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MIT Sloan Student Blog Archive

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02/27/2013

Living the executive life for a day

I recently posted about how our G-Lab experience ended extremely well.  Not only did we get to see the results of our hard work, we were able to participate in executive level conversations and our opinions actually mattered to them. This four hour period was the best time while in the office we experienced in Sorocaba.  However, the six or seven hours after this presentation were the best time we spent away from the office!

Percio, a former banker turned investor and now the head of our company, was gracious enough to give up a glimpse into his life as a wealthy corporate executive.  After our presentation we were taken in a private car to the local helipad where Percio flew us in his private helicopter to his country house outside of Sao Paulo.  Upon landing at a field near his house, which he is turning into a golf course, we were escorted in his pristine, cherry red 52’ Jaguar to his home. Actually, we parked in one of his homes but went across the street to his other house, which is on a lake.  The
non-lake house provides extra parking for his antique cars and scooters as well as a roof which he converted to a soccer field for his children, obviously…

The lake house was the nicest home I have ever been in. Although not the largest I have visited, the layout and décor were like nothing else I have experienced.  Working with a famous architect, Percio was able to make it feel like the home was part of a rainforest. The large indoor pool and lush landscaping throughout made it truly feel like we were outside the entire time, possibly living in the home from the Swiss Family Robinson!

During our visit Percio introduced us to his family and took the time to cook us a great dinner.  He took time out of his busy schedule to make us feel welcome and we all really appreciated it. In the end I feel he did this for two reasons. First because he wanted to show us Brazilian hospitality, which we experienced throughout our entire trip and was always excellent, and second because he wanted to say thank you for our hard work.  Although the experience earlier that day interacting with the executive level employees was professionally the most rewarding part of our trip, this was by far the best part of the non-work side of things!

Big Finish to our G-Lab Experience

We successfully delivered the final presentation to our host company yesterday.  Our group was happy with our work and felt that we did a good job communicating our findings and recommendations. After the presentation we spoke with the executive team and the companies owners (a private equity group recently acquired TECSIS) about strategies related to adding manufacturing capacity in international markets.  This was by far the most rewarding experience of our three week stay in Sorocaba. 

At times this project was frustrating to work on, it was difficult to get access to Executive level people and our scope was not clearly defined until our time there was halfway gone. However, the four hours we spent presenting and then strategizing with this group was the exact reason we picked TECSIS as our first choice.  Seeing our research and recommendations being used in their decision making as well as being asked to give our opinions on these important decisions validated that our hard work was not an academic exercise.  Furthermore, on our first day at TECSIS we made it clear that we did not want to produce some report that would be shelved and never used again so it was gratifying to see that we were able to provide substantive work that was immediately relevant.

Another aspect that I really enjoyed about this interaction with the company’s leaders was seeing how decisions actually get made in a corporate setting.  Although the information we presented: research data, ranking modes, case studies, decision making frameworks, etc. were all valuable in coming up with a recommendation and helped us to justify our thoughts, in the end it was one person that made the final decision.  The head of the Private Equity group, and the person in control of the company, ultimately made the final call. It was a good example of the way the corporate world really works.  Although consensus based decision making is important, ultimately someone needs to be in charge and make a decision.  This experience was a good example of how a manager can successfully allow his people to discuss an important decision, show he appreciates their work and values their time, but then ultimately do what is best for the company, regardless of which individual had what thought and how it would make them feel to ultimately disagree with them.  I have a problem putting personal emotions to the side when making tough business decisions and this served as a lasting lesson that I will always think back on throughout my career.

02/18/2013

G-Lab Wrap up

Thinking about the time we spent in Jakarta and the overall G-Lab effort I have to admit that it was a fantastic experience. I think that although we only spent 3 weeks in Jakarta we were able to produce work that will help Indomog, our client, to make better decisions as it looks for opportunities that will shape the future of the company. As I had mentioned in earlier posts, Indomog is an online payment service provider that focuses in helping gamers in Indonesia that do not have credit cards or other means of electronic payment to get access to paid online games through a large network of physical locations. The company has been successful in this particular segment up to now, but it is now looking at what will be its next stage for development. While we were in Jakarta we had to hit the ground running, as our scope of work was fairly general, and we had a decent amount of ground to cover so that we could develop something useful for the client. We had the chance to speak with the managers and some employees of the company and not only did we get to learn about their business, but also about Indonesia. I was also reminded of how important it is to be present on-site to really learn how things are done in any business, city or country. Although the research that we did remotely before going to Indonesia was a very useful first step, what we learned about the company and Indonesia when we were at Indomog was many times more what we were able to research on our own. Furthermore, there are so many intricacies to every aspect that they can only be learned in person. Before arriving in Jakarta we had refined three preliminary options for Indomog to pursue. These included an online ticketing system (initially intended for movie theaters, but later on revised to ticketing for concerts and sporting events), money transfer services and a payment service for online purchases. We did additional research, interviews and even a customer survey to determine what could be the best alternative, and decided that ticketing would be the right choice. Indomog had already been evaluating these options and others that we had discarded earlier on, but we think that the external point of view that we were able to offer with our work was very valuable, as we addressed some issues that they had considered and others that they had not realized. Despite the fact that we knew very little beforehand about their business and the country, we had the chance to absorb much information about both and leveraging our experience and education, we were able to come up with advice that is relevant and useful. The client was pleased with our end product, and we were happy that what we did will help them in the future. In addition to the satisfaction of helping this blooming business, the cultural experience was phenomenal. I have had work experience in the US and Latin America, but living in Jakarta for 3 weeks, learning about this interesting country, and enjoying some great Indonesian food was something very unique. I am glad that I had the opportunity to be part of G-lab, to meet an interesting client, and to work with a great team with which I had the chance to learn and to build many lasting memories.

Reflection - Ghana

This G-Lab experience has taught me once again that our judgment of a country, an economy or people is very much influenced by what we are accustomed to. Arriving in Accra, Ghana in early January, our whole G-Lab team thought about how far this country still has to develop until anything from its infrastructure to business services will meet Western standards.

However, a few weeks later I had a change of mind and I was astonished by the opposite. After G-Lab I traveled for some time in Malawi. It was a beautiful scenic country with friendly people. Its economy however was stagnant with no growth in sight.

I mention this because on my way back home I had a long layover in Accra, Ghana. I took the time to step out of the airport to stop by our old employer and visit my favorite sights in Accra. Now however, I was amazed at how far this economy had come and at how developed its infrastructure was. As said, it is all about perspectives.

Above all, the G-Lab experience has enabled me to acquire a much better understanding of the obstacles and needs of an emerging economy in this part of the world. It gave me a firsthand insight into the business world and specifically in our case, the process of infrastructure development.

02/17/2013

Jakarta - Reflections

Back in Boston's hectic life again and therefore the delay in the post. My final post for G-Lab includes a lits of things I will miss and a list of things I will not miss from G-Lab. Here they go:

7 Things I am going to miss

  1. Fresh fruit juice for under a dollar – watermelon, guava, jackfruit
  2. Not being glued to my smartphone all day
  3. Mie Gorengs
  4. Our clients – Antonny, David, and rest of the MPI team
  5. Having the most gorgeous beaches only an Air Asia flight away
  6. Traditional Balinese massage
  7. Hanging out with Indonesian rockstars

3 Things I am not going to miss

  1. Spending 2-3 hours a day in traffic
  2. Smelling like a cigarette due to constant 2nd hand smoking
  3. Not being able to walk anywhere and having to depend on cabs/drivers

Overall, this was a 100% kickass trip and could not recommend MPI higher. Future teams should strongly consider working with this promising startup that promises to change the face of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in SE Asia. 

Thanks everyone!

 

 

 

02/16/2013

Indonesia: a reflection on the ethnic divide

I’ve been surrounded with all-things Indonesian since my
return. Of the five classes that I’m taking this semester, two classes have
assigned readings related to Indonesia, one of which has also assigned a paper
on its economic development. It’s fascinating how a country that I’ve paid
little attention to prior to G-Lab is now omnipresent. In the short amount of
time spent in/around Jakarta, I’ve come to notice a few points of interest, one
of which explored below is the tension between Chinese-Indonesians and
Indonesians.

From a cultural perspective, Indonesia, like much of
southeast asia, is divided into Chinese-Indonesians and “native” Indonesians.
The majority of the Chinese-Indonesians are business owners whereas the natives
tend to hold government positions, as expected. Indomog was no exception to the
rule as the C-suite are all Chinese – and all own/chair others businesses as
well. The Director of Marketing proudly said that while Chinese New Year is not
formally recognized as a holiday, her and rest of the Executives plan to take
the Friday before New Year’s eve off. In a separate conversation between her
and an Indonesian founder of a popular newsblog, they both recalled being
pulled over by traffic police for not following carpooling rules – whereas she
was fined 100K rupiah, the blogger was fined 10K. She later told me in private
that this is common in Indonesia as the traffic police will price differently
based on perceived ethnic origin. I shared my observations about the perceived differences
between the two ethnic groups to a classmate at Sloan and he pointed out that
the differences between the Chinese-Indonesians and the Indonesians are not
just skin deep as there are entrenched differences in work-ethics and
attitudes. As it turned out, he worked in Jakarta for a little over half a year
in 2009 with the objective of conducting analysis on how to integrate a newly
acquired Indonesian company into his conglomerate-employer’s operations. The
result of his study implied that Chinese-Indonesians tend to work more
productively and are easier to train than their counterparts.

Indonesian history shows that Chinese discrimination can be
dated as far back as the 1740s. The most recent public episode of
discrimination however was the May 1998 riots where hundreds of Chinese were
killed, and dozens raped. The source of the tension has been multi-fold:
displaced loyalty to the Chinese government, perception of exclusiveness to
themselves, and little representation in Indonesian government. Based on recent
observations, there seems to be an employer-employee tension between the two
ethnicities as well.

As Indonesia’s middle class grows, as does its income
inequality, I cannot help but question whether racial tensions will continue
and perhaps escalate. There has been one piece of promising news that race may
not be as polarizing as it once was though: the election of Jakarta’s ethnically-Chinese
Deputy Governor in 2012 may just be the indication needed to show that
Indonesians are putting to bed racial differences.

02/15/2013

A New Argentina

While showing some of the analytical tools we created during our final presentation, one of our project’s sponsors interrupted saying in Spanish: “Esto es exactamente lo que necesitamos”—this is exactly what we need. More than excitement, I felt a sense of entitlement on her comment. She was looking directly towards the company’s CEO. The CEO, on the other hand, was quiet at that moment but his face expressions were clear—he understood the relevance and the urgency of the issue. Later during the presentation, the CEO asked a senior executive “Does this make sense to you?”—his response was clear: it was time to move forward and he was on-board to start planning the changes.

DSC_0573_2

One of the reasons I came to MIT Sloan was the action learning programs. Some people describe them as consulting projects—but I disagree with this simplistic view. Having worked as an IT consultant, a management consultant and as a global manager who collaborated with consultants; I can clearly say the following: (1) the host company is not exactly a client, (2) our student group does not have the structure of a consulting team, (3) MIT does not behave like a consulting firm—and the most important difference for me—(4) we are not doing the job from an ivory tower: we are on-the ground and experiencing similar hurdles and excitements than the entrepreneurs and employees we work with. This is a laboratory. This is an experiment—a canvas; it is a unique opportunity to understand a “what if”… what if I decide to run a business in this environment.

Some of my former posts made references to either the development of my understanding of the Argentinian culture and business environment; or to the changes I experienced while living there; but for this final post, I would like to delve into one conclusion I am just starting to formulate:  without a historical context of a culture you are not part of, making political, social or economic assumptions could be very harmful for a foreigner entrepreneur.

I couldn’t really make sense of the political and economic decisions that the Argentinian government had been making for the last couple of years. This inward looking growth by currency-exchange control, import restrictions and tariff increases didn’t make much sense to me. I asked around; got some basic context—but it was clear I was missing many subtleties. I was missing the night stories pass from generation to generation that are so ingrained and ubiquitous that could be ignored during a summary. Why making the same mistakes from the past?

According to the general field of Economics, a liberal economic order can be seen as a public good. And although the liberalization of an economy should benefit all groups in society; special groups who enjoy sector-specific protections will attempt to maintain a closed economy in order to continue receiving these benefits. For this reason, the policymakers in charge of implementing a state intervention must be agnostic to current winners who may become losers. That does not seem ground-breaking knowledge. Nonetheless, as many of us are aware and based on human psychology, gains and losses are not weight equally. This is the reason why future losers have a bigger incentive to engage in collective actions against an open economy, while prospective winners, still uncertain about their payoffs, remain disorganized.

Argentina faced the deepest political crisis in 1976 after the Malvinas War, so it suddenly moved to a radical liberalization of the economy later that year. Argentina had a deep de-regularization of the banking industry in 1977 that resulted in high debt in the early 1980s, another hyperinflation, and a big crash. Why does this keep happening again and again? When would it stop?

I do not really have an answer and although I decided to take a class about Latin American Politics and Policymaking at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government to get a better understanding—it is still very early in the semester for me to make a conclusion. The only thing I can say is that even though Argentina is signaling a move towards an inward looking growth—it is important to understand two important factors: the country does not have a high foreign debt and its strong democracy could certainly repair the damages. It is true that current economic policies may not look very optimistic, but it also certain that there is whole political and economic system behind those policies that as long as they get fixed, the engine will keep moving.

 

 “A new Argentina, a new age about to begin

A new Argentina, we face the world together

And no dissent within”

– From Evita, "A New Argentina"

 

Action Learning Addiction

It has been one amazing journey from September to this week which culminated our GLab class with the final poster session. The MIT action learning labs drew me to MIT when I was applying for my MBA. This has been my second action-learning lab at MIT and I am already gearing up for my third one (they are somewhat addicting).

On a serious note, the poster session at MIT really reveals the potential impact of my classmates through a single semester long class. I was excited to see what my classmates had achieved in the last few months for their host organizations. From strategy formulation in New Zealand to operational improvements in Africa, I enjoyed hearing about their experiences, their struggles, and their breakthroughs.  What amazes me is that MIT is able to recreate such experiences year after year.

As much as I miss Brazil, I look forward to my next action learning lab (Global Health Delivery) - this time in Nepal!

Thinking back to Argentina...

It has been exactly three weeks since we did our final presentation at our host company’s offices in Buenos Aires, Argentina. With the hustle and bustle of school life, my mind has been more focused on classes, add-drop forms, c-functions, and parties…and the memories of Argentina seem to be fading away.

When I sit down and try, I can faintly remember those final days as our project drew to a close. I remember the pleasure we felt when we received positive feedback from the CEO of our company during our goodbye lunch; and the satisfaction that came from seeing the happy faces of the employees who were excited to start implementing the new process and tools we had built. We were sad on the last day that we would no longer taking the subte to work daily and seeing those familiar faces who had become colleagues.

While those wonderful days are now gone, I am happy that as a result of those three weeks I now have friends in what used to be an unfamiliar foreign country, have picked up a bit of a foreign language, and in the process have added value to a company through our project work. Most importantly, those three weeks gave me the opportunity to travel and live with my close friends and form a much deeper and personal bond with them through this journey. 

What we learned.

"How was Ghana?"

I've been back in Boston for nearly three weeks, and I've probably been asked that question at least 20 times. Even so, I haven't been able to adequately answer yet. Overall, it was a "once-in-a-lifetime" and totally incomparable experience. Here are some general thoughts:

  • Ghanaians are truly wonderful people. Before we left for Ghana, at least a dozen people told us we'd be blown away by the kindness of Ghanaians. They were right -- it was an incredibly friendly and welcoming culture. 
  • Ghana is an enchanting plcae. I would not say that it's a particularly beautiful country, or that it's known for its famous sites. However, it felt impossible not to fall in love (heads over heels in love, really) with the country. I'd probably tell you it's my favorite country I've visisted, but I still can't explain why.
  • The trip was no vacation. While there were vacation-like elements to the trip, we were lucky to be able to spend three weeks working and living in what felt like the "real" Ghana -- we stayed at a guest house in a quiet suburb, rather than a big hotel, and interacted with mostly local Ghanaians. For this reason, it felt like a very authentic visit. 
  • The food was amazing. I love Ghanaian food. End of story. 
  • No one could prepare me for how hot it would be in a taxi! We knew Ghana would be hot, and we knew that we'd be taking a lot of taxis. However, nothing could prepare me for the feeling of sitting in an un-air-conditioned taxi in an hour of the super intense Accra traffic. Wow.
  • Action Learning really works. I enrolled in G-Lab because I wanted an experience of working on a project in a developing country. I'm so glad I did, because I feel like my biggest learning experience from the trip was about how business is done in Ghana. No books and articles I read in the library at Sloan would have been able to really teach me about doing business in Ghana. However, just a few days into our visit to Accra, and it was clear just how much I had to learn. 
  • I want to do this again! So luckily, I am. I'm currently enrolled in another Action Learning course, China Lab, and will be working with a company in Shanghai in March. I can't wait!
Overall, I think this may have been the most educational and impactful experience I've had at Sloan. I loved it -- and I miss Ghana already!