Expectations Shattered: Reflecting on Myanmar

After traveling through Southeast Asia for winter break, just over 6 weeks, I had the opportunity to experience different cultures and countries through food, nightlife, human interactions, celebrations, natural beauty and historic sites. At the end of my journey, I had several peers ask me, “which one was your favorite?”

Before our Global Immersion Program (GIP), I would have had pros and cons for each country and said I loved them all. However, after spending two weeks diving into a country that was shut off for decades from the rest of the world, Myanmar has enthralled me. Through its benevolent people, mind-blowing advancement and beautiful townships, everything I had thought about this country has been completely turned upside down.

Our GIP team during a river boat cruise. The night ended with some amazing karaoke

As a preface to what follows, I want to highlight an important fact that we often forgot during our trip. Our pre-travel and GIP were centered around the Bamar (Burmese) and Shan populations in the dry areas of the Shan State, Mandalay region and Yangon. Myanmar has been in conflict for decades, currently the longest running civil war. On the border states to the North and West, there are conflict zones with different ethnic groups that have been fighting the government and military since 1948. Particularly of interest, in the Rakhine state, there is a genocide occurring of the Rohingya people. Most Burmese people we encountered did not give the crisis much thought. Even the most intelligent of our speakers, local and foreign, seemed to defend the government’s actions at the very least calling the conflict complex and at most likening it to the Israel-Palestine conflict. I undoubtedly believe that the conflict is complex, therefore when I refer to the country and people of Myanmar in this post, I want to be clear that I am talking about the Burmese and Shan people, which comprise almost 80% of the population, and the development occurring within this area of Myanmar. Ultimately, the Burmese people are not directly involved in the conflict and the terrible burden lies on the government. Therefore, I want to turn the focus to the future of the country and the Burmese people.

People

Never in my life, have I felt so safe in a country so foreign. When I first stepped off the plane in Yangon to transfer to the Heho airport, I was cautious and reticent. I was mindful of everything I did, less I get locked up by the government for misspeaking or offending a citizen. These actions could not be more laughable now. The hope, love and optimism the Burmese people display is unmatched. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with admiration and politeness.

A waitress at Inle Lake that taught us about the sunscreen makeup that you often see on Burmese people

If asked if you wanted to buy something or a take a taxi, a simple “no thanks,” would suffice and the conversation would be done. No heckling. No pressure. If you’ve ever traveled in other parts of Southeast Asia, this is a complete shock.

Every single service counter, whether it was a convenience store, restaurant or hotel, you would be greeted with a genuine grin from ear to ear and a look that said, “how can I help you in any way possible?” Even when a mistake was made, YOU felt bad as they apologized profusely and immediately corrected the error. One classmate hilariously described riding in a taxi that was clearly cut-off by another driver and for the remainder of the ride the taxi driver would apologize sincerely about every 10 seconds.

At Myanmar Imperial University, we were welcomed with a traditional Burmese dance

When we asked a foreigner that had been living in Myanmar for several years why the people were so happy, he summarized it with one word: hope. Hope that Myanmar will become a better country. And every day their lives are improving. Four years ago, no one had a cell phone. Today, they are live streaming sports and movies on their smartphones at speeds faster than most of the United States. Yet another expectation shattered.

Technological Advancement

Throughout our company visits, we continuously heard the same phrase used to describe the technology and way of life in Myanmar. The Leapfrog Effect. It is an amazing case study of a country that had shut its doors for decades and finally opened them up to discover a world 50 years ahead of where they were. I have written in another blog post about how this amazing phenomenon has changed the lives of countless Myanmar citizens. Godfrey Tan, the CEO of Frontiir (the leading internet service provider in Myanmar), summarized it beautifully, “if they go out and buy cell phone service for 78 cents per person per day, and I sell them internet at 13 cents per day, I am giving them the opportunity to take that 65 cents and buy a meal. They no longer have to choose between food and internet.”

Frontiir HQ in Yangon, Myanmar

Godfrey was born in Myanmar, educated in the US, worked for many years and gained his citizenship, but eventually returned to his home country to bring technological advancement to the people of Myanmar. He saw an opportunity when he realized the country had only 1% landline penetration. Obviously, it would be incredibly costly to install lines in every single home to provide internet, so instead he developed a system of routers that line the streets of Yangon and Mandalay that give WiFi to those that sign up for his service. Through a box in their home, they can receive 4G internet at a price significantly lower than his competitors. This technology only exists in Myanmar, nowhere else in the world.

This example, and others like Wave Money, have revolutionized what was thought possible in emerging markets. With a cellular infrastructure to support apps like Instagram, YouTube, etc., one wonders why although their technological advancements are ahead, tourism is falling behind.

Beauty

As we rode through Bagan and were surrounded by over 2,000 beautiful Buddhist temples erected during the 12th century, I wondered why there were so few tourists. At Inle Lake, when we stayed at a well-known hotel, we were baffled by the realization that we were 6 of maybe 15 people staying in the hotel that could hold hundreds of guests.

Riding scooters through Bagan

Although the Rohingya conflict is likely a major deterrent for tourists, it is still astounding to be in places with such natural and historic beauty and feel like it was carved out specifically for you.

The conflict aside, most people usually think of Thailand when planning a trip to Southeast Asia. I would make the argument that tourists should change or supplement their itinerary. Myanmar is a must-visit country in the region. It is a shame to see such a beautiful country lacking in tourism. Words and pictures cannot describe the adventure of hopping from village to village and shop to shop on Inle Lake with a group of close friends. As you fit into a narrow canoe , an Inthar native will drive you around a thriving population that lives on stilted homes and makes crafts like silver jewelry, cheroot cigarettes and lotus-weaved scarves. Fishermen pose for photographs in an iconic manner and Karen tribe women with long neck jewelry will peacefully wait while people come and visit them.

Our pre-GIP crew riding through the villages of Inle Lake

Even Bagan, the more popular tourist destination, felt like an adult playground that was abandoned long ago. After renting E-scooters you can bop around from temple to temple, climb on a few and become mesmerized by some giants. If you opt for a more expensive balloon ride on a clear morning you are stunned by the beauty of the peppered temples across the landscape. Unlike Ankor Wat or other temple compounds, there is a vibrant community of mainly farmers that live in the area and pray at the temples. The old and new represented and preserved in the middle of Myanmar.

A beautiful scene of farmlands, hot air balloons and temples we witnessed from above

Future

As I reflect on ancient Burma and the present Burmese people, it is my hope that this country continues the path towards democratizing their government and advancing the lives of their people. The people deserve a country that will bring them wealth and prosperity. They deserve a future for themselves and for their children. My hope is that the world sees the diamond in the rough that is Myanmar, pulls it up from the ground and polishes it to demonstrate its brilliance.

I joked a few times with classmates that they might see my LinkedIn page in a few years and notice I’m working somewhere in Myanmar. After talking with several expats who have thoroughly enjoyed their lives there, the idea is becoming less and less far-fetched. Regardless, I truly hope that whether or not I’m living there in 5 years, Myanmar has earned what it deserves. In a country where Buddhism is so important, after suffering bad karma for so many years, good karma is finally due.

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

The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Myanmar

“If you look on the banks of the Irrawaddy, you can see the combination of land, labor, and capital that developed from the time the British empire took control of Burma and transformed it to the largest rice exporter in the world by the beginning of the 20th century,” Sean Turnell says as he points to several British colonial buildings in Yangon’s commercial sector. You can clearly see what he means as taller buildings sprouting up across Yangon have dominated the skyline shared with cranes peppered in every direction as more infrastructure development looms.


“For 10 years, I was on the blacklist by the government and couldn’t come here. But since 2010, the development of this city has been incredible.”

Sean Turnell is an Australian economist that has worked in Myanmar for the better part of his life. His path was not straightforward, but through a series of different economic roles, he finds himself in a seemingly important position. While simultaneously working for the Myanmar Development Institute (MDI) as a senior adviser, he also holds the position of Special Economic Consultant to the State Counselor (essentially the Prime Minister of Myanmar), a role created specifically for Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar

Sean painted a picture of colonial Myanmar under British rule as one of the major cities of the empire, appropriately dubbed the “rice bowl of the British empire.” It thrived under British rule and created a dominant player in Southeast Asia.

However, after receiving independence, the country transformed into an authoritative military regime. Sean described what followed: “when the military took power, they destroyed all the universities. After the 1988 demonstrations, they dispersed the faculty. They never wanted students to congregate together. They reduced the standards across the board and corrupted the system.”

The fight between reformers and the military regime has been going on for decades, only recently seeing an opening of the country to the rest of the world with the election of the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Suu Kyi. Because of these policies, Myanmar has seen an influx of foreign direct investment and tremendous growth. Last year, the country experienced 6.2% GDP growth, putting it at the 10th fastest growing economy in the world and 2nd in Asia. “Basic fundamentals are in place, which makes Myanmar a very promising market,” says Nevcan Gungor, a CBS alum who holds the position of Chief Investment Officer for an infrastructure conglomerate Shwe Taung Group. She goes on to explain the recent laws benefiting privately-owned companies: “The 2016 Arbitration law was crucial to the opening of the country. Having a basic rule of law and contract enforcement has really helped the business climate and contractual systems.”

Nevcan continued to say that the current government is trying to find the right balance between economic development versus social and sustainability development. The NLD feels that in a lot of other developing countries, economic development came at the expense of social development. So, the Myanmar government’s focus is to balance these two and enable growth while taking these considerations into account.

Last year in 2018, the NLD released the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan (MSDP) which lays out the framework of where the government sees the development of the country. This has largely been received with positive reviews, but there still remains a number of challenges to accomplish this plan. Among those are political stability, lack of institutional infrastructure to support investment, economic policy uncertainty, and access to sustainable/long-term finance.

Particularly within the financing component, there is significant foreign exchange risk. Most of the financing is done in USD, but businesses operate using the Myanmar Kyat. Any fluctuations in the exchange rate can greatly expose companies.

For example, a recent drop in exchange rates hurt JJ-PUN when they purchased a stockpile of working capital thinking they would expand rapidly, but lost over $1 million and nearly all their profit from 2018 within that sector.

A joint venture between Jebsen & Jessen and Serge Pun Associates, JJ-PUN is a conglomerate that operates primarily in Myanmar within the agriculture space. Alex Spitzy, a managing director with the group, spoke to us about these challenges that Myanmar still faces.

Alex explaining their distribution model of agricultural chemicals with dealers and farmers

When explaining the process of bringing new products to Myanmar, he said the government is still a big hindrance to companies trying to compete in Southeast Asia. In order to get products approved, like safer chemicals for farming, companies have to wait 2 years for experimental registration and 10 years for full registration. He has proposed to the government that if the US, Thailand, and other countries have an approved product, why not expedite the registration process for that product? They seem to disagree. 

“I think the current government is too afraid to fail. They are micromanaging and analyzing everything…If you want to get a country from the bottom and raise it up, you have to be daring,” Alex says with passion as he speaks to our group.

He goes on to speak about their mission, “our vision as a company is building a better country for the Myanmar people. We want to upgrade Myanmar…as Serge Pun says, if you do something good for the country, the money will come.”

Burmese students from the Shan State flocked to take pictures with us at Inle Lake

Although there seems like many obstacles are in the way for a complete rebirth of Myanmar as a significant player in Asia, one cannot help but feel optimistic for where the country is headed. The Burmese people have proven to be genuine, kind, empathetic and loving.

Many companies like Proximity Designs also believe in the future of Myanmar and its people. They are a quasi-NGO focused on providing products and services to the rural communities of Myanmar. They work closely with farmers with a hands-on approach of teaching them efficient farming methods.

Jim Taylor speaks with our group at their modern headquarters in Yangon with a panel of employees from each business line at Proximity

“We saw a massive market that was terribly underserved. It’s been neglected by private companies, the government, public services, and even the aid sector which left farmers on their own,” Jim Taylor, co-founder of Proximity Designs, says to our group during the company visit. “If you look at the neighboring countries in Southeast Asia and their transformation, Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, and even Bangladesh…the key to rebuilding a country is a strong rural sector.”

The future is bright for Myanmar, as long as the current political trajectory does not falter. People like Sean, Nevcan, Alex and Jim have faith in what this country can and will become. After our first two days of company visits, we are beginning to see the light on the horizon as well.

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

“Car Guys” vs. The Disruptors: Germany Week in Review

 

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CBS students at BMW Welt planning next “big idea”

Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard ‘88 is a proud man. He’s fit, maybe 5′ 11″ tall, his sharp chiseled facial features and touch of grey hair complement a finely tailored navy suit with a silver pocket square. When he speaks, he is assertive and charismatic, a commanding voice easily fills a room of 30 MBA students. Most importantly, Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard is a “car guy”.

Bernhard was the former Chief Executive Officer of Mercedes-AMG GmbH and would later hold various positions, including being a member of the board of management of Daimler AG, before retiring in 2017. Bernhard embodies the classic German ethos of discipline, hard work, first-one-in-last-one-out, and the “no bullshit, do-it-yourself” mentality. As an executive, he was not afraid to get his hands dirty by often taking monthly shifts on the Mercedes manufacturing line. “Know your business,” he tells us with a serious look, but slight smile. He continues to talk about German-engineering excellence and how hyper focus on attention to quality and improvement is unmatched. As he speaks to us, he is calm and composed…that is, until the topic of Tesla comes up.

“You need to be really good at manufacturing…they’re not. They’re just an IT company…that moved into auto…and they talk about the hell of manufacturing…that’s what it is! That’s what it takes to get the job done!  And for them it’s hell and for us it’s art! For hundreds of years we have been honing that art!” he states with just the slightest hint of red in his face. The subtext of his words are more powerful than the literal criticism. This wasn’t just about Tesla versus Mercedes, massive disruption in the auto industry, or even Elon Musk’s hubris…it was about something much deeper…the German identity.

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Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard – Photo by Daimler AG on Flickr

Bob Dylan famously writes, “Come gather ’round people wherever you roam and admit that the waters around you have grown…you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changin.” While not as profoundly German as Nena’s 99 Luftballoons, Dylan’s quote encapsulates the point of contention at the heart of the German cultural and business identity as we approach the end of a decade. Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard’s career represents what has made the German auto industry so successful in the past, a commitment to excellence through laser-focus on the singular objective of car quality. But in a rapidly changing automotive and technology landscape, does putting on blinders stifle unique opportunities for innovation?

This is, of course, the opinion of Dr. Volker Bilgram, of HYVE – The innovation company, and Dominik Böhler, of the Technical University of Munich. In both presentations, the term “car guys” was used to describe the old school German state-of-being defined by risk aversion, over-engineering, and bureaucracy. This mentality was in straight opposition to the new wave of German startups that espouse bold innovation, human centered design, and flat decentralized work culture.

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Paul Günther of Proglove

Founders of Proglove Paul Günther (product engineer) and Thomas Kirchner (CEO) embody this new wave of German startup culture. Kirchner is a former IDEO employee and with Günther, a former BMW employee, created a smart glove for industries. The glove was created through rapid prototyping and iterations incorporating continuous feedback from manufacturing workers. Contrary to the culture espoused by Wolfgang at Mercedes, the culture at Proglove empowers workers to choose when they start their days and provides access to unlimited vacation. But the auto industry isn’t the only sector German disruptors are attacking.

A short flight to Berlin, brought us to a fintech start up called Number 26 (N26). N26 is a mobile bank that offers millennial friendly features such as cash from any ATM without fees, instant account management and security, and real-time notifications. A week after CBS visited N26, the company closed a $160M round of funding  which is one of largest European fintech investments ever and clearly causally linked to our visit. N26’s success comes as a revelation as traditional European lenders, such as Deutsche Bank AG, continue to struggle posting its 3rd annual loss in a row.

*Quick meta note that Deutsche Bank decided to cancel our company visit on the day of, which is also causally linked to their string of failures.

I’m losing my train of thought trying to balance a clear theme of lessons learned in Germany while also trying to sum up the company visits for the week.  In the meanwhile…here are some more cool pictures to help illustrate the trip:img_3117

CBS visit to Factory Berlin – A community of startups

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BMW Welt – The building is made to look like 4 cylinders of a car engine

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CBS students (who received the red sweater navy pants memo) at Spotcap 

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CBS at the Berlin Wall

Ok, I’m back! So just to recap, we have this cultural shift in mentality from the big German business players represented by Wolfgang Bernhard, formerly of Mercedes, to the new wave of scrappy startups mostly based out of Berlin’s silicon allee. But a question remains in this risk averse German culture, where does the financial capital come from to fuel the German disruptors?

Our journey in Berlin, took us to Earlybird Venture Capital, a venture capital investor focused on European technology companies. The fund was established in 1997 and has over EUR 850 million under management. While the firm officially funds companies at all stages, they did emphasize that demonstrable traction, such as revenue, is significantly more important to them when compared to their Silicon Valley VC counterparts. We were especially pleased, however, to see that in a male dominated VC world, the two rising stars at Earlybird presenting to us were young women. It is VCs like Earlybird who are enabling the German startup scene to flourish.

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Milda Jasaite and Rebecca Hu of Earlybird Venture Capital

It is safe to conclude that the success of traditional and new German businesses will be integral to the countries’ global position moving forward. While we got our healthy dose of what is “new and sexy” in terms of German startups – it would be foolish to throw the baby out with the bath water in terms of the culture that has made Germany so successful in the past – the hyper-focus on perfection. The future of innovation has unlimited potential in Germany, whether it will be the “car guys” or the disruptors (or a combination of both) who lead this future, is still being determined.

-Chris Russell

The Real Spanish Economy 🇪🇸⚖️💶

A thriving start-up, a world-renowned economist, a country’s largest airline and most powerful bank. These are just some of the different perspectives that we got to hear from this week in Madrid. Each Spanish leader we had the chance to meet with offered different financial insights about the Spanish economy and how it affects their work.

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CBS with Daniel Lacalle – By Patrick Sofen

The economy of Spain is the world’s fourteenth-largest by nominal GDP, the fifth largest in Europe, and it is also one of the largest in the world by purchasing power parity. It is however often cited for high unemployment and taking off the entire month of August. In our first meeting with TV analyst Daniel Lacalle, we quickly learned that this unemployment number (occasionally in the 20 – 25% range) is actually much lower based on how they calculate full-time employment and the underground employment. For example, the current unemployment rate of 17% would actually be 12% if calculated the same way as the US.

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CBS & Geoblink CEO Jaime Sánchez-Laulhé – By Patrick Sofen

Geoblink, led by Jaime Sánchez-Laulhé, a CEO with an MBA, also touched on the differences of trying to make it as a start-up in Spain versus Silicon Valley. He noted 2 key differences in working in Madrid versus the Bay Area. One, wages for software engineers are much lower and less competitive than SF making it more sustainable to be a start-up. Secondly, there is much stronger company loyalty in Spain. Because of government regulations that make laying off employees very expensive, people then do not regularly switch companies because the hiring process is much more difficult. He, in fact, has only had one employee leave in 3 years with the company and a staff of 40.

It’s been exciting to learn about the pride and power of the Spanish economy.

That’s it for now.

¡Adios!

-Patrick Sofen ’19-

Barcelona: The Trip Before The Trip

Chazen trips really offer it all. A once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet with elite companies abroad, go on guided tours by classmates who are true locals, and endless opportunity to create life-long friendships.

But for those of us headed to Marid, Spain this week, it also opened up the door to one more thing: a weekend in Barcelona. The beauty of going to Europe for Chazen is the proximity of such an amazing city like Barcelona which makes the trip even more special. So a group of 6 of us decided to make the most of this trip across the Atlantic. Our last finals were on Wednesday so after getting our things together, we were off on a Thursday redeye to the Catalonian capital.

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La Sagrada Familia – By Patrick Sofen

Barcelona is a city that truly has it all: the beach, the mountains, the art, the history, the nightlife…you name it and they’ve got it. The city that hosted the ’92 Olympics does not disappoint. While the rest of the trip is organized for us, this was our chance to create our own itinerary and get lost in the meantime.

Our itinerary included a trip to some of Barcelona’s coolest cocktail lounges (one of which included a secret room that was through the kitchen and required a passcode that was hidden in the soap dispenser of a bathroom), a historical bike tour covering 12km of the city and of course a visit to the world-famous La Sagrada Familia. From tapas to papas fritas to sangria, there was no shortage of fun and laughter before our big week in Madrid.

 

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Fat Tire Bike Tours w/ Peter Brown ’19 – By Patrick Sofen 

 

We are now en route on the high-speed train to Madrid and are about to kick off the trip with a soccer game featuring world-renowned futbol club, Atletico Madrid!

¡Vamos!

-Patrick Sofen ’19-

Brazil Tour Conclusion

Joe Qiao ’17

Sitting in the hotel room in Rio and listening to the waves hitting the shore, it is hard for me to believe that our Brazil Global Immersion trip is over. Our 7 day trip was so packed that I felt I have been in Brazil for a much longer time. We ended up completing all 8 company visits and a site visit to Rio Metro Control Center. The schedule was intense but I think we achieved what we wanted for the trip. The company visits were well designed. Even with 9 visits, I can still tell what we have learned from each company.

To conclude how our trip went, I’d like to share with you our experience from 2 angles- the business professional aspect and the social/ cultural/ entertainment aspect.

I think the company visits were so well planned that I can hardly give constructive feedback (I probably still will come up with something so that Prof. Singh doesn’t give me a P on this class). I really enjoyed the Natura, Azul, Suzano, BNDES visits. These companies all have their presentations updated for our trip and the presenters were very knowledgeable about their business. I am surprised that we had good communications given the language barrier. Our peer classmates asked so many interesting questions that we almost always ran out of time during the presentation, not to mention Prof.Singh’s double-shot questions made it impossible to finish the session on time (kidding).

The big surprise for me was how well organized the companies in Brazil are. Before the trip, I imagined that for a developing country which is deeply into recession, the companies must be struggling to keep their forms. The reality was that the companies we visit acknowledge the recession but all had very long-term view on the economy and outlook. For example, Natura has a strong sense of being environmentally-friendly despite of the downturn. Azul has an aggressive growth plan and is looking to capture more market share. Suzano is innovating to be more efficient. I see a lot of potential in Brazil after the company visits. However, I also noticed many obstacles that Brazil has to overcome before it develops further.

Our stay in both Rio and Sao Paulo was good. We went to fine dining and did sightseeings. However, after talking with local tour guides, I realized that what we saw in Brazil was just a tiny piece of the pie. We did not really feel how the “regular” Brazilians live. Some of the old and deserted buildings in downtown area reminds me that the country is not equally developed. Many parts of the city is so well-developed that if you told me that I was in California, I would believe it. However, looking up into the mountains, we saw favelas. That immediately reminds me of the famous movie- City of God. We probably will get a more balanced view of Brazil if we watch the movie after the company visits. I think the inequality really created a world of problems to Brazil- violence, a lack of spending power despite a decent average income level, and poverty. There is also another problem with Brazil (similar to Greece) – expensive pension and labor protection. The country pays too much to workers and the high labor cost stole away the companies’ profit. The labor protection also kills people’s motivation to thrive.

Overall though, I do think that Brazil will continue to grow in the long-run and remains an attractive investment choice for international investors. You can either pay 27 times P/E for a company listed in the US or you can pay a 5 times P/E for a company in Brazil. I would place my bet on Brazil!

 

 

 

Brazil Company Visits

Joe Qiao ’17

I would like to first respond to my presumptions from my previous blogs. One of my observations during the weekend was that Sao Paulo was a quiet and calm city. I wanted to see if the city will become hectic on workdays like other similar size cities around the world such as Tokyo or Shanghai. After two days touring around the city, my observation tells me that Sao Paulo is indeed a calm city. We had traffic but nothing like those in New York. We saw people on the street but nothing like those seen in Beijing. We see some high-rises but nothing like those in Hong Kong. Like I said, Sao Paulo has its unique charm from the relax and calm environment. I do have a question. Where are the 20 million people? !

The second observation was that Brazil does have a large income gap between the rich and the poor. Brazil’s GDP/ Capita is slightly over $10k, which is almost doubling that of China. However, the rich part of the city looks like any developed countries around the world whereas there are still many slams in and around the city. I can see why it is such a priority for the Brazilian political leaders to address the inequality problem in the society. I was told that Sao Paulo and the Southern states are considered the wealthiest part of the country. The Northern states and Northeastern states are in very bad shapes.

Back to the topic of company visits. I have previously attended world tours in a few cities but I have to say that the company visits in Brazil so far are the most professional and well-prepared. The company presentations were full of interesting content. For example, we had so many questions during our Natura and Suzano visits that we run over our schedule in almost every session and had to rush through our plant tour. Sadly we didn’t even get to shop at Natura after all the talks about their all-natural and environmentally-friendly products. We had a great time regardless. I was pleasantly surprised that the companies were so willing to receive us and spent a lot of effort giving us the best experience. The CEOs of both Natura and Suzano gave us warm welcome and high level company officials gave speeches and took us on the tour. We asked so many questions during the presentations. Of course the best questions always came from Professor Singh’s “I have two questions for you”.

My favorite experience was seeing the wood logs turning into packaged A4 paper at Suzano’s factory. Learning about how the company became so efficient made me wonder if I still want to work in Finance after graduation.

We also had a great time at Ambev and learned a lot about beer market in Latin America. We had a happy hour in their office and enjoyed some good food and beer. One of my takeaways was the Zero-Alcohol beer taste just like a regular beer!

And of course, I have to show off my favorite picture from today!

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Great experience so far and I look forward to seeing Rio tomorrow! Stay tuned.

Jam-packed days in Taipei!

The last few days leading up to the new year have been jam packed with activities for the Chazen crew in Taiwan. We all landed in Taipei on Wednesday December 28th, and while it would be impossible to share all the moments of our trip so far here are some key highlights.
12/28: “There is a Chinese saying that the best boss is like a servant” – CEO of Franz Collection

According to Forbes Magazine, the fourth most desired item for young Chinese is fine porcelain: vases, tea ware, decorative ornaments, etc. Our first company visit was to Franz Collection, a company founded in 2001 that has quickly risen to prominence as one of the best suppliers of luxury fine porcelain. Their mission is to bring the beauty of ancient Chinese porcelain to the modern world. Their designs focus on highlighting the beauty of nature and Eastern symbolism. All items are handmade and even most of the “simple” items may take 3-4 months to produce.

We had the opportunity to speak with the founder and CEO who not only shared with us his ability to grow the business over the past 15 years but also how he aspires to maintain an open and non-hierarchical work culture. Two key facts:

  1. They believe technology and innovation are key for maintaining their competitive advantage – for years they have perfected their own 3D printing technology that allows them to build molds and designs more quickly and with more delicate elements that can then be translated into a handmade collectible
  2. Their employees are part of a “roundtable” – they don’t have hierarchical titles and all employees have a seat at the table. This encourages innovation and respect

12/28: “Our chefs are trained for 2 years so they can perfect their dumpling folding” – Din Tai Fung, top restaurant chain known for their soup dumplings (xiao long bao)

 


12/28: Taipei 101

Our second company visit was to Taipei 101, the most iconic building in Taiwan and home to a shopping mall, offices, and observation deck. When it was built, it was the tallest building in the world and has won multiple awards for its construction and green / LEED practices.

12/28: “Your biggest asset and risk is your reputation” – Stanley Ko, head of Hasmore Restaurant Group and CBS ‘99 alum

Stanley gave us insight into Hasmore – a family business started by his father that manages top restaurants in Asia. They partner with global chains like Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, invest in new ideas and concepts, and build their own top-rated restaurants with Michelin chefs. He generously treated us to a 7-course dinner at Ryu Gin, an acclaimed Japanese restaurant led by Chef Yamamoto.


12/29: Morning cultural stop at the Martyr’s Shrine

12/29: Garage+ / Epoch

Epoch and Garage+ is a nonprofit that incubates startups and promotes entrepreneurship in Taiwan. The founder established the organization in hopes of finding a way to push Taiwan beyond cheap labor and manufacturing, which was its primary source of growth in the 1980s/1990s.

12/29: VR 

In 2016 HTC launched VIVE – their new virtual reality (VR) brand. We got to test out their games and take a tour of their beautiful building. We met with VR Chief of Staff Jimmy Feng and VP of Sales and Operations Victor Hu. They gave us insight into the future of VR and how it can be used not only in media/entertainment (e.g. Gaming) but also to improve healthcare (surgeons at UCLA use VR technology to visualize a neural MRI and CAT Scan before surgery in order to plot out the best entry site and incisions during the operation).

12/29: Alumni sponsored dinner by Shirley Wang (CBS alum) and Walter Wang (Formosa Group)

We sat around two large tables and each had our own hotpot set (traditional Chinese meal where you cook a variety of meats, seafood, and fresh veggies in a fragrant soup broth directly at the table)


And we haven’t even gotten to the “fun” stuff yet – more to come soon!

Melanie Chow ’17

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

Beaches and embargoes fight for perspective on our first days in Cuba

On Sunday afternoon, I looked up to the sky as I stepped onto the fine, pillow-soft sand at the beach in the Varedero region of Cuba. Not a cloud to be found in any direction above the shimmering sun-drenched waters on this pristine spring day. I walk to the edge of the sand where, nestled in the sawgrass, is a bar. As I wade out mojito in hand to meet friends in the water, I know authoritatively that this is the single greatest day of class in my academic career.

Of course, the week has largely not been spent relaxing with a beverage in hand. Our first few days on the island have included a variety of views on the unique political and economic situations in which Cuba finds itself. We’ve heard from a range of speakers including a historian, a hotel manager, a former diplomat, and the former Finance Minister. The viewpoints have quite honestly been more candid than many of us expected. There is no blind eye turned to the troubling trade deficit, nor do they shy away from the looming demographic crisis of Cuba’s ageing population that, while educated, may not have the most marketable skill sets for the modern global economy. Each speaker is cognizant of and acknowledges many of the challenges Cuba faces in its economic transformation.

However, the role of the American economic embargo sews a common thread through most opinions. Many objective observers would agree that the embargo policy ultimately was unsuccessful and has greatly hindered the Cuba’s economic development, but there is sentiment among our speakers that once the embargo is lifted Cuba will blast off into economic revival. While this is a certain possibility, the other issues facing this nation are powerful, and must be confronted with new solutions and a continued liberalization of economic policies. As the trip moves forward, opinions on the embargo as it affects each industry will no doubt be top of mind among our class as it is top of mind for this nation.