Tunisia: Discovering Tunisian Agriculture & the Roman City of Uthina

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Modern oil manufacturing equipment at Al Jazira

Today our class visited two agricultural businesses located south of Tunis. Al Jazira Olive Oil led us through a tour of their manufacturing facility and taught us about the production and distribution process of olive oil both within and outside of Tunisia. 1 ton of olives typically yields 200 liters of oil and Al Jazira creates mostly extra virgin olive oil varieties. They utilize Chaibi olives and maximize their production during the growing season, which lasts from October to January, by utilizing a modern processing facility. The company participates in many international tasting competitions and trade shows each year as part of its strategy to continue to identify international distributors.


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Sun Antipasti production line

Next we visited the factory of Sun Antipasti, an agri-food company that produces and distributes tomato paste, harissa, and thin pastry sheets.  These pastry sheets, called bricks, are becoming increasingly popular around the world and we were treated to samples of the final products following our visit. Sun Antipasti exports its products to international markets – check out their website to find their products near you! Both Al Jazira olive oil and Sun Antipasti have immense potential for international expansion and are taking advantage of favorable export regulations to grow their presence.

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With the Sun Antipasti team following our visit

We then visited ruins of the ancient Roman city of Uthina, which was only recently discovered and 80% of which is believed to still be underground. Throughout the tour we enjoyed scenic views of the ancient town, including the old aqueduct, underground hammams, and a stunning amphitheater. The Amphitheater once seated 16,000 spectators for views of Many of the town’s original mosaics are now displayed in the Bardo museum in Tunis.  While much of the original structures across Uthina have been restored, nothing new has been added to the town and much of the original beauty remains.

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Roman ampitheater at Uthina

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Katie Tsantes (’19) is an MBA Candidate at Columbia Business School

Tunisia: Building Entrepreneurship from the Bottom Up

AfricInvest hosted us in the Tunisian medina on the anniversary of the Tunisian revolution

During our first two official days in Tunisia we have had the opportunity to meet with a range of companies, including AfricInvest, BIAT, and IAEC. On Monday we were hosted by private equity firm AfricInvest to learn more about their localized model of investing across Africa. AfricInvest has a unique approach to operating in each country across North Africa and has adjusted its model to fit the needs of the various political and economic conditions of Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia. The majority of the team’s 70 investment officers are based in Tunis and rely on their specialized knowledge of each market in order to identify the best targets.

An introduction to Biat Foundation’s commitment to entrepreneurship

Students then had the opportunity to learn meet with executives at BIAT, Tunisia’s largest bank based on deposits. Board member Mohamed Elyes Ben Rayana discussed the economic implications of Tunisia’s transition to democracy, including the persistent presence of twin deficits (budget and current account). In order to invest in Tunisians as the builders of the future, Biat has launched an incubator and accelerator program to foster the entrepreneurial spirit across the nation. B@t labs serves as an incubator for early stage ventures, which includes a 4-month development process during which entrepreneurs gain access to resources needed to reach a proof of concept. Flat6labs then serves as an accelerator for more advanced venture that works to provide Tunisian entrepreneurs with seed funding and additional coaching after they have developed a minimum viable product.

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Walking through B@t labs incubator

We also had the opportunity to hear from three leaders at IACE, who work across sectors. Members of the panel represented:

  • Galion: a private manufacturing company that specializes in plastic packaging
  • Poulina: initially a poultry company that has grown to a conglomerate with businesses ranging from ceramics to data centers
  • Magasin General: a chain of supermarkets that continues to refine its model to meet the needs of Tunisian consumers

Each panelist discussed the individual opportunities and challenges of their sector, as well as how economic developments following the revolution have impacted their businesses.

Katie Tsantes (’19) is an MBA candidate at Columbia Business School

Taste of the Philippines!

Day 2 of the Philippines began at the home of Secretary Mar Roxas. with a Filipino style breakfast prepared by Asia’s Best Female Chef, Chef Margarita Fores (affectionately known as Tita Margarita). Breakfast was comprised of Garlic Rice, Chorizo, Lumpia, Mangos and more! While different from a traditional American breakfast, you could tell that the group embraced it, as at the end, all of the plates were clean!

Immediately after our breakfast meeting with Senator Mar Roxas, we proceeded to a local farmers’ market, that was a few minutes walk from our initial starting point. At each stop, Tita Margarita gave us a colorful explanation of each food item and then often followed by a demonstration from the local vendors.

Keep on reading for highlights from our tour!

Stop 1: Filipino Fruits!!

Upon entrance of the market, we were greeted with lots of colorful fruits. Our fruit taste test began with mangos, locally referred to as mangaa, the Philippine’s national fruit. We then had samples of the following fruits: Lanzones, Chico, and Guyabano, which is also known for its “miracle” properties.

Stop 2: Coconut Milk + Coconut Water

We then moved to the part of the market where we watched the process of taking coconuts to create coconut milk. The coconut milk was both very creamy and flavorful. We then observed the process to cut young coconuts to obtain coconut water. Tita Margarita reminded us that coconut water is a good beverage choice after a long, late night (wink wink) due to its natural hydrating properties.

Stop 3: Lumpia

At breakfast, we had our first taste of Lumpia, a spring roll native to the Philippines. Lumpia could take shape as either a sweet or savory snack. At the market, we observed the process of creating a lumpia wrapper. The process was similar to the creation of a crepe. Lumpia wrapper is traditionally made with egg, flour, and water with a bit of salt mixed into a wet dough. We watched the chef take the ball of dough and press it into a large heated metal plate several times, to make the wrapper.

Stop 5: Yellow Fin Tuna (and more)

We then entered into the “wet” portion of the market. Upon entrance we were greeted by a very large yellow fin tuna fish. Where we learned that this fish is typically exported to Japan. We had the opportunity to taste the tuna, along with some shrimp and crab, ceviche styled.

To close, we then offered parting gifts! We had local treats to take away, for us to munch on while we were in route to the day’s company visits, as well as a straw bag and hat as souvenirs!

To follow along with us, stay tuned for more blog posts from me (Jacinta James), and be sure to follow our journey on Instagram @columbiachazen.

Blissful in Bali: Taking Hospitality to the Next Level

Lunch at the Potato Head Beach Club, Katamama Boutique Hotel, Seminyak, Bali

Some say that the best way to understand your customer is to become a customer yourself. We had the opportunity to do just that during our three days in Bali on the second half of Chazen Indonesia, as we met with hospitality experts and patronized their establishments.

With 80% of Bali’s economy composed of tourism businesses, it was the perfect place to dive into the hospitality industry. We started our trip at the Katamama Boutique Hotel in Seminyak, Bali. After a delicious lunch at the hotel’s Potato Head Beach Club, we repaired to a hotel suite for an intimate and scintillating conversation with Andrew Steele, the Managing Director Bali & Corporate of the Potato Head Family.

Mr. Steele gave us an overview of his background, and plenty of insights into the current state of the hospitality industry. Having been born in Australia and grown up in Hong Kong, he spent 16 years working at Shangri La Group before joining Potato Head.

“You can’t fake cool – either you have it or you don’t,” he explained. In his view, the hospitality industry hasn’t changed much over the past 30 years, other than becoming more consolidated (the Starwood-Marriott merger.) Large brands are buying smaller boutique brands in an attempt to reach younger consumers. “But you can’t teach old dogs new tricks,” Mr. Steele said.

The restaurant features tons of greenery indoors, including the air plants hanging above the bar!

With the lack of disruption in the hospitality industry, Mr. Steele perceived that the time was ripe to introduce innovative concepts in customer experience that set Potato Head apart from other hospitality brands. He spoke about the importance of truly understanding your customer: Where do they go? What do they buy? What is important to them? What do they want? What do they value?

He also shared his thoughts on millennials – they “want to amalgamate experiences, not assets,” and value sustainability, environmental stewardship, engagement with community, and honesty and transparency in a brand. Handmade goods are more valuable to millennials than a traditional luxury retail item because they reflect the owner’s unique identity. At the same time, millennials are the “me generation” and will prioritize getting a good selfie above all. “Give them a green wall and they’ll ignore everything else,” Steele said. Companies should leverage this understanding to enable the millennial consumer’s journey toward self-expression.

A thought-provoking art installation in front of the Katamama Hotel

As far as doing good, Potato Head has several initiatives in place. The brand’s merchandising line works with local artisans and factories to use leftover materials in creating their furniture and other designs. They also chose to build a costly desalination facility for their water needs rather than rely on already-strained local water resources.

Mr. Steele spoke about the limitations to technology. “You need consistency to create an emotional journey, and tech doesn’t give you that,” he said. Brands need to use other means to create emotional touchpoints with customers because without an emotional connection, there is no sale. At Potato Head, he’s handled this with some innovative approaches to improving customer experience. For example, he eliminated the traditional hotel check-in desk and welcome drink. Instead, guests check in easily via a digital check in process and proceed to their rooms, where a bartender meets them and mixes a complimentary drink of their choice in the room.

The beginning of a beautiful sunset

Our conversation with Mr. Steele certainly gave us a lot of food for thought. Afterwards, he joined us at the resort’s bar for a poolside sundowner party accompanied by an out-of-this-world Bali sunset. As the sky danced through brilliant shades of peach, orange, pink and purple, we frolicked in the warm waves and lounged poolside — the perfect close to a blissful day in paradise.

Traditional Balinese dancers at the opening of Starbucks Dewata Coffee Sanctuary

Another highlight of our time in Bali was the serendipitous invitation we received to the exclusive opening reception of Bali’s new and one-of-a-kind Starbucks Dewata Coffee Sancuary on January 12. Earlier in the week, in Jakarta, we met with MAP (Mitra Adi Perkasa) executive Virendra Sharma, who generously invited us to join him at the event “if we happened to be in Bali over the weekend.” (MAP operates all of the Starbucks stores in Indonesia.) It so happened that we would be in Bali, staying at a resort near the new Starbucks over the weekend — in fact, we even caught the same flight from Jakarta to Bali as Mr. Sharma!

The Sanctuary is the biggest Starbucks location in Southeast Asia, and at 20,000 square feet, includes multistory cafe space and a lovely garden courtyard where customers can experience the coffee journey from bean to cup. At the reception, we had the opportunity to meet Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks, as well as reconnect with Mr. Sharma.

Other highlights of our time in Bali included a tour of the Kopi Luwak “Cat Poop coffee” plantation, a visit to the Ubud Monkey Forest, a stay at the gorgeous Nandini Jungle Resort and treatments at its transportative River Spa in Ubud.

Learning the art of Balinese cooking under the watchful eye of Chef Uduyara

We celebrated our last night together with a cooking class, dinner and night out at La Favela club. At our farewell dinner, each of us shared our favorite moments of the trip. Students mentioned the great diversity of companies we visited, our impromptu singalong with the band at the beer hall we visited, the chance to get a massage and wash off under a waterfall in Ubud, and encountering the tropical plants (Bali is one of the most biodiverse places in the world.)

I’ll be back soon with a final wrap-up blog post with reflections on the trip. Until then, everyone on Chazen Indonesia offers a huge thank you to our trip organizers Sanchit Ladha ’19, Diana McKeage ’19, and Bolu Adeyeye ’19, as well as Professor Liz Webb and Amber Liang of the Chazen Institute who accompanied us on our journey.

Breakfast in Bali. I think it’s going to be a good day…

Myanmar: Growing Pains in Government and Industry

Sule Pagoda in Yangon next to the Supreme Court building and the Yangon City Hall

“Doing Business in Myanmar” is the title of our course for the upcoming Global Immersion Program (GIP) where almost 30 Columbia Business School students will throw themselves into the cultural aspects and businesses in Yangon, the country’s largest city.

Really Professor Khandelwal? You stuck with the generic title for the course? (Pretty sure the default for all GIPs is “Doing Business in —“) You couldn’t come up with anything better like “Leadership Expedition to Patagonia” or “Philippines: Asia’s Rising Tiger?” There aren’t even tigers in the Philippines! See above for a better title for next year’s trip.

All jokes aside, Doing Business in Myanmar seems like an appropriate title. Everything we have learned thus far about the country is how far it has fallen behind its neighbors and the struggle it has faced trying to move from an authoritarian military regime to a democracy that would eventually stimulate growth in their businesses and the rights of their citizens. So maybe a simple title for the course is appropriate. Focusing on the fundamentals of what is necessary to move from a broken country to a competitor within Southeast Asia.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting…Traveling to Myanmar?

Over the last four weeks, I have been traveling the region and keeping an open mind about the different cultural experiences and business practices I’ve come across. From the countryside and cities of Vietnam, to Bangkok and the southern islands in Thailand, a quick trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and wrapping it up with a visit to Chiang Mai, I’ve tried to take in everything from local customs, customer interactions, government regulations and how citizens go on about their day to day lives.

The entire trip, I have thought about Myanmar, and specifically Yangon, and how they will compare to these places. I could be completely wrong, but I picture Yangon as a mix between Hanoi, Vietnam and Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Hanoi is full of amazing smells, annoying sounds, and delicious food that when combined with the old colonial French buildings makes it seem much smaller than a city with a population of 7.5 million. However, as soon as you see the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and the nearby museum dedicated to the same man, you are reminded of the communist party’s control of the country. Albeit for better or for worse, one cannot deny that on the surface, the government has a much stronger presence and influence on its people than the surrounding countries.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam

Chiang Mai is a popular tourist destination in Northern Thailand that is home to over 300 Buddhist temples scattered throughout the city and the surrounding area. The people, mostly Buddhists, have been incredibly hospitable, friendly, and genuine with their actions. I found myself having to negotiate so frequently in Vietnam, that a classmate pointed out I developed a pattern whenever making a purchase. In Vietnam, I would frequently haggle the price and usually get the souvenir, taxi ride, or meal for much less. In Thailand, it went something like this:

Vendor: Friend, for you, I give you this [jade bracelet] for 100 baht.

Me: 100 Baht!?!? *Does math in head really quickly* (that’s like.. about $3) That’s… that’s actually a really good price. Okay, yeah…I’ll take it.

So that is how I picture Yangon. A city filled with kind people who are still feeling the weight of their government bear down upon them. A city, like Hanoi, that has a colonial past and an oppressive government in the present, with Buddhist temples scattered throughout. People who are trying to make ends meet and welcome tourists into their country which has historically suffered lower tourism rates that most (if not all, this is a blog post, not a research paper) of the neighboring countries in the region.

Most importantly, I’m excited for the company visits and hope to learn about the progress that has developed in recent years and the optimism (or pessimism) about the future of Myanmar and where business leaders think it will be in 20 years. Like most of the neighboring Southeast Asian cities, I’m interested to see the dynamic between the corporations vying for early positions in a developing city and the local businesses that would prefer cash to avoid taxes and can bend just about any rule to garner a sale.

The largest city in Myanmar, Yangon, which has struggled to maintain a 24-hour power supply as recent as early 2018 (something we don’t even come close to thinking about as an issue, literally taking for granted) will have surprises for us all. Doing business in Myanmar is more complicated than it seems.

Oliver Salman (’19) is an MBA Candidate at Columbia Business School

Doing Business in Batik

Office tour at Go-Jek

“In Indonesia, we measure distance in time, not in kilometers,” said our tour guide, Pahet, as he rattled off our packed itinerary for the day on Monday morning, the first day of the Chazen Indonesia trip. Later that day, at our visit to the Citra Abadi Sejati textile factory, our guide echoed the sentiment with a smile after we recounted our multi-hour adventure in Jakarta traffic: “Has that been one of your important learnings from today?”

It was just one of many realities of Indonesian life we confronted face to face in our three days in the country’s vibrant capital city. We also learned how to make the traditional Indonesian attire (the batik); how to breathe air thick with humidity; how to make room in our stomachs for the delightful pastries and treats we are offered at each company visit; and about many of the challenges and opportunities that face Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world.

Our visit at BKPM
Mr. Lembong (center) in conversation with CBS Professor Liz Webb and CBS students.

Over the course of three days in the nation’s capital and largest city, we visited seven different companies, ranging from technology startups to established textile producers and retail managers. At BKPM (Indonesian Investment Coordinating Board), an agency that assists foreigners with investing in Indonesia, we met with Mr. Thomas Lembong, who gave us an overview of Indonesia’s political and economic history. He spoke about the importance of aligning a country’s economic ambitions with a realistic self-awareness of its character, strengths and weaknesses. With Indonesian cultural strengths being hospitality, tolerance, and openness, he expects the nation to continue growing its tourism potential.

Photo following the tour of the Citra Abadi Sejati factory

Later that day, at the Citra Abadi Sejati textile factory, operated by Busana Apparel Group, one of the largest textile manufacturers in the world, we got behind the scenes to see how skirts and pants are produced for brands like J. Crew, Ann Taylor, and J. Jill. On a walking tour of four different factories, we saw every step of the process, from fabric selection and sourcing to sewing, dying, folding, ironing, tagging and finishing. It was fascinating to better understand this key component of the US and international fashion and retail industries.

Another highlight of our company visits was our tour of Go-Jek’s Jakarta office. It’s reminiscent of a typical West Coast tech office space, with lots of open space and colorful, on-brand design elements. The Go-Play room includes games while the Go-Chill room offers a place to lounge, and when employees need a quick recharge, they can head to the Go-Sleep room.
Go-Jek started in 2010 as an ojek-hailing call center (ojeks are motor scooters that accept passengers, a popular form of transit in Jakarta) and has since become a platform offering users access to shopping and restaurant delivery, taxis, digital payments, event and movie tickets and much more. Go-Jek users can even top up their bank account by giving cash to a driver, who also serves as a “mobile teller.” We learned about their recent expansion into Vietnam and plans for future growth. 

Of course, our time in Jakarta wasn’t all work and no play! We enjoyed a batik-making workshop at Jakarta’s Textile Museum, traditional massages at our hotel spa, a meet-up with Columbia alumni in a beautiful rooftop bar, and an impromptu karaoke night at a local beer hall with a live band.

Joining in with the band at Paulaner Brauhaus
Batik workshop at the Textile Museum
Enjoying the view at Skye Bar

Stay tuned in the next few days for a recap of our adventures in Bali during the second half of the trip!

Tunisia: Exploring Entrepreneurship in Emerging Markets

Downtown Tunis

Tunisia has often graced headlines in the past few years for its foundational role in the Arab Spring and subsequent path towards political and economic stability. Beyond the headlines, what makes the business environment in Tunisia unique? Our course so far has focused on learning about the nuances of entrepreneurship in Tunisia. We’ve had the opportunity to learn about the unique conditions facing new ventures in emerging markets from guest speakers including Columbia University Professor Safwan Masri and Columbia Business School Professor Marco Viola.

We also had the opportunity to work with Tunisian graduate students who are participating in Open Startup Tunisia, a startup competition in partnership with Columbia Engineering and Business School that supports Tunisian youth eager to open up to the world. Six finalist teams in this competition have been paired with teams of Columbia Business School students to further build out their proposed business models. In working together to develop financial models and refine our Business Model Canvas, our class has received a window into market opportunities and consumer demands in North Africa.

This class has pushed us to challenge what we think we know about entrepreneurship and apply our knowledge to an ever-evolving business landscape in an emerging market. While we’ve learned to build financial models and fine-tune our Business Model Canvas in other courses, what happens when a key part of your device hardware is held up at customs? What about when an innovative idea may have social implications that could be controversial with local populations? How can these proposed ventures think about building a business model that can scale both within and beyond Tunisian borders?

The finalist teams are listed below – check out the YouTube links to hear more about their ventures. Our time in Tunisia will be spent both continuing our work with these Tunisian entrepreneurs, as well as site visits to expand our understanding of doing business in the region. The trip promises to teach us more about topics ranging from artificial intelligence to consumer goods and introduce us to CBS alumni along the way!

Stay tuned for updates from our trip and from the Open Startup Tunisia pitch on Friday, January 18th!

Open Startup Tunisia Ventures

  • Athena-io: mixed reality for corporate training
  • Farcha: shoe insole generating heat from recyclable materials
  • Co-health: device to detect early stage cavities
  • Hapi: device to save and control water flow
  • Bechawet: application facilitating recycling
  • Tun-up: extraction of pepper seed to produce oil


Katie Tsantes is an MBA Candidate at Columbia Business School (’19).