Experiential Learning in China

Back in January, I traveled with 35 of my classmates to Hong Kong for one of the handful of “Doing Business in…” (DBi) courses offered each semester.  With b-school lasting only a short two years, these one- or two-week courses are the most popular way for students to take advantage of Stern’s partnerships with international institutions and to expand their learning beyond the classroom and New York City.

Apart from a pre-departure meeting during the semester, the entire class takes place on location and consists of a balanced blend of classroom learning, corporate visits, and field trips to cultural sites.  For my DBi, Stern partnered with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), whose faculty, staff, and students welcomed us onto their campus with great hospitality.  In the classroom, we learned about current social issues in China and how they have been influenced by geography, history, culture, and politics.  We also examined the major opportunities and challenges that firms encounter, from the standpoints of both the foreign multinational companies, who tend to underestimate the costs of doing business in China, and the local Chinese companies, who are rising to compete against these corporate giants in the global market.

We were able to witness these successes and challenges in action at the companies we visited, which were chosen due to their relation to Hong Kong’s significant travel and tourism industry.  My personal favorite was a trip to the MTR, the private Hong Kong-based corporation that runs the highly efficient mass transit railway system in Hong Kong and—as we learned during our visit—in other parts of the world as well.  In addition to a quick tour of the control room at Kowloon Bay Station (where the MTR’s headquarters are located), we had the opportunity to hear directly from the Head of Operations, the Strategy and Planning Manager, and the Head of Town Planning about the MTR’s impressive operational achievements, profitable business models, and goals and aspirations moving forward and beyond Hong Kong.  The executives also discussed the difficulties they are encountering as they grow their operations, such as meeting customer demands, fighting market competition, and navigating the complications and regulatory webs of foreign places and their governments.

Some of these successes and challenges were echoed at the other companies too.  Uber invited us to their sleek new office, where we sat in their open kitchen and met with their regional head (who began at Uber as their first Hong Kong employee).  Over the course of 90 minutes, he excitedly shared with us the firm’s successes in Hong Kong, highlighting the uplifting impact Uber has had on the lives of their drivers and customers.  He also discussed the developments that have resulted from serving Hong Kong’s residents specifically—a service for the elderly called uberASSIST, as well as the city’s own UberEATS, whose incredible success in Hong Kong has inspired the firm to name each of its new meeting rooms after a food they deliver.  Their office mascot also proudly bears the logo:

We couldn’t help ourselves.
We couldn’t help ourselves.

In addition, a visit to Hong Kong’s flag carrier airline Cathay Pacific exposed us to the company’s approach to addressing shifts in consumer behaviors and fighting off increased competition in a highly regulated industry.  Moreover, on the tour of Cathay’s headquarters, led by the airline’s lovely flight managers, we had the opportunity to witness Cathay’s pre-flight crew procedures, sit in one of the pilot seats of a flight simulator, and lay back in the six pods that comprise the exclusive first class cabins of Cathay’s transoceanic planes (or in this case, a replica of one that is used for training).  Later in the week, a visit to Ocean Park granted us insights into how the beloved amusement park managed to leverage its local understanding of its customers to differentiate itself from Disneyland and fend off the foreign goliath’s arrival.  We were then set free into the park, where we observed various animals, raised our adrenaline on the array of rides, and took in aerial views of the park from the park’s signature cable cars, which also affords views of the South China Sea.

The future business leaders of tomorrow pose for a photo before running off to the panda exhibit.
The future business leaders of tomorrow pose for a photo before running off to the panda exhibit.

As if the corporate visits were not enlightening enough in themselves, so we could experience aspects of the local culture first-hand, Stern also arranged plenty of Cantonese-style meals and class trips to the Hong Kong Jockey Club and Po Lin Monastery (where the Big Buddha statue sits).  Additionally, we had time on the weekend to explore on our own, giving us the chance to create even more memories with one another.  For example, I’ll personally never forget that a group of us hiked up [the very steep] Victoria Peak one day to take in the breathtaking views we were promised only to encounter the whims of the weather and smog instead.

There’s a gorgeous view of Hong Kong behind us somewhere.
There’s a gorgeous view of Hong Kong behind us somewhere.

Indeed, in addition to the satisfaction of visiting Asia for the first time and getting to do something that I wrote about wanting to do in my admissions essay, I feel very fortunate to have been able to learn so much through these unique experiences and to be able to share them with such wonderful classmates.  Whether we were touring a corporate headquarters or searching the streets for pork buns, I don’t think any of it would have been as exciting and memorable if my fellow Sternies were not by my side.

Winter Break Travels

One of the greatest aspects of Stern is the opportunity to travel with classmates on weekends, over the summer and during school breaks. Over winter break I had the opportunity to travel to Steamboat Springs on the Stern Ski Trip and to Las Vegas as part of the Operations in Vegas class. The ski trip was a fun vacation with friends to lay fresh tracks, eat good food and explore all Steamboat has to offer, but Ops in Vegas was really a once in a lifetime experience.
Steamboat
(View from the gondola headed up the mountain in Steamboat)

I arrived in Las Vegas on Saturday one day before the class officially started with a few other MBA2s so that we could watch the first round of the NFL playoffs in a sportsbook and hike in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The class  kicked off on Sunday night with a nice welcome dinner and the warning that the next few days would be very intense. On Monday morning we had the opportunity to meet with a number of executives from Station Casinos including top executives in charge of the hotels, analytics, and marketing as well as the new COO of Ultimate Fighting Championship Lawrence Epstein. Most importantly, we had a lengthy conversation with Lorenzo Fertitta, a Stern alumni (1993) who recently sold the UFC to William Morris Endeavor, served as Commissioner on the Nevada State Athletic Commission, and also is the principal shareholder of Station Casinos with his brother Frank. To hear directly from Lorenzo about how he turned the UFC from a bankrupt company he purchased for $2 million into the massive media empire he just sold for $4.3 billion was an eye opening business lesson. Our day finished up with a cocktail party in one of the suites at Green Valley Ranch while Clemson stunned Alabama in the national championship game.
Red Rock Condensed
(Hiking Red Rock with fellow classmates Phil Bowman, Steve Seidel and Eric Goodman)

Tuesday continued with lectures including from the head of security for Station Casinos, and former Las Vegas Chief of Police, Bill Young at Green Valley Ranch before heading over to Light Nightclub at the Manadaly Bay hotel for a behind the scenes tour of what makes the club run. Our day finished with a bowling event in one of the private bowling rooms at Red Rock Casino.
Light Nightclub
(Massive video screen at Light welcoming us)

On Wednesday we went to downtown Las Vegas where we learned about the downtown revitalization project, got an inside look at Zappos, and toured the D Hotel. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos from Zappos because they’re very secretive, but there were many pieces of amazing art downtown to try and draw more tourists to come off of the strip. Our night concluded with a trip to Light Nightclub to gather firsthand “research” and see Pusha T perform with Baauer.
Downtown Art2 Downtown Art1
(Some of the awesome art downtown)

Thursday was the coolest day of the whole trip for me as we got to go behind the scenes at the Bellagio where we saw everything from the inside of the security room (no pictures allowed), to underneath the famous fountain, to the high-roller suites where the only way to get a room is to gamble millions of dollars in a weekend. We visited the employee level on the 2nd floor of the hotel where 8,000 employees visit every single day to get laundry, eat in the cafeterias, relax, go to the bank, and do so much more inside their mini-city. Our class saw how the Cirque du Soleil show O is performed as we went backstage, underneath the floor to the pool area, and finally to great seats in the audience to watch the performance.
Liquor Room

Friday focused on real estate as we saw Professor Chernoff’s commercial real estate development in Spanish Trails industrial park before heading back to the hotel for an afternoon lesson on poker from world-renowned poker professional Mike Sexton. For those who really love poker, it was truly a priceless experience to hear the keys to successful poker strategy from someone who has won millions of dollars and World Series of Poker titles. Our Friday finished with a goodbye dinner and drinks before everyone headed out.

In addition to the amazing speakers, behind the scenes look at some of Vegas’s most iconic landmarks, and company visits, we had a great time playing poker together, exploring everything Vegas has to offer and most importantly…. getting three credits closer to graduation!

Ciao Milan!

At the end of my spring semester as an MBA 1, I had the opportunity to travel to Milan, Italy with thirty other classmates. We were in the heart of the fashion capital of Europe for our one-week DBi course on Luxury Retail. I had been hearing about this DBi since I first applied to Stern, but the actual experience far exceeded all of my expectations.

The course was a mix of classroom lectures and experiential learning. I would say that the split was about 30/70, with the majority of our time spent visiting flagship retail stores, clothing factories, professional tailors, and other similar venues. You think you’ve shopped luxury before but 5th Avenue is nothing like Milan. In my opinion, comparing the two experiences could not have been more like day and night.

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The attention to detail and level of service at the Milan stores was unparalleled to anything I had ever previously encountered. Store employees strived to build a genuine long-term relationship with every customer that walked into the store; at Dolce & Gabbana, we were told this was because shoppers may stroll in and out on multiple occasions before committing to a purchase, and they wanted these customers to feel just as attended to as the regulars.

Aside from the experiential aspect of the DBi though, the lectures were equally as engaging. In spite of our long days walking around the city, each morning I was excited to hear what the professors at Bocconi University would be sharing with us that day. Their firsthand experiences in the industry, as well as their anecdotes about customer shopping habits, trends, and the economic status in Italy, kept us all hooked throughout our time in the classroom.

While the course itself was certainly fascinating and educational for me, I also really enjoyed the fact that I was traveling with so many classmates, many of whom I had not previously known prior to the trip. What’s interesting about the DBi is that since it’s an actual course, students lottery for it just as they do for all other courses at Stern. That said, it’s a great opportunity to meet both full-time and part-time students. I don’t have too many opportunities to interact with the latter so this was a unique situation in which we were able to get to know one another while exploring a new country together.

Whether you are an experienced jet setter or alternatively, just eager to get that first stamp on your passport, a DBi has something for everyone. In Milan in particular, I felt I received the perfect mix of academic, cultural, and social experiences that truly made it an enriching and unforgettable experience for me. Especially given my interest in the Luxury Retail industry, it has been by far my favorite course I’ve taken at Stern, and one I would highly recommend to other MBAs with similar professional interests.

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Insights into the Winter Break of an MBA2

Jon-NUS

Hey everyone,

It has been a while since I last posted, but it was for good reason…I was on my MBA2 winter break! The second-year winter break during business school is one of the best things ever. Really.

At Stern, like a number of b-schools, we get all of January off. A large majority of first-year students have to utilize this time for summer internship interviewing. Most MBA2s, on the other hand, take advantage of this “free month” to do a variety of things since most of us will probably never get this much time back. What is the most popular use of the time? Traveling!

I personally decided to travel to Southeast Asia (along with probably a third of our class). I started my journey by first enrolling in one of our Doing Business In… (DBi) programs for the first two weeks of January.  Our DBi programs are one (1.5 credits) or two-week (3 credits) study abroad immersion programs with partner schools that focus on teaching best practices for conducting business in a foreign country. I participated in the DBi Asia program, which was located in Singapore in partnership with the National University of Singapore. The course covered several interesting topics, including the value proposition paradigm as it relates to Asian markets, the many economical, political, and cultural roadblocks Western firms can expect to encounter if they try to expand to Indonesia, as well as group simulations that illustrated Asian negotiation customs. Outside of the classroom, our class had the opportunity to visit a number of Singaporean corporate sites, including the luxurious Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Airlines, and Yamato. We were also provided the opportunity to explore landmarks such as the Singapore Flyer and the famous Night Safari, as well as to get a taste for traditional Singaporean chili crab.

Stern students on DBi Singapore
Stern students on DBi Singapore

After my time in Singapore, I decided to continue my explorations to Bali, Phuket, Bangkok, Siem Reap, Myanmar, and Hanoi. It was one of the most culturally eye-opening experiences of my life, and it was fascinating to compare and contrast the different cultures throughout the region.

Jon-Cambodia

Those 5 weeks of combined study and fun were the ideal way for me to spend my winter break, and I am forever fortunate for the opportunity. I hope this gave you a little bit of insight into how you can take advantage of the ample personal time between semesters in your second year of study! As I’m back on campus now, I promise not to take so long to write another post!

Cheers,

Jon

Jon-Myanmar

 

Mid-Semester Check in…

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This is how I ponder

It suddenly hit me that it is almost the end of the semester!  I am spending the bulk of my time at Columbia University, where I took advantage of one of the different experiential programs that Stern offers. I am taking a course on the public education sector in the US from K-12; it is divided into a seminar and a consulting project. One of the interesting parts is that it takes a multidisciplinary approach where I am studying with other MBAs, MPAs, Law, and Education students from different schools. It has been fascinating to see the different perspectives that we bring to the table, and to realize once again that this reflects the complexity of the “working world’’. The course focuses on the changes that are needed in public education, and I have learned a lot about organizational change and organizational design – concepts that can be transferred to any other company that I work for once I graduate.

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Up on the hill – mornings on the Columbia U. campus

In other news, a couple of weeks ago I had to choose my spring courses and it was one of those moments where I realized that this was it!  There is so much that I still have to learn, and so little time to do it.  This is my 2nd business degree, but I am only starting to scratch the surface. Being at Stern, working on different projects, interning, studying with my peers has been such an intellectually stimulating challenge. It also hit me that this is the last time I get to see my friends who are studying abroad next semester, and that now is the time to really make time for them. I am so excited to graduate, to go out into the world and to chart a path for myself. Yet, I would like to stay in this bubble a little longer. In Kinyarwanda they say: “akaryoshe ntigahora mwitama” – it literally translates into “the sweet doesn’t remain in your cheek” meaning that you cannot hold onto great times forever. I now understand the mixed emotions that the class of 2015 felt last fall.

To end on a happier note though, as I had mentioned in a previous post last year, I will be taking full advantage of the January break. I am going on a DBI in Israel, and after that I am planning on visiting a couple of countries with some of my closest friends.  I cannot wait!

Until next time,

Michaella

Doing Business in…

Greetings friends!

This semester has flown by! This will be my last post of 2012. I am heading to Southeast Asia in two weeks! I am taking a course called “Doing Business in Asia” which will be held at the National University of Singapore. The “Doing Business in” (DBi) program is a one to two week intensive course where Stern students travel to a partner school in another country. There are a lot of opportunities to travel abroad here at Stern. You can choose to study abroad for a semester or full-year. The DBi courses are a good alternative for those who want the study abroad experience but cannot commit to a longer period of time. This year, the Office of Student Engagement changed the DBi program so that students may take up to six credits of DBi classes because of the popularity of the program. You can learn more about the DBi program here.

At the end of the Spring 2012 semester, I traveled to Buenos Aires to take “Doing Business in Argentina” at the Universidad de Palermo. Professors from the Stern partner school taught us about a variety of subjects: the economic history of Argentina, human resources and recruiting talent in Argentina, marketing, finance, among others. We had the opportunity to meet representatives from Coca Cola and a few Argentine wineries. We also visited Fox Network Studios in Buenos Aires and learned about how companies use media to communicate with consumers. In between classes and corporate visits, we also toured Buenos Aires, visited the U.S. embassy, took tango lessons, ate lots of steaks and became wine connoisseurs. I had such an amazing time in Buenos Aires that I wanted to take advantage of the new DBi policy. I will try to pop my head in and write about my time in Singapore.

Happy holidays!
Jennie