Real Estate in China: Just Build It

Heavy mist and grey skies greeted us as we walked off the plane in Guangzhou, China. The same climate bid us goodbye as we drove to Shenzhen one day later.

The last two days in southern China, first in Guangzhou then in Shenzhen, have been fast-paced as we’ve visited 7 major leaders in the real estate landscape here. The contrast between Singapore and southern China is stark. Singapore is a small city-state with a population of 5.4 million people. Guangzhou, largely recognized as the world’s manufacturing center, boasts a current population of 14 million and is one of China’s 5 National Central Cities. Singapore is pristine. Guangzhou is noticeably a busy, less manicured manufacturing hub and exhibits signs of development. There is a far greater number of cranes in the sky in Guangzhou and Shenzhen than there are in Singapore. Construction is around every corner, largely because land owners must develop newly-purchased land within 2 years of purchase and understand that building income-producing real estate assets is a safe harbor compared to holding cash that may lose value against other international currencies.

We were fortunate enough to visit the the Ping An Financial Center – a 600-meter (1800-foot) Class A office building, which is soon to be completed. This building is the third largest in China and is due to open in April. It will house Ping An, a large regional life insurance company, and several high technology and finance companies. Most importantly, its construction marks the creation of a structural icon in southern China, much like the Empire State Building is in New York City. In fact, the building’s ownership originally requested it look identical to the Empire State Building and subsequently scrapped the idea after viewing the model and deciding that the scale and shape of the structure didn’t quite match the surrounding real estate. The building is 118 floors and boasts an observatory: the first in Guangzhou and undoubtedly a future major attraction and revenue source. We donned hard hats through the construction site, boarded one of 4 double-stacked elevators and travelled to the 56th floor where we experienced the leasing team’s impressive marketing video on floor-to-ceiling screens all around us. We were 1 of 15 tours that day.

On the social front, the LN Garden Hotel in Guangzhou hosted a happy hour for our group, complete with a live band, a dim sum bar, a noodle bar, a full dessert table and a party bus. After a long day of traveling from company to company, this was a welcome surprise! An even better surprise occurred when our resident singer requested Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York and took the stage to serenade us all for the next 5 songs. Dancing en masse ensued. Pictures are of course provided below. Who knew we had so much CBS talent in our group?

Nicole Atoyan ’17

Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Germany Trip is Underway

Manuel Misha
Tour Leaders Misha and Manuel lead a Pre-Departure Meeting in Uris Hall

This spring, 32 students will embark on the inaugural Chazen Entrepreneurship and Innovation Trip to Germany.  The trip will be led by Professor R.A. Farrokhnia and three student organizers: Manuel Hein (a 2nd year CBS Student, Entrepreneur, and German native) , Diego Cuenca (Co-President of CEO and 2nd year student) , and Misha Ipatov (a 1st year student and entrepreneur).   The tour will begin in Munich then move on to Stuttgart and end in Berlin.   The goals of the tour are to explore the German business environment, compare the German and American models of innovation/entrepreneurship, and uncover the cultural factors that drive the German economy.

The planning for this trip began in late 2015 and has consisted of weekly meetings, outreach to a wide variety of companies, and soliciting student feedback.  The result is a tour that combines cultural sights, company visits/fireside chats, and social events to provide a complete immersion and facilitate learning.  Students will be visiting established companies that include BMW, Siemens, and Airbus in addition to startups such as Soundcloud, Number 26, and Coffee Circle as well as small medium enterprise “hidden champions” such as EOS.   Further, students will be participating in interactive experiences such as a design challenge with German students at the Technical University of Munich or driving the latest BMW performance vehicles to Neuschwanstein Castle.

The background of the students participating in the trip are varied with former media professionals, private equity analysts, engineers and entrepreneurs.    Their participation will play a key role in the success of this trip as we look not only to observe Germany but to compare its business/innovation environment and culture to that of other countries.   We look forward to starting strong on Sunday in Munich and updating the Columbia community along the way.

Diego Cuenca ’16

Germany 2016

Singapore, China & Hong Kong: the journey is upon us!

When I think of Singapore, skyscrapers and images of technological modernity immediately come to mind. I would be remiss by neglecting to mention the image of The Jetsons – a once popular American cartoon – that also comes to mind for me when this hyper-developed nation is mentioned. The trip will formally begin in two days, when 40 Columbia Business School students and two faculty members from the Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate depart for a study tour of Singapore and the Pearl River Delta region of China. The fortunate portion of our group that hasn’t endured an endless stream of final exams has already departed, visiting the beaches of the Far East before heading to Singapore.

Our first day will be filled with cultural visits: a visit to the Gardens by the Bay (pictured here), Chinatown and Little India. A riverboat tour and dinner at one of the most notable seafood restaurants will follow.

120607010620-gardens-bay-panoramic-horizontal-large-galleryWe’ll spend the next two days meeting with leaders in the real estate industry: multinational companies such as Blackstone Real Estate Partners, the largest real estate private equity company in the world, and Capitaland in addition to strong players in the regional market such as GIC. We’ll end our Singapore experience with an alumni reception at Spago.

Guangzhou, nicknamed the City of Flowers in southern China, is our first stop in the Pearl River Delta region. This area is considered the birthplace of the ancient maritime Silk Road, now used as a major trading and transportation hub.  This major city is an important commercial center in China and a focus for real estate development and investment.

The group will also explore Shenzhen – another major commercial center in the Pearl River Delta. Meetings with Vanke, Jones Lang LaSalle, Swire Properties, Fosun and site visits of the Ping An Finance Center and the Qianhai project await.

The trip will end with a day to explore Hong Kong before returning to New York City. I can’t wait for the adventure that lies ahead. I am, however, hoping to sleep for the duration of the 21-hour flight there!

Nicole Atoyan ’17

 

Final Thoughts on India: We’re Still Discussing

First of all, I must blatantly admit that I have been extremely tardy in posting this – my final thoughts on an amazing Chazen trip to India. I could blame it on my simple procrastination (in fact, that’s partially accurate).  Or the culprit could be the MBA lifestyle (after I landed at La Guardia, I got home and slept for 12 hours, cleaned my apartment, and started a block week course which left me no relaxation time between traveling and the regular semester start). But the biggest reason that I am just now writing this a month to the day from my return is that I have not felt up to the task of putting into words what an enormous perspective-altering experience the journey was. There is so much I could write, but nothing would do it justice.

“There are some parts of the world that, once visited, get into your heart and won’t go. For me, India is such a place. When I first visited, I was stunned by the richness of the land, by its lush beauty and exotic architecture, by its ability to overload the senses with the pure, concentrated intensity of its colors, smells, tastes, and sounds… I had been seeing the world in black & white and, when brought face-to-face with India, experienced everything re-rendered in brilliant technicolor.”

– Keith Bellows, Editor, National Geographic Traveler

Rickshaw Ride Confusion
Marcos Sheeran, ’13, on break from a fast-speed rickshaw ride through an Old Delhi market.

From a relationship standpoint, I now have 40 new people to whom I can say, “Hey, remember that time we felt lost speeding via rickshaw through a crowded New Delhi market?!” We share a common memory – a life moment – which bonds us together. (Or at least gives us cause to add 40 more names to our birthday party/karaoke night/happy hour guest list.) In fact, our private trip Facebook group is still going strong. The last post was made 13 hours ago, and it was about a recent CNN interview with Mukesh Ambani – owner of the billion-dollar high rise.

Other posts that have gotten the group debating include one about the plight of women’s rights in India. While we were there, the domestic and international news story was the account of “India’s Braveheart,” a prominent victim of the recent gang rapes that have taken place in the country. Because most of our meetings were corporate in nature, there was little opportunity to discuss with any native leaders their thoughts on what the government should do about crimes against women, girl education, or the like. However, as we met confident, intelligent women in professional settings, we did sometimes wonder aloud how half of the country’s population must feel about policies and some widely held beliefs toward their gender. And while I cannot fairly hold cultural norms there to the standard of my Western sensibilities (ex. one airport security line for women versus six for men – annoying!), I will say that I hope the inquisitive young girls that we met at Teach for India grow up in a society where they are wholly valued.  Another post that sparked an even greater debate was one on how India’s economy is growing relative to China’s. One of our trip leaders sent us a related article from The Hindu newspaper, which gave thorough insight into middle-class preoccupation with GDP growth.

Additionally, I have kept in contact with an Indian Columbia College alum who, in December, pledged to donate $12.12 million to the university for research and fellowships with a focus on India and other emerging markets. I “met” Sharik Currimbhoy (@SharikC), founder of a private equity and real estate firm, by Tweeting about his plan to leverage his relationship with the school for India’s eventual gain on the second day of our trip. He was kind enough to attend one of our alumni events thereafter, and spoke with me about how he plans to positively impact his homeland. Everyone, it seems, is doing his or her part to make sure that the rising tide of economic opportunity carries all ships. Still, quality of life disparity is stark – which was a huge takeaway for me, which then made me reflect on America’s own inequalities. I do not think that I will ever forget the palatial sight of the presidential – Maharaja – suite at Fortis Memorial (Hospital) Research Institute. We were not told the daily room rate, nor were we allowed to take photos. We were, however, given a tour replete with luxurious amenities for patients to enjoy, while literally across the street malnourished women begged for money as they held babies on their hips. Healthcare in India is a topic that I still want to learn more about.

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Chazen India participants pose outside of Kotak Bank in Mumbai.

On a lighter note though, me and many of my fellow trip goers are still suffering from cultural withdrawal! Last week I was having a bad morning and the only thing I knew would cheer me up before class was a hot cup of chai. It has now become a staple in my diet, and even my Western sensibilities cannot comprehend why American business meetings do not standardly include tea with crisp, sugary cookies. Other trip participants agree; we may start a movement. Additionally, one traveler has taken to carrying a small Ganesh statue in her purse for wisdom and good luck, while another reported that his hand-woven rug from Jaipur is decidedly the best purchase he has made in a long time. We have not scheduled a trip reunion date yet, but I am sure we will all meet again (for Indian food, of course) sometime in the near future.

In conclusion, the sights, sounds, and spirits of India are now embedded in my long-term memory. I learned so much that is relevant to my MBA classroom experience, and it is now enriched by a bit of global context – which I needed. Thanks to the Chazen Institute staff, Vijay Subramanian (MBA, 2013), and Alok Desai (MBA, 2013) for organizing a logistically complex trip! Getting such a high-level and diverse view of the country’s current situation would have been nearly impossible without their leadership.

Signing off for now,

~DeShaun Maria Harris, ’14 (Follow my travels:twitter.com/aspiringmaven)

Mumbai, Oh Mumbai!

As of now, we have been in India for three full days and I am starting to think that its tourism board’s “Incredible India!” branding is an accurate descriptor for what we are experiencing. There is a saying by G.K. Chesterton that, “The traveler sees what he sees; the tourist sees what he has come to see.” And after the first day and a half of self-contained bus tours, I am finally feeling like a traveler. We are getting out and interacting with Mumbai’s people and landmarks in a way that is beginning to feel a bit more organic.

Andrew Gordon, CBS '13 , meeting curious children in the streets of Mumbai.
Andrew Gordon, CBS ’13 , meeting curious children in the streets of Mumbai. (Photo credit: Cory Bronson, CBS ’13)

For instance, one group of CBSers was able to return to Haji Ali Dargah – a mosque and tomb situated in Worli Bay – after having viewed it from the bus window on our first morning. Their account was that the walk out to the mosque was the most awe-inspiring part because they were surrounded by a mass of people from a religious cross-section, all pressing against each other to reach the seemingly floating holy place before high tide signaled its close for the day. Truly, built-in free time is allowing all 42 of us on this trip to make the experience our own – an aspect I do appreciate. On the other hand, our tour guides have been phenomenal at succinctly explaining cultural nuisances that comprise the context of what we are seeing.

On my next post I will begin to cover our business meetings. For now though, I will just reflect on the cultural observations that we have made so far.

On our first day in Mumbai we took a whirlwind tour of the city itself, stopping briefly at its Hanging Gardens to look out over the city’s skyline by the Arabian Sea. Because it is still the holiday season, the park was full of parents with children at play. As we passed, many people stopped to stare at us and street vendors clamored to attract attention to their wares. Foreigners definitely stand out here at first glance because of race, and this fact has made me realize a distinct difference this major city has as compared to the global salad bowl that is New York City. Nevertheless, there is plenty of diversity in religion, ethnicity, and language – all on display in every facet of life. The Tower of Silence, we were told, is a place where Parsees lay the deceased to be eaten by vultures because they do not believe it is right to bury or cremate their loved ones.

The streets of Mumbai are not for the faint of heart! Cars, livestock, and people all share the road.
The streets of Mumbai are not for the faint of heart! Cars, livestock, and people all share the road.

Of course, deviations from what I consider usual are not all as extreme. On a shopping trip to the Palladium Mall – an opulent designer- branded symbol of India’s meteoric growth in wealth over the past two decades – some of us grabbed a bite to eat at McDonald’s. The first things I noticed were signs for seperate “veg” and “non-veg” kitchens and a menu devoid of beef and pork. The two prominent religions here are Hinduism and Islam, so most customers are vegaterians or only eat chicken and/or fish. Because of these options though, I tried a tasty spicy chicken sandwich, complete with paneer cheese and a side of french fries sprinkled with piri piri powder. As a former marketer, I have been intrigued to see how foreign brands translate their products and messaging to suit consumer tastes and behavior here.

On the topic of consumerism though, I think I can state for the group that it has been difficult for us to identify what “creature comforts” signify a middle class status. According to the United Nations, India’s Gini Index was 36.8 from 2000 – 2011, meaning that the economic spread between the upper and lower classes is one of the widest in the world. For comparison, the United States’ spread was 40.8 during the same time period (one of the highest) and Sweden’s was 25.0 (the lowest). So, on our trip thus far we have seen extreme displays of wealth (ex. Mukesh Ambani’s 27-floor, $1 billion dollar Antilla) and extreme realities of poverty (ex. The Dharavi Slum – a robust city within a city that houses about 1 million people in 1 square mile. I will not post about them here, because I think CBSers who have recently visited on other Chazen trips have done a sufficient job of writing about this jarring experience here and here).  Though, I will note that our tour guide informed us that not only poor people live in slums. Because real estate prices in Mumbai rival those of New York and London, middle class and wealthy individuals choose to live there too for convenience to the city. Additionally, some slums – including Dharavi – are legal, so the government provides municipal services. Plus, because both native and foreign people often have a certain low economic expectation of slum dwellers, Indians with more money can evade or underreport taxes there without a lot of suspicion.

All of this stated it is easy to see that wealth here does not buy complete isolation from the effects of living in a still developing nation. Lack of strong environmental regulations is the cause of a thick blanket of smog that floats over the city at various times of the day – sometimes blocking out the sun. This fact also contributes to the reason even some of the nicest residential buildings look a hundred years old from the outside – covered in soot and peeling paint caused by the harsh toxins in the air. Crowded roadways, unreliable power grids, and a polluted water system in some places all contribute to India’s infrastructure problem.

Still, I feel confident in stating that our trip so far has not been overwhelmed by feelings of hopeless frustration with conditions here. If any feeling has dominated for me it has been a sense of unbridled excitement that this country, which fought free of colonialism less than 75 years ago, is innovating so quickly to become one of the world’s largest economies. Business leaders that we have spoken with are intelligent, poised, and on a nation-building mission. And as an MBA student, it’s energizing to see how firms are making the “triple bottom line” a priority in a country where it is most critically a necessity.

~DeShaun Maria Harris, ’14 (Follow my travels: twitter.com/aspiringmaven)

Countdown to Chazen India: Vaccines & Visas

The Chazen India trip is a mere week away and I could not be more excited! I have been preparing for the trip for almost two months now – getting every vaccine known to man (minus the one for Japanese Encephalitis – thank goodness); standing in line at the India Visa Center for hours; and coordinating travel itineraries with friends at HBS and NYU Stern who will also be in India over the winter break. In addition, I have tried to familiarize myself with the culture by perusing the very in-depth reading packet that the Chazen Institute and our trip leaders compiled for us. It covers everything from the Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest Country Report to timely feature articles on different aspects of Indian business and society from The Economist and The New York Times. I appreciate the contextual reading material, as it will hopefully allay boredom on a long flight and give me fodder to think of insightful questions for our company visits.

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Chazen India Social Media Guru, DeShaun Maria Harris
Photo from my participation in the South Asian Business Association’s Diwali Celebration a month before the trip. A group of us CBSers performed choreographed Bollywood-style dances.

Before I entered the lottery to be afforded the opportunity to go on this trip, my primary knowledge of India had passed through the lens of American media and Bollywood imports. The summer after I finished high school, I worked for an Indian couple who owned a men’s clothing store in my rural South Georgia town. Sometimes, on a break from customers, Mrs. Sada would invite me to watch Hindi and Telugu movies (with English subtitles), and eat yogurt rice after lunch. So, brilliantly colored clothing, vibrant cinematic displays, and deliciously spicy foods are what currently come to mind when I envision this ethnically diverse sub-continent which accounts for 17% of the world’s population. Looking to broaden my perspective? You bet! I have no idea when business or pleasure will give me a reason to return, so I plan to capture as many different snapshots of India as I can in a two-week stay. Hopefully, my accounts will accurately convey what my CBS peers and I experience, and serve to peak your interest in visiting this evolving global powerhouse.

~DeShaun Maria Harris, ’14 (Follow my travels: twitter.com/aspiringmaven)