I have always loved traveling to new places, so when I learned about the option to visit Chile as part of my MBA education, I jumped at the opportunity. Over the course of several days in January, my MBA classmates and I participated in numerous company visits and cultural activities while enjoying a bit of summer in Santiago before returning to the frigid Wisconsin weather. Below I have highlighted a few of my favorite parts and the connections made to my MBA educational experience thus far.
Fruits from Chile and Operations Class
One of the most interesting companies we visited was Frutas de Chile, or Fruits from Chile. During this visit, we were given the opportunity to tour a fruit packing plant outside of Santiago. Once the tour began, I immediately flashed back to the operations class I took as a first-year student last spring. As we moved from step to step in the fruit packing process, I found myself looking for bottlenecks and noticing the efficiency of multi-server systems. It was fascinating to closely observe the operations of a factory floor. At the end of the tour, we enjoyed fruit samples before returning to the city.
Several of us chose to add a few days to our trip, traveling early to the coastal city of La Serena. While we were there, we did two tours outside of the city. In our Isla Damas tour, we traveled by van through the southern Atacama Desert to the small fishing village of Punta de Choros. We were then taken by boat to a group of islands that housed the Humboldt Penguin Nature Reserve. Throughout the day, we saw the penguins for which the reserve is named, as well as bottlenose dolphins, sea lions, and countless other types of birds. Upon our return to the main land, we were treated to a gourmet lunch served at a beautiful campsite before returning to La Serena. In our second tour, we traveled to the Mamalluca Observatory where we were greeted with the clearest night sky most of us had ever seen. We all agreed that this late night tour was worth the exhaustion we felt during our travel to Santiago the following day.
Negotiations Class in Action
When my travel companions and I arrived in La Serena, the classmates we met up with recommended we check out Lider. We asked what kind of store it was, and they answered that it was Wal-Mart. It wasn’t until we visited Lider that we realized they weren’t using a simile – Lider was literally Wal-Mart. Our guide in Santiago addressed this fact later in the trip, explaining how many big businesses assume they can just set up shop in Chile and succeed. She explained how Wal-Mart phased into the country slowly, not even introducing the logo until the company had been in Chile for about four years. Most Chileans don’t realize that it’s Wal-Mart, but Americans recognize it immediately (as we did).
Hearing our guide talk about this was déjà vu. In my recent negotiations class, we learned about culture and how it can affect negotiations. In fact, one of our in-class exercises involved an American trying to negotiate with a Mexican over a merger. In the American role, it became clear to me that there were a number of social checkpoints I needed to reach in order to begin the negotiation. Only after the exercise was over did I learn that it was not even possible to reach a deal during the negotiation. While this exercise was incredibly frustrating, I remember learning during that class how in many cultures, it is extremely difficult for an outsider to make any headway unless they have a network within the culture. To “experience” this in Chile was eye-opening.
As someone who will probably spend my career working in the United States, it was hard to guess how a trip to Chile would enhance my MBA education. However, reflecting on the trip and looking ahead, I can only hope that the experience might make me a more well-rounded business leader and global citizen.