Back from… China!

The Great WallIf one year ago you had asked me what is the most improbable place for me to visit in the near future, China would have definitely ranked top of my list. But yet, I never thought of living in Germany, so I am getting used to end up in improbable situations.

China is a remarkable country. Although I only had the opportunity of visiting a couple of cities -Shanghai and Beijing-, what I saw was enough to keep me thinking for a week. First of all, China is not afraid of heights. A typical taxi ride in Shanghai will lead you through a vast forest of skyscrapers, no matter whether you are in the financial district or in a residential area. How can so many people live in such a small area is for me still an enigma, but what strikes me even more is how traffic seems to accomodate so many cars without reaching the saturation level of Bogota, even though Shanghai’s 14 million inhabitants makes it twice as large..!

The next thing that struck me was Shanghai’s exquisite flair. Before embarking on this trip, China was a place where small people wearing hats spent their precious time collecting rice from the fields. Today’s China is in fact so different, that rice has virtually disappeared from most meals, allowing more high-end dishes to invade their daily nutrition (don’t get me wrong, I love rice, but Chinese think its only value is to fill you up quickly). Having said this, Shanghai’s night scene offers visitors and locals almost everything, from embracing patios like that of Zapata bar (Valentin didn’t believe me, but sitting there felt like looking out of a balcony in Barranquilla), to sophisticated lounges like Bar Rouge, with an spectacular view over the financial district’s skyline. In fact, you can see so many expats and tourists enjoying Shanghai’s nightlife on a Monday night, that you wonder whether it can actually get boring in this city. Believe it or not, if I got a good job there, I would seriously consider staying there for a while.

Beijing is a bit more conservative than Shanghai -maybe because it’s the capital, maybe because it lies further away from the coast-, so spotting the fun places from the street is a bit more difficult, but with the right guide, you can see also many interesting places. Allowing my creativity to speak up, Shanghai would be to Barcelona what Beijing is to Madrid – but much bigger. As a tourist, the best way to move around the city is by using a taxi. It’s fast (thanks to the five highway rings inscribed within the city) and cheap (prices are just like in Colombia). The only drawback is that you need to have the address written in Chinese, otherwise these people won’t take you anywhere..!

Reading these paragraphs you might think I was on vacation, but the truth is that I was actually on a field trip. ESMT decided it was a good idea for its MBA students to visit an emerging market and learn about the ways European companies do business there, so with that objective in mind -and 19 other students besides me- I spent 10 days visiting companies such as Siemens, ThyssenKrupp, Bosch and others, asking them about the particularities of doing business in China, their challenges and advantages, and so on. If you ask me, this trip has been definitely the highlight of the MBA so far, and neither reading dozens of market research reports nor spending hours in internet could have given me such a good idea of how it is to be there.

I wish I could write more, but the experience has been so intense that it’s impossible to summarize it in a few lines. Besides, I need to write a report on the trip, so I do not have the time either. But I hope that a couple of pictures help you understand what I went through…

FieldTrip: Destination India

Bangalore Instalment

After touching down in Bangalore airport …we were finally here! We were in India. Land of the spices ( some had mischievously added ‘& Miss Worlds’. Well, No sign of Priyanka Chopra or Aishwarya Rai around as I had hoped. 🙂 By the time we had left the carpark, one thing was clear. Driving in India would be an interesting challenge, even for Michael Schumacher! I was amazed at the way the three wheelers zipped through traffic as if on a lone road in the middle of Arizona. Simply incredible!
Fortunately for us the rain had held back sufficiently for us to enjoy our stay. The hotel really raised the stakes on day one with its welcome party. As we travelled around, a few sights were to remain firmly ingrained in my memory:one of modern opulent buildings right next to slums, the three wheeler taxis out to prove the theory of chaos and the ‘family’ bike ride. The latter was really a sight to remember: a couple and two kids somehow all riding one scooter or motorbike and whizzing through traffic. No helmets in sight either! The traffic in India is like dodgem cars at a fun park. The requirement is simply to have good brakes and a horn. Fortunately the low speeds ensured accidents and resulting injuries were rare.

The Infosys set-up in Bangalore is truly impressive by any standard. I am one for modern steel and glass architecture and thus was blown away by what i saw. I think only set-ups(Microsoft, Google) in the US really rival their campuses. The underutilised pool complex was cause for concern: had they simply copied US corporate campus culture without taking into account the intricacies of swimming in public here in India? Our guide said he had yet to see one of the female staff in the pools since their construction. The workers preferred to sit in the shade whilst working away on their laptops.

I was not surprised that such developments had woken sleepy India from its slumber. The history of business in India had been pretty much based on the privildged class inheriting and running everything. Here was a good example of old money aeons old gradually overtaken by enterprising entrepreneurs claiming their stake in the world from steel, motorcycles, IT and the list goes on. Of course the Tata Group remain a formidable challenge even for modern day genuises! Lakshmi Mittal and his endeavours around the world are examples of the ‘new’ India at play.

I couldn’t help but notice the confidence amongst people in the street and in businesses. An papable optimism. SAP had a similar story, but being a major global player with experience, they had seen opportunity in India ( and other places) and positioned themselves accordingly.

As we left Bangalore occupting the entire business class of the local airline, being rather well looked, I could not help but say a thank you to the the admin back in Berlin.Yes, we are demanding lot but sometimes our best expectations are exceeded. Hurrah!


Biking in India

Have you ever been on a motorbike, felt the wind in your hair while accelerated to highspeeds-and not had to worry about the traffic around you? I have and, its exhilarating. We had the priviledge of a real, simulated experience of test driving motorbikes produced by Bajaj Auto. This was on our visit to the motorbike showroom yesterday. We were hosted by one of the esmt mba 2006 alumni Ajay(who is now living in Pune India with his family) and working for this company. It is fairly high tech and these products are targeted for the high end users. They are pioneers in this field and so far the market has embraced this product. Because of the transport situation in India,there is a widespread usage of 2 wheeler motor bikes because of the ease of weaving through the congested traffic in these.  Yes,this is India ,the land of contrasts.

First impressions of India

So the day finally arrived early on Saturday morning we were in Berlin on our way to the airport, the atmosphere was electric with the excitement and the nine hours on the flight seemed to fly by. We had a good Indian movie on the plane, as our final exposure before being immersed into the real Indian culture.

Soon after midnight (Sunday morning India time)-we arrived in Bangalore. There was a slight delay with the baggage (we kind of waited about an hour!). But hey, I am from Africa and it was in some ways just like home. You could see the ‘westerners’ in our party getting a little impatient as we waited on the baggage collection rack.

As we stepped out of the airport we were welcomed by our hosts and led to the bus. On the way walking past the rows upon rows of the famed 3 wheeler India taxis-I have attached a photo that captures the transportation situation. These 3 wheelers known locally at auto rickshaw have become a hit with the students and people are opting to use these over conventional taxis (quite an adventurous bunch we are!).

After a well deserved rest, we had a welcome reception lunch at the hotel where we were welcomed Indian style-with the silk cloths,incense, and an indian dance performance. We were then served a variety of indian dishes,an array of choices and flavours. WOW!

Later in the day,we had an introductory tour of Bangalore where we were taken through the history from the origins of spice trade,its use as a British military base up to its current role as the ‘silicon valley’ of India. We also attended a service in a local Hindu temple.

What continually amazes me is Indias role as a land of contrasts,next to an amazing modern mall,could be a not so attractive building.The wealth and then the poverty,but one perception I got is that people are content and getting on with their day to day lives.

The bright Indian style outfits worn by the women everywhere are just lovely. Many of us have done a bit of shopping and bought some lovely indian outfits.

Here in Bangalore-the ‘silicon valley’ of India-we visit some companies in the IT sector to get some impressions of how business is doing here and pick up some learnings.Next we proceed to Pune the ‘Detroit’ of India for some industrial and manufacturing exposure.Indias industrial sector is on the up and many car manufacturers are setting up here.

This promises to be an exciting and awesome cultural experience.

Field Trip to Incredible India……..

Marcello spoke about China visit yesterday; I am on the team going to India for the International field trip. Some time ago, we were given the options to choose a preferred field trip destination-China or India and I think everyone got their first choice. I haven’t been to either of the places so any would have been fine.  

Incredible India .With a population of over 1 billion, India is a pool of diversity-it  peoples ,cultures , languages and of course the big entrepreneurial drive of its people .We are visiting companies in manufacturing ,IT and banking sector. During our ten days there, we will travel between Bangalore, Pune and then finally to Mumbai. 

 I was in the team for Banking and we have done some extensive research on the landscape in India under which these businesses are thriving. With a significant proportion of India’s population living in the rural areas-how is the banking sector tailoring products and developing distribution channels for this market segment? Some Indian banks riding on the successes at home have even moved on to go international and set up in the West. Interesting stuff, particularly for me, as someone coming from a developing country (I am Zimbabwean and I worked in the banking sector at home before moving abroad). 

This promises to be an exciting trip from both an academic and cultural perspective. More news when we return in July.