right-out-of-Planet-Earth feel of our Kruger Park safaris, Chazen South Africa landed at our final destination earlier this week: the commercial capital of South Africa, Johannesburg.

IMG_3115.jpgJohannesburg was built from scratch around neighboring gold mines—unlike the other big commercial cities of the globe, it has no natural advantages such as river or sea access—so it was fitting that the question occupying us during our business visits here was how new businesses in South Africa can similarly be built from scratch. That is, what exactly is the state of South African entrepreneurship?

We visited a man called Sizwe Nxasana, perhaps one of the most inspirational business leaders any of us have met. Sizwe was one of the first six black accountants in apartheid South Africa. Considering all the odds against black businessmen before the country became a democracy in 1994, he managed to co-found his own accounting firm in 1989 that today is the fifth largest in the country after the global Big Four auditors.

IMG_3162.jpgA born career-switcher, Sizwe then went on to become CEO of the state-run telecom company in 1998. Though he knew nothing about telecom, he understood that telecommunications would be the way to help poor blacks reach into the new century. He helped partially privatize the company, list it on public bourses, and cut its bloated staff by half. If that wasn’t enough, the restless Sizwe switched again—leading one of the nation’s largest banks. Now semi-retired, he devotes his whole time to an education nonprofit he founded Sifiso Learning Group, with the goal of improving both quality and access to education.

Are there lessons from Sizwe’s own story? He humbly says he just happened to be at the right place in the right time, one of the few black South Africans with a business background who could help Nelson Mandela’s post-apartheid state rebuild. But he is worried that entrepreneurs across South Africa are today getting squeezed by the triple pincers of Big Government, Big Business and Big Labor.

The government highly regulates many parts of the economy—in education, for instance, there are lots of mandates about what can be taught, and even rules governing the hours of the school day. Meanwhile, the budget deficit is worryingly rising, sucking capital that could otherwise be deployed to the private sector.

As for Big Business, they probably like the rules that erect barriers for newcomers. Lastly, unions throw up problems for hiring. Teacher unions are some of the most vocal opponents of the education reform Sizwe and others want, for example. At this rate, it’s difficult for South African entrepreneurs to break out.

The good news is that it is possible for a homegrown South African business to become a powerful global brand. To witness that, we visited Nando’s, the casual dining chain famous for its spicy Mozambican chicken.

Nando’s was started by two South African entrepreneurs in the late 1980s, and grew because of its tasty product (which is a local staple in neighboring Mozambique); its impeccable quality control of its chillies from local farmers; and a plucky brand that gets attention through provocative advertising campaigns. Nando’s isn’t that big in the U.S. yet (there are just 40 locations), but it’s become a cultural staple in the U.K., and is growing quickly in the Middle East and India.

98C5D308-A10A-402D-8E8A-C26F63BBF12D.jpgEntrepreneurship is hard in most parts of the world. But it’s even more so in South Africa, given the pressures governments, big businessmen and unions apply. Perhaps the consolation here is that the entrepreneurs who do make it have to have such velocity to escape the harsh gravity of this economy, that they truly zoom onto the world stage.

~Abheek Bhattacharya ’18

Goodbye Vietnam

Today is the last day of the GIP Vietnam and we will end tonight with the Farewell Dinner at a typical Vietnamese restaurant. The last two days in Hanoi have been amazing. We have had the opportunity not only to visit local companies, but also to meet the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and to see the most important historic places of the city.

Yesterday we started our Hanoi trip with the visit to Metlife, the insurance company, where the local CEO explained us the challenges and the potential of a country where the life insurance penetration is very low, but it is expected to rapidly grow in the next few years.

Then, we made a very interesting historic tour. We started visiting the Hoa Lo Prison, originally built by the French and then used during the war against the Americans. After that, we visited the Temple of Literature and the buildings around the Presidential Palace and the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum.

We ended the day meeting the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs to speak about international trade and relations, especially with China and US. It has been an honor and a privilege to meet one of the main politicians of the country, who is a Columbia SIPA Alumnus.


Today we visited Vietcombank, one of the top three Vietnamese banks, and we appreciated the huge untapped potential that the banking system represents in Vietnam.

Then we moved to the US Embassy where we met in small groups local entrepreneurs and students that wanted to ask us advice for their businesses and future careers. During this talk, I have personally felt the great privilege for being part of the MBA program and I have seen this opportunity as a “give back” experience. Talking with the students I understood how much was important for them to learn good English and to study in the US to enrich their background, a privilege that I am experiencing myself as an international student in New York.

Concluding this Vietnamese experience, the first one for me in Asia, I personally believe that each of us will bring back great learning and memories from the trip. Goodbye Vietnam!


Elena Richermo ’18

Ready to Explore Growth Opportunities in China


In a few short hours, 30 of us will commence a trip of a lifetime learning first-hand about the latest developments in the Chinese Economy and exploring business opportunities in Shenzhen, China (aka the Silicon Valley of Hardware) and Hong Kong. Our research proposals and interest in the Chinese economy are as diverse as we are – from launching a local beer company to exploring clean energy opportunities and to developing e-commerce businesses across various industries.

In preparing for this excursion, we had the opportunity to learn more about the Chinese Economy from Professor Shang-Jin Wei. He notes that “China is not only the world’s largest manufacturing exporter, but has emerged to have the largest digital economy as well. China has been the largest single country contributor to global GDP growth since 2001 currently at 9%, but is facing pressures from a rising labor cost and a shrinking labor force. “Everything is possible, but nothing is easy” is an apt description that speaks to both enormous opportunities and massive challenges present in this economy.”

In order to be well equipped to complete our report following the trip, a robust agenda has been prepared –  In between a lot of dinners and sightseeing, we will visit the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority as well as select leading companies in various industries – internet, telecoms, hardware. We will also have some free time for self-arranged meetings.

Our preparation has been very useful to guide us on how to take full advantage of this trip and we are very excited and ready to explore growth opportunities in this transforming economy. Stay tuned!


Eniola Abimbola ‘18

Learn more about the Laidlaw Chazen Travel Fund here


Safari Times in South Africa

From Cape Town, Chazen South Africa made its way to Kruger Park and its glorious five million acres of forest reserves last weekend. We went on not one, but two safari treks over two days.

IMG_2991.jpgThe more serious highlights were:

  • Witnessing four of the “Big Five” game animals, so called because if you attack them, they will attack back:
    • Wild buffalos, the most unpredictable of these five. Thankfully, we saw them from afar.
    • A lion, lazy and imperious.
    • Many elephants, one too close to our safari jeep for comfort.
    • And, despite all the species’s surreptitiousness, some of us managed two sightings of leopards. In one of these, the big cat was cooling itself on the branch of a tree.
  • The only one of the Big Five we didn’t get to see: the rhino.
    • That’s no surprise given the horrific increase in rhino poaching that’s occurred across the continent since 2008. The reason? Chinese and Vietnamese households either desire the powder of the rhino horn (for bizarre medical reasons) or the horn itself as a symbol of wealth and status. The rhino is now shockingly endangered in South Africa.
    • We attended an excellent lecture on rhino conservation, where we heard all the myriad ways South Africa has tried to stave off poachers but failed. I personally came away with the conclusion that the one path South Africa hasn’t taken may be the best shot—and that is, to legalize the trade of rhino horns. This might paradoxically help save the rhino. It will help officials flood the market with their own stockpile of rhino horns, thereby driving the global price down, and also allow them to tightly regulate activities.

The less serious highlights were:

  • Our spot-on safari wear, some of it hastily acquired in Cape Town to fit the occasion. Shout-outs to Patrick Yee ’19 and Ankit Chadha ’19 for being especially spot on.


  • Dinner in the bush—in a small enclosure in the forest—where we ate some finger-licking sausages made from the kudu (an antelope), and rang in a trip member’s 30th
  • Those few occasions when we witnessed the, ahem, “fifth leg” of these quadrupeds.
  • That one time one of us (who will go unnamed) thought that the leopard the rest of us spotted on a tree was lying on the ground. Alas, he was looking at a rock.
  • All those times some of us (including this writer) squealed on seeing a game animal.
  • All the times the men of Chazen South Africa ’18 flirted with the stunning female safari tour guide, but never managed to get her number.


All in all, it was an epic safari trip. In fact, to borrow a phrase from one of the most vivacious members of our entourage, nothing Chazen South Africa ’18 did wasn’t epic.

~Abheek Bhattacharya ’18

Guatemala: Origins

We started our Chazen tour at Tikal, an ancient Mayan city that dates back to 400 BC. What an amazing place! Led by Liwy Grazioso, we learned about the origins of this great society. The Mayans were a resilient people that managed to adapt to the landscape in order to survive for over a thousand years. Starting with small groups led by a chief, the society gradually got more organized. Science and religion flourished, while different tribes developed their own languages throughout the years. Over 20 dialects evolved throughout time, most of them being still active. Until today, they are a major topic of interest. But did we study archeology? The sites were amazing and we had a great time, but the main answer would come later.

CBS Chazen at Tikal


Back at Guatemala City, the following day we met with Álvaro Arzú, former president of the country and current mayor of Guatemala City. He is without doubt one of the most influential individual in the region. When asked about his regrets in life, he mentioned: “I wish I had studied more about history”. For me, it relates directly to learning about the Mayans in order to understand the current Guatemalan society. But he probably already knew about this part – it is his society after all. He mentioned specifically that he wishes he knew in detail the history of Mexico when he got into politics. During his terms, Guatemala repeated some of the same mistakes previously done by Mexico.

As MBA students, it is pivotal to learn about the societies we are working on. This is how we can put all the thoughts and case studies into perspective.

Ricardo Quiñónez (vice-mayor), Álvaro Arzú (former president and current mayor of Guatemala City) and Paulina Dougherty (CBS’18)

As a final message, he recommended being more “high touch” and connecting to people. His main story was no ordinary one. As a leader in the negotiations for the peace with the guerrillas in the 90s, Mr. Arzú achieved an agreement after meeting the guerrilla leader. In a bold (and illegal) move, he agreed to join a secret meeting at El Salvador. After more than 7 hours of conversation, both leaders saw they had more shared goals than divergences. The peace agreement of 1996 ended 36 years of civil war. The message: more face-to-face conversations and less cold texting.

Check the official video: Columbia University visita MuniGuate

Now we are ready for more company and cultural visits. Stay tuned!

– Pedro Barata ’18

Ho Chi Minh City: the financial capital

Company visits in Ho Chi Minh City have been simply great. We met both international companies and local ones and we were all extremely impressed by the professionalism and the enthusiasm that each company put in presenting their business.

We started on Monday with JLL, the real estate international company that provides services worldwide. Real estate is for sure one of the most attractive sectors in Vietnam, not only for residential, but also for office, retail and industrial. According to their perspective, one of the main challenge will be the balance between affordability and good living conditions for residential properties.

After that, we visited Masan Group, one of the top three private Vietnamese companies, specialized in food and beverage. We had the possibility to discuss the importance of human capital and to discover the main consumer trends that will shape Vietnamese environment in the next few years.


We ended the day visiting Vina Capital, a Private Equity firm that invests in Vietnamese companies. It was a great opportunity to better understand the local economy, with a special focus on the foreign investments.

On Tuesday, we visited the Vietnamese subsidiary of Friesland Campina (The Dutch Lady) and we met the local CEO. The support to local farmers and the involvement of the workers are key elements of their business. We visited also the production plant: a great experience especially for the ones of us that had never visited a dairy plant!

The day continued with a cultural visit to the Chu Chi Tunnels. They were built during the French control and the Viet Cong used them during the war against the Americans. This historical visit gave us the possibility to reflect upon one of the most important events of the 20th Century.

Today we visited other two companies in Ho Chi Minh City. The day started with a BCG presentation. Talking with the local consultants, we understood the advantages of doing consulting in an emerging country, where there is the possibility to see immediately the impact of your work, even in junior positions.


After that, we visited iCare, a social impact start-up that provides benefits to the employees of the big companies. The high concentration of workers in specific areas of the country allows the company to be profitable, leaving at the same time a positive impact to the community.

We left then for Hanoi, where tomorrow we will start company visits and cultural tours. Goodbye Ho Chi Minh City! It has been a pleasure to meet you!

Elena Richermo ’18