Reflections on our expedition in Patagonia

On our way to the peak of a mountain.

My goal on this expedition was to learn more about myself, and the impact I have on others as a leader. I was also looking forward to a challenging adventure and to getting to know some of my classmates better. Though it has been nearly three weeks since we finished our expedition in Patagonia, it is still difficult to distill all the lessons I learned from my instructors, peers and the mountains. We were encouraged to reflect on what we could take away from the experience and how we could translate these lessons to the “front country.” Here is my best attempt:

Highlight: The views! And the final group debrief where I heard how the experience personally impacted everyone in a different way.

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Lowlight: Having to do several steep descents on loose rocks. Not only did this terrain make me extremely uncomfortable and slow, it made me feel like I was slowing the group down. Other students also found the terrain surprisingly challenging.

“It was a lot more challenging than I thought it would be.  I had no idea we would be crossing thigh-deep rivers, bushwhacking, or hiking the ridges and edges of rocky mountains with some seemingly treacherous terrain.  I had to be much more focused and totally in the moment more than I could ever have imagined and at times I got a taste of survival mode.” Lindsey Pete ’14

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Biggest relief: As the student organizer, I was worried about everyone’s health the entire trip, so it was a major relief to me that there were no injuries or major accidents, on either team!

Biggest disappointment: Though I was anxious about inclement weather, I am (a little) disappointed that we didn’t have to face this additional challenge (aka opportunity for growth).

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Biggest insight: As much as I have learned about myself from this experience and my time at CBS, I still have so much to learn about my strengths and weaknesses.

Biggest challenge: Trying to motivate my team when I was leading them to an unknown destination, an unknown distance away, that may or may not be camp-able.

Biggest surprise: Discovering what motivates, irritates, or scares the other members of my team.

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Lessons from my instructors: Each of our three instructors brought a unique perspective to the experience. After a particularly challenging section of bushwhacking through dense, thorny forest, one of my instructors told me he loved bushwhacking because it reminded him that “there is always a way,” both in the wilderness and in life. Another instructor, in explaining how happy she was with her simple yet fulfilling life, reminded me how little I need to be happy, and how important it is to make time in my life for opportunities like this expedition that allow for adventure and reflection. My third instructor read The Station by Robert J. Hastings to us, which was a reminder to me to enjoy the journey in life without worrying so much about the destination.

Sooner or later we must realize there is no one station, no one place to arrive at once and for all.  The true joy of life is the trip.  The station is only a dream.  It constantly outdistances us. It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad.  Rather, it is regret over yesterday or fear of tomorrow.  Regret and fear are twin thieves who would rob us of today. So, stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot more often, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more and cry less.  Life must be lived as we go along.  The station will come soon enough.

-Excerpt from The Station, by Robert J. Hastings

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Lessons from my peers: Kim Issa ‘14, who called this a “once in a lifetime experience,” noted that “you become very close to the 12 people in your group, the type of closeness it takes years to build in a normal setting. The feedback they give you will be honest and new to you, which is constructive and refreshing.” I couldn’t agree with her more.

From our daily debriefings, I learned that, among other things, I’m not as clear a communicator as I had thought I was. I often assume information is shared when it is not, or project my feelings and motivations onto others. I knew I was indecisive, but wasn’t fully aware of how to manage this, or that I even could manage it, until talking to my peers. I learned that I should trust my team, ask them for help, and then delegate roles more quickly to explore options. I also learned to accept that decisions can only be judged as good or bad once action is taken, but to be confident in my decisions once they are made.

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Lessons from the mountains: This experience was yet another reminder to me that most of my worries are futile. I was worried about blisters, joint pain, being cold and wet, and being the slowest team member. Either I didn’t have control over these circumstances (weather), and therefore they weren’t worth worrying about, or they weren’t as bad as I had anticipated. I can’t believe I wasted so much mental energy worrying about how I would feel when my boots inevitably got wet. When they finally did get wet, my feet were neither uncomfortable nor cold.

 One student put it perfectly:

“It is remarkable how petty stresses of everyday life (e.g., “Will I get a call back from that company?”) can trouble our sleep, cloud our judgment and paralyze our decision-making. Yet, when facing a much more real danger (e.g., “Will I tumble down the mountain if I slip on the next rock?”), we find the strength to set unproductive worrying aside and focus on the next step. If we can face real dangers with calm and resolve, why can’t we do the same for the fabricated ones?” – Anton Chtcherbakov ‘14

Overall, as one would assume, this was a truly amazing adventure and learning experience. I am so grateful that Columbia Business School offers opportunities like this for us to work on our leadership skills.  I am thrilled that I had the opportunity and ability to participate. Not only did I make new friends and learn about myself, but I got to do so in one of the most remote and beautiful regions in the world!

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The adventure begins!

I knew I was anxious about the next ten days when our plane’s engine didn’t start in New York and I was actually relieved, quietly wishing that our flight would be cancelled, and thus the whole adventureTo my dismay, the engine finally started, 4 hours later, and we were off for a ten-day expedition in Patagonia. Fifteen hours of flying and an hour’s bus ride later, we had arrived at our destination: Coyhaique, Chile, albeit short three students and several pieces of luggage.

Patagonia, Chile
Patagonia, Chile

One day later we were reunited with our classmates and belongings, finally ready for our adventure to begin.  Our NOLS instructors divided the 25 CBS students into two teams and we spent the rest of the day getting set up with gear, eating, learning how to set up our tents, pack and navigate, eating some more, and finally discussing our personal goals for the next several days.

Getting advice from a NOLS instructor on what to pack
Advay Jhunjhunwala getting advice from a NOLS instructor on what to pack

Before we knew it, we put on our 50-60lb backpacks and set off for the mountains, overwhelmed with the thought of walking hours on end with so much weight on our backs. We crossed our first river (very carefully and slowly), bushwhacked (timidly and slowly), cooked our first dinner (rather poorly and again, slowly), and set up our tents (you guessed it, slowly).

Hunter McDonald at one of our first 'river' crossings.
Hunter McDonald at one of our first ‘river’ crossings.

Exhausted from all the travel and anticipation, I excitedly jumped in to my tent, and suddenly it dawned on me that I’d be sleeping shoulder to shoulder with three others for the next 9 nights, with no opportunity to shower or change our clothes.

Carlo Dubini cooks a delicious pasta dinner for his tent team.
Carlo Dubini cooks a delicious pasta dinner for his tent team.

The next days were filled with rough and varied terrain, playing in the snow, strained backs, breathtaking views, blisters, revealing feedback sessions, cold fingers, glacier lakes, knot-tying lessons, sore knees, and (almost) always, lots of laughter.

Miles Yourman takes a break from hiking to repair his feet.
Miles Yourman takes a break from hiking to repair his feet.

Our breakfasts progressed from indigestible porridge to pancakes with dulce de leche. Meanwhile, our lunches degraded from trail mix and chocolate bars to spoonfuls of peanut butter as rationing proved too difficult for MBAs from New York accustomed to Seamless. We acquired a taste for mate, and got used to putting on wet socks and boots every morning. I even almost managed to get used to the smell of the socks and boots of my tent-mates (mine smelled brand-new to the end).

Dan Rossi tends to the (finally) boiling water.
Dan Rossi tends to the (finally) boiling water.

I expected to be self-sufficient, but didn’t expect to literally spend half of my time packing, unpacking, fetching water, boiling that water, cooking and adjusting my layers to keep myself warm. I expected day after day of rain, but was pleasantly surprised to be greeted with sunshine nearly every morning.

Another beautiful day in the mountains.
Another beautiful day in the mountains.

I expected long, strenuous days, but didn’t expect that sometimes these days would end at a location that was un-campable, forcing us to gather the energy to push on until we could find a location that was.

Kim Issa, Kevin Clark, and Jessica Basham check the map to make sure they're heading in the right direction.
Kim Issa, Kevin Clark, and Jessica Basham check the map to make sure they’re heading in the right direction.

I expected our instructors to be experts in the outdoors, but didn’t expect them to also be experts in communication, leadership and personal development. All of these surprises enriched my experience and made this a trip and class that I will never forget.

Jennifer Dyck-Sprout taking a break from hiking.
Me taking a break from hiking.

Nearly 40 miles (it felt like 100), and 8,500 feet in elevation later, we reached our destination. It’s amazing to see how much changed in only nine days. We were much tougher mentally, stronger physically, and more efficient with our time. Not to mention the transformation in our culinary skills. More importantly though, we gained insight into our strengths and weaknesses and our preferred leadership and communication styles. And perhaps most impressively, we survived more than a week without our iPhones.

Post submitted by: Jennifer Dyck-Sprout ’14

Adrien De Bontin and Jessica Basham on their way to the peak.
Adrien De Bontin and Jessica Basham on their way to the peak.

From 25°C to 25°F

Looking out my window at a grey, snowy Morningside Heights, it seems hard to believe that just a few days ago I was still in bright, sunny Santiago.  Our trip was exhausting, amazing and surprising all at the same time.  Though our packed days of programming would wear out even the most seasoned business traveler, we were all so fortunate to have had the opportunity to explore this country and meet with a few of the businesses that have made it a success.  We learned about the specific developments in the Chilean economy, we learned about the general challenges faced by markets shifting from an industrial to knowledge-based economy, and we got to know our peers better.  Since you have heard a great deal from me about my thoughts on the program as well as our meetings during the week, I’d like to use my last blog post as a chance to share the thoughts of my classmates from the program.  Their perspectives, questions and commentary added so much to my experience in Chile!

“The fact that we were able to look behind the scenes and communicate with the highest levels of management of interesting companies was very valuable. I think Chazen organized everything very well, and most compliments goes to Carmen Concha [program teaching assistant] who has been able to pull off this huge effort without a hitch. It was surely one of my CBS highlights.”

–          Chayenne Wiskerke, CBS Class of 2013

 

The group enjoying the private winery tour on the last day of our trip
The group enjoying the private tour  at Amayna Winery on the last day of our trip

“I thought the trip was a huge success. It was quite a learning experience to hear from executives in some of Chile’s largest businesses about their growth strategies in Latin America’s most stable economy. I was also impressed by how much I learned from my classmates. Sixteen different countries were represented on the trip, and it was great to compare notes about the different cultures. Carmen, our TA, Professor Preston, and Katrina from Chazen all did an amazing job at putting this trip together.”

–          Adam Breitman, CBS Class of 2013

Very patriotic shot at the Mercado Central
Very patriotic shot at the Mercado Central

“The trip was a fabulous opportunity to learn about the Chilean economy as well as successful business models in South America. The speakers were very inspiring and the factory visits were particularly interesting. Also, it was great to meet so many new classmates.”

–          Anne Kronschnabl, CBS Class of 2014

Getting a tour of the pasta production facilities at the Carozzi factory
Getting a tour of the pasta production facilities at the Carozzi factory

Chile stands out as an economy and a country destined to be a leader in Latin America and possibly on the global stage. The sheer determination of its immigrant-infused population has really made a huge difference in the country and the region. Similarities can be easily drawn between Chile and the US during its growth post-World War II.  Chilean government is a great player in this regard, providing the appropriate working environment and facilitating the impressive level of growth and prosperity.  I am certain that, as Chile transforms more of its working class from poverty to middle class, new challenges await. It will be interesting to see how Chile grows over the next 30 years.”

–          Varghese Mathew, CBS Class of 2013

Though I mentioned it time and again in this blog, Chile has impressed me in so many ways.  This country has been through many difficult times and only recently re-joined the democratic world as it continues on its path toward development.  Over those past two decades- relatively little time when talking about the development of a country- Chile has become one of the leaders in the world in terms of economic growth and has truly created a development model worth of emulation by any country seeking to boost economic growth and the living standards of their citizens. The eagerness of everyone we met with to help us learn more about this amazing market was key to making this a very memorable and informative trip for all of us.

Hasta pronto,

Hannah Stern ‘13

Small Market, Big Plans

Now that I have been in Santiago for about two days, I feel I have absorbed enough to make some observations about the culture and business climate.  Our meetings with executives from banks, forestry companies, airlines and even chocolate stores have been extremely helpful in generating a better understanding of what doing business in Chile is like.  If you don’t have time to read the rest of this blog post, let me sum it up for you in one word:

Efficiency.

It feels almost as if all the executives we meet with have coordinated their messaging to ensure that we are repeatedly reminded of this defining trait of the Chilean economy.  Coming from a very large market – the US- where there are various population centers, geographies and climates it’s hard to understand the constraints under which Chile has managed to do a stellar job of growing its economy.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Chile’s population is right around 17 million people.  And according Juan Pablo Castro, Head of Research at Banco Santander Chile (the second largest commercial bank in Chile), the average income per capita has grown over the past 40 years from roughly $9,000 in the 1970’s to upwards of $17,000 today.  While this growth is remarkable, it still only amounts to about $248 billion in total income.  This is a very small market compared to a country like Brazil or Colombia.  What this all boils down to is Chile’s need to be an exporter of both goods and services.  Because the domestic market reaches saturation very quickly, the country is one of the most open economies in the world today and has free trade agreements with over 90 countries.   Though not directly related to the Chilean economy, a particularly interesting point brought up during our discussion was the challenge this local subsidiary of the large Spanish firm Groupo Santander, SA, has faced from ratings agencies eager to reduce its rating because of ties to its parent.  The case of Banco Santander highlights the critical role of corporate governance and creating appropriate separation between parent and subsidiary, especially when one is disproportionately affected by a market downturn while the other is reporting strong growth.

Chile’s laser focus on only producing goods in which it has a competitive advantage is very impressive.  For example, the country used to assemble cars and trucks domestically.  However, it was eventually decided that this was not a best use of Chile’s labor force and resources, and today the country imports virtually all of its vehicles.   On the other hand, the Chilean climate gives this country a unique advantage in the lumber and paper pulp market.  As we learned during our visit to Arauco, where we met with CFO Gianfranco Truffello, certain types of trees grow significantly faster in Chile than in North America.  This gives the company a tremendous advantage and allows it to get higher yield out of its land holdings in order to produce the paper pulp.  The mining industry, which I look forward to learning more about later in the week, is another good example of how this small country is a net exporter of raw materials to the world but imports almost all of its finished goods.

In the services area, Chile faces similar growth ceilings.  One of Chile’s best known companies, LAN, is a perfect example of the need to expand outside of the country’s borders.  The airline recently merged with Brazilian giant TAM to become LATAM Airlines.  The challenges of integrating with a Brazilian firm- with substantial language and cultural barriers- is one of the most interesting parts of the new company and learning about how LAN prepared for and continues to manage the integration process was a highlight of our discussion.  LATAM Airlines now servers a substantial part of the South and Central American market, allowing what was a small Chilean airline founded in 1929 to become the leading airline in Latin America.  Today the combined company serves over 60 million passengers a year and recorded a combined revenue of nearly 3 times that of its closest regional competitor.

Though we have yet to dive in to the large-scale retail experience here in Chile, we literally got a taste of what the entrepreneurial climate is like for aspiring retails today when the founder and CEO of La Fete Chocolate, Jorge Mckay, came and spoke to us about his business as well as the challenges of starting and growing a small venture in Chile.  What was most impressive about our discussion, aside from the delicious chocolate we all received (yum!), was Mckay’s passion for optimizing the customer experience.

A La Fete store in Parque Arauco, one of Santiago’s large, upscale malls.

The expertly decorated and laid out stores looked like they could have been on a chic corner in Soho and the focus on providing an optimal selection of products for customers, even at the risk of complicating the production process, was what really impressed our group.   He concluded his presentation with a few words that really stuck with me: “First build a dream, then you can build a business.

Though we have not had much free time, our guide managed to squeeze in a trip to the Mercado Central as well as the Plaza de Armas, the main square downtown.

We also attended an outdoor movie last night, which was a lot of fun and made for a great opportunity to experience Santiago as a consumer.  The event allowed us to see how companies market themselves in Chile since the outdoor space was surrounded by promotional booths for wines, food and other goods.

Thus far Chile has been everything I expected and more. This country has a surprisingly sophisticated and developed feel.  Everyone has been very welcoming and seems to really want to show us how much this country has to offer.  Tonight we are off to a reception with CBS alumni (being abroad is no excuse to stop networking after all) so there will be more updates to come.

Abrazos,

Hannah

Proxima Parada: Santiago [Next Stop: Santiago]

Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador.  All places I have visited and or worked in at one point or another over the past several years. Speaking Spanish and having a long term interest in doing further work in this region, I was a little surprised when I thought about the gap in my regional knowledge as I have yet to visit Chile.  But that is going to change tomorrow.

When I heard about the Chazen Global Immersion Program in Chile focusing on family businesses and the unique challenges they face in Latin American markets, I wasn’t sure that this was the class for me.  Unlike some of my peers in the class, I don’t have any stake in a family business and don’t plan to start one in the near future.  However, upon further contemplation I realized that this was a valuable experience for me regardless of my (lack of) involvement in a family business. I attribute this in large part to two factors:

1)      According to a report by the Family Firm Institute, it is estimated that roughly 75% of all firms in Chile are family owned and controlled. While one might initially think that this is just a very large number of very small businesses, in fact, about 65% of the medium-to-large enterprises in Chile are family owned.

2)      Chile’s GDP growth- though somewhat volatile over the past ten years- has held steady at 5% to  6% throughout the past three years and even as the fortunes of its neighbors rise and fall, Chile has retained a sound economy and government about 20 years.

Just these two pieces of information were enough to convince me that this will be a very valuable program!  But that was five months ago, so lets fast forward to now.

Though I didn’t know much about Chile prior to this course, my peers and I have all been making an effort to understand more about the country and its progress over the past several years.   One of the most surprising things I discovered during our pre-trip lectures was that Chile is one of only about 20 countries in the world that, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness report, is successfully moving from an efficiency-driven to an innovation-driven economy.  Such a move will put this small country of about 17 million people alongside Western Europe and North America in terms of development. The report also ranks Chile as number 33 in terms of global competitiveness (out of 141 countries), placing it ahead of all its South American peers.  An economy with a majority of family owned businesses that is on a steady growth path and outpacing its cohorts is a country every businessperson should know more about.

Sanhattan
CBSers will feel right at home in the business district of Santiago, affectionately known as ‘Sanhattan’

In a recent interview with CNN, the country’s president Sebastián Piñera highlighted the “Four pillars of success for Chile: Education, science and technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, and more employment.” He went on to state, “Our vision is to transform Chile into a developed country and to eliminate poverty by the end of this decade.  We hope that we will be the first in our region to achieve that… by being an economically open and integrated country.”  My classmates and I can’t wait to see firsthand how Chile’s efforts are progressing and how family businesses are having an impact.

Hasta pronto!

Hannah Stern ‘13

(Follow my travels on twitter.com/Iamblond007)  [blogging from sunny Rio de Janiero…for now]