Category Archives: Study Abroad

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The Eurozone & the Greek Crisis: Strategies for Global Innovation & Competitiveness

By Philip Sheridan, MBA student

Due to my interest in strategic planning and innovation management, I participated in the 2015 Munich & Athens study abroad program with the intent to study strategies for global innovation, and how the political, legal and ethical climate can impact a country’s corporate and economic development. Despite the improving economic climate for a number of states within the European Union (EU), the tensions created by the current Greek crisis provided a unique (possibly historical) opportunity to learn first-hand how each country’s respective business and economic environment is impacting the health of the EU.

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Plaza in Munich, Germany

The EU consists of 27 member states (countries), of which Germany is considered Europe’s economic engine, with a longstanding record of high employment and productivity. Kicking off our studies, two lecturers (Dr. Richard Hofmaier, University of Applied Sciences Munich; Alexander Lang, Tu Munchen) described how the main driving forces (~99%) behind Germany’s economy are small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs; up to 500 employees), referred to as the ‘German Mittlestand’ or ‘hidden champions’. Roughly 95% of Mittlestand firms are family-owned businesses, of which >54% have launched an innovation onto the market, contributing almost 52% of Germany’s economic output within the EU (~27% of EU GDP). Dr. Hofmaier and Mr. Lang eluted to how most successful German firms (large or small) try to capture the spirit of these ’hidden champions’ to drive innovation, and integrate knowledge of consumer-demands into their innovation management and product development practices and processes.

BMW Manufacturing World Headquarters

BMW Manufacturing World Headquarters

The innovation practices discussed by Hofmaier and Lang provided a great international context for our course studies in global innovation management, particularly as it relates to ideation, opportunity identification, option development, synthesis and analysis. Together with Dr. Zimmermann, we discussed these topics and relevant case studies used by global organizations trying to establish and sustain innovative cultures. These class discussions and experiential exercises provided great exposure to practices and contextual tools that I can leverage in my strategic planning and business development activities.

Our time in Germany culminated with site visits to the BMW Manufacturing World Headquarters, as well as the Strascheg Center for Entrepreneurship (within the University of Applied Sciences). At BMW, we observed how a large enterprise marries customer-focused development with innovative production methods to maintain their competitive edge and increase manufacturing efficiency.

At the Strascheg Center, we learned how the German government invests resources to establish entrepreneurship programs and seed university business incubators. We had the unique experience to hear from two start-up cofounders as to the resources provided by the center to help them develop and deliver their innovative products to the market.

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Winning culinary team relaxing after the Athens Sensations Tour

Following our acclimation to Athens through a program sponsored ‘Athens Sensations Tour’, we started our studies in Greece with an orientation by Dean Nickolaos Travlos from the Athens Laboratory of Business Administration (ALBA). Dean Travlos framed out key financial events that led to Greece’s current economic crisis, which today is characterized by excessive debt (debt to GDP >170%), an over-bearing public sector (>50% public companies), non-competitive government policies (low government efficiency, 56/59), and a significant ‘black economy’ (>30%). As a result, the Greek government faces overwhelming pension obligations, extremely high unemployment (>25%; >50% for youths), a deflated private business sector (low business efficiency index, 53/59), and significant lost tax revenues due to the black economy.

Visit to Apivita, a natural cosmetics company

Of particular interest was a presentation by Prof. Babis Mainemelis (ALBA) who emphasized how Greek businesses could leverage their worldly traditions and heritage to spur innovation and differentiate its products on a global business stage. We visited Apivita, a family-owned company that specializes in using natural organic oils, plant extracts and beehive products to formulate holistic cosmetics. We toured their production facility and botanical gardens, including a hands-on experience as to the beekeeping practices used to maintain their hives for generation and collection of natural product ingredients. We also toured the Papagiannakos Winery and enjoyed a history lecture on wine in Greece by food consultant and sommelier Chrissa Giatra. It was interesting to hear how these two family businesses were leveraging their unique success in Greece to expand within the European market.

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Ancient ruins in Athens, Greece

It will be interesting to follow future economic developments within the EU. Will there be a Grexit (Greek exit from the EU)? Could this lead to a contagion where other countries (Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy) also exit rather than continue to institute painful austerity measures (such as labor and market reforms). And what global impact could such developments have on international markets and economies?

While we wait to see what the future holds for Greece and the EU, I can say that the immersive nature of the Munich & Athens program provided direct exposure to these contrasting business environments, and cultures as a whole. The team–based course content and exercises fostered collaboration between individuals from various university programs, and together with lectures by international faculty and company site visits, delivered a unique and exceptional professional learning opportunity every student should have the good fortune to experience. Lastly, it was extremely stimulating to learn about these historical cities and their overall place in the world, from an economic as well as cultural perspective. Most important, it was great fun to meet new people, expand my professional network, and establish new friendships.

 

Read these other blog posts detailing student experiences in Munich & Athens:

Experience Munich and Athens Through the Eyes of a Student

Summer Sojourn to Europe: An Academic Fortnight in Munich & Athens

What Students are Saying About Munich & Athens

 

Check back soon for more student experiences abroad!  

For more information on Ahlers Center opportunities, visit our study abroad webpage.

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The Mondragon Experience Told by a Student

By Emily Lapp, MBA Student

I signed up for the Mondragon Experience (GSBA 594 Models of Particpatory Leadership) because I wanted to study abroad and receive 3 units of credit during the summer semester. I briefly glanced at the syllabus and read things like “cooperative” and “employee ownership” and thought to myself, “Well, this ought to be interesting.”

Allison Czapracki, Tracy Zetts, Emily Lapp and Betty Trinh on the pre-trip excursion to San Sebastian

Allison Czapracki, Tracy Zetts, Emily Lapp and Betty Trinh on the pre-trip excursion to San Sebastian

As someone who currently serves in the military, I was apprehensive about the “workers cooperative” part, imagining a 1960s commune. Well, it turned out that the “workers cooperative” bit was the major part, but I was pleasantly surprised that the workers cooperative I found at Mondragon in no way resembled the workers cooperative of my imagination. I found Mondragon to be far more professional and global than I had envisioned and far more focused on technical and real-world education.

USD students visit Mondragon University's Innovation and Knowledge Center

USD students visit Mondragon University’s Innovation and Knowledge Center

After this trip, I would no longer immediately discard the suggestion of a cooperative. I do not believe everyone in America should immediately abandon their capital companies for cooperatives, but I am convinced that, in certain communities and in certain industries, cooperatives make a lot of sense. I was intrigued during one our final presentations when Mr. Michael Peck, the Mondragon North American Delegate, mentioned cooperatives might be the answer for the financially devastated coal mining communities in West Virginia. The sense of community already present there would be a fertile ground for the next step towards the solidarity offered by a cooperative.

MBA students Stephanie McQuade, Emily Lapp and Allison Czapracki at the top of Mt. Udalaitz, overlooking the town of Mondragon

MBA students Stephanie McQuade, Emily Lapp and Allison Czapracki at the top of Mt. Udalaitz, overlooking the town of Mondragon

I was most surprised by how many similarities existed between Mondragon and the Navy. The Navy, being an entity not driven by profit, is far more cooperative in nature than I realized. From the common values of a clear mission, trust and participation, I found the two organizational cultures had more in common than I would have ever expected. Yet Mondragon’s emphasis on transparency and worker participation at all levels really stood out to me and are values that I hope to implement in my naval career and personal life.

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Enjoying the beautiful view from Mondragon’s Otalora Training Center

Lastly, the opportunity to visit the Basque Country in Spain was truly a once in a lifetime experience. While technically part of Spain, the culture and landscape is so different. Spending time with the friendly and hard-working people was such a pleasure. I thoroughly enjoyed my Mondragon Experience and would highly recommend the class for anyone interested in learning more about organizational models and Basque culture.

To read more about the Basque Country click here.

What about you? Have you been to Mondragón? What did you think of it?

Company visit to Apivita, a natural cosmetics company outside of Athens, Greece.

What Students are Saying About Studying Abroad in Munich and Athens!

“The summer study abroad program in Munich and Athens was incredible because it brought what we were studying to life. The European Union is currently in the midst of an incredibly trying time and to actually be there, on the ground gave a real life perspective and dynamic we couldn¹t possibly get while at home in the U.S. I left Germany and Greece with a hands-on experience that not only brought many of the subjects in my coursework to life, but also that I will cherish as a move forward in my future career.” ~ Jaqueline Rodrigues, JD/MBA Student, about her experience in the Munich & Athens program 2015.

“My experiences abroad have enriched my understanding of cultural, language, and business aspects related to my studies to earn my Masters of Science in Global Leadership through the Business School at the University of San Diego. It is one thing to study international comparative leadership, as well as global policies, but it is an entirely different exposure when immersed with the people and their cultures for yourself–it is something that has highlighted my time earning my graduate degree at USD, and remains some of the fondest memories and robust learning experiences of my academic career!” ~ Allison Cameron, MSGL Student, about her experience in the Munich & Athens program 2015.

“The USD study abroad program in Munich/Athens allowed us to hear descriptions and perspectives on the Greek Financial Crisis directly from both German and Greek business leaders. It was a timely and insightful experience that I wish everyone could have experienced.” “While preparing to study for the Munich/Athens program, a handful of us decided to travel to Istanbul, Prague, and Salzburg. We had an opportunity to see so many places and combined academics, history and pleasure quite nicely to start our summer.” ~ Ivan Reed, MBA Student, about his experience in the Munich & Athens program 2015.

“Study abroad was an enriching experience that helped me understand how deep cultures can run, and how it influences business behaviors. The juxtaposition witnessed between entrepreneurial German companies and family owned Greek companies, opened my eyes and made me think about the benefits and necessity of diversity in the business world. Although different cultures and business strategies, both were successful, utilized their strengths and remain unconnected by the global economy.” Danielle Robles, MSGL Student, about her experience in the Munich & Athens program 2015.

Still not sure if the Munich & Athens program is the right program for you? Read the blog posts below for more relevant information on this study abroad experience:

Experience Munich and Athens Through the Eyes of a Student

Summer Sojourn to Europe: An Academic Fortnight in Munich & Athens

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Summer Sojourn to Europe: An Academic Fortnight in Munich & Athens

Written by MSGL student Steven Cummings, a participant in the Summer 2015 Munich & Athens program abroad.

Lessons for International Travel:

Lesson #1: Never freak out – go with the flow – there’s almost always a solution.

May 21st: I begin my adventure abroad with the incidental necessity of hitchhiking to LAX. On a shoestringer student budget, I elected to take an “indirect” flight path to arrive in Munich, our program’s first location, and already it was off to a rocky start. The surfliner train bound to deliver me to downtown LA, where I would catch a bus to the airport, gave notice of its cancellation within two minutes of its scheduled arrival. As luck would have it, I’d barely stuck out my thumb when a kindly yogi hailing from Encinitas saw fit to pick me up and deliver me within easy reach of my port of departure.

My connections in London and Zurich brought me eventually to reach Bavaria in time for our first program rendezvous, a bike tour of Munich. We gathered what culture we could from the Australians leading the tour, who had great insights as to the local biergartens, and began our more serious undertakings the next day at the FOM – a private university of fine reputation.  Our week’s study in Munich brought us into contact with German students and professors, as well as some local industry of typical German fastidiousness – notably the BMW factory. Our dialogues and discussions brought to bear the present status of the nation in terms of economics, business and entrepreneurial atmosphere, and its presence in the EU. Many students noted the emphasis on cleanliness, efficiency, and productive mentality of Munich and its citizens, and contemplated how this might give contrast to expectations we had for our impending trip to Athens.

Steven Cummings, Dr. Dimon, and Dr. Zocco at BMW tour in Munich.

Steven Cummings, Dr. Dimon, and Dr. Zocco at BMW museum in Munich.

Our suspicions were correct, for upon arriving to Greece’s capital we could immediately feel the change in environment from Germany’s conservative epicenter. But in addition to the relative disorder of Athenian business and daily life came the Mediterranean openness of its people, and engagement with locals proved a constant stream in comparison to the rather reserved stance we had experienced the previous week. Our daily classes in the Athenian Laboratory of Business Administration began with a terrific series of lectures by the dean and another professor, delving deeply into the roots, status, and future of the Greek Crisis. This topic had been a primary point of focus for our class, with preludes in America and Germany, so the week’s address of the crisis proved quite interesting. Having “boots on ground” in Athens also helped put things in perspective and will greatly aid the course of our class’s final presentation on the subject.

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In front of the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens

 

Lesson #2: Always participate! Interact, engage, and breach the comfort zone.

What assisted me further in this regard were the conversations I found when interacting with the Greeks themselves, both in Athens and in the subsequent places I visited in Greece after the conclusion of our program. These interactions shaped my understanding of the business environment equally as much as the lectures given in Munich and Athens. Therein lies the value of the study abroad pursuits; the itinerary of the program does not hold the edification, but the framework itself. Visiting the environment first hand, discussing it with the people who give its substance, evaluating current issues in and among the people to whom they directly apply. As a USD student, born and raised in America, now experiencing academic, economic, and quotidian cultural lenses of another sphere of civil society, the inherent duties accompanying said opportunity are to raise levels of awareness, absorb distinctions and similarities, and return home with the intention to share the collected extractions to those in America who would find benefit from a more globally minded view of the world.

Company visit to Apivita, a natural cosmetics company in Athens.

Apivita, Mun:Ath SU15, Cummings

 

Lesson #3: Maximize the experience.

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MBA and MSGL students mingling in Athens – Acropolis in the background.

Time and money. Usually the international traveler has one or the other but rarely both. Fortunately as the “globe-trotting global citizen” gains proficiency it becomes easier to adopt a “more for less” attitude with either or both of the given dimensions. Studying abroad can be expensive, but it’s certainly an achievable and worthwhile aim. To further ameliorate costs of this venture, I utilized resources like couch-surfing and hostels to reduce accommodation costs as well as public transportation vs. taxis or other convenience conveyances whenever possible. In fact, some of my most developmental experiences came through interactions with my local couch-surfing hosts who were living the lives we viewed through scholastic observance. I’m very grateful for the Ahlers Scholarship that helped launch me on this voyage, and hope the Toreros and the nation receives benefit from the more globally conscious students programs of this nature are designed to produce.

June 6th: The university program has ended, but all work and no play is not one of the lessons! Onward to Ikaria, an “off the beaten path” island where Ikarus fell from the sky, to camp and mingle and attempt the famous nine-step Ikarian spiral dance of the Panigiri!

 

Check back soon for more student experiences abroad!  

For more information on Ahlers Center opportunities, visit our study abroad webpage.

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Closing the Gap: An American Experience with Argentine Economics

In January 2015, graduate student Elizabeth Tanner participated in the intersession course (Global Entrepreneurship for Social Change) program in Buenos Aires, Argentina and got a first-hand look at Argentine economics, including a growing wealth gap, which has been affected by both domestic political and financial instability starting in the 20th Century.

One of the ten wealthiest states during the 19th Century — a result of prosperous trading with European countries, flowing immigration and rich natural resources — Argentina began going through political and financial stability, as did much of the world, during the two World Wars. Add in political instability, degenerating fiscal policies and a domestic currency crisis in 2001, and socioeconomic inequality rose immensely.

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The closing dinner for the students in Buenos Aires; Elizabeth Tanner is second from the right.

Fast forward to 2015, Elizabeth Tanner was able to see and experience how Argentinian businesses are working to decrease that gap. “The role of business and entrepreneurs [is] in finding solutions to the wealth gap, creating and providing sustainable jobs, and improving the social climate in Argentina… Many business and entrepreneurs are taking an active role in driving social change through business initiatives. We witnessed this first hand through site visits during our course in Buenos Aires,” said Tanner.

Outside of the classroom, the participants went on numerous site visits to companies and organizations who are directly modeling their company goals and practices towards helping decrease poverty and grow the middle class. Tanner commented, “I was most impressed by Fundación Avina. We visited their Argentine headquarters in Buenos Aires… At Fundación Avina, they are addressing social challenges by creating sustainable profitable ventures. We learned about their efforts in Argentina. In the slums of Buenos Aires (and every metropolitan area globally), there are a subset of people who create income by picking through garbage and reclaiming the valuable and reusable waste… Waste pickers are an important part of our society [as they] are preventing landfill and assisting in achieving environmental sustainability and reclaiming commodities.” However, because they are working informally, their rights and leverage concerning wages. Fundación Avina, in response, has created cooperatives that unite the workers and enable them to get higher wages. On the legal end, the philanthropic group has worked on pushing public policy to formally recognize these workers.

View of Buenos Aires at sunset from the hotel.

View of Buenos Aires at sunset from the hotel.

Overall, Tanner’s experience has shown her how many businesses around the world are concerned just as much, if not more, about the ethics surrounding their practices and goals as they are with their bottom line. “The Golden Rule is moving to the forefront of many entrepreneurial efforts globally and businesses are prioritizing social responsibility. In addition, individuals and businesses are recognizing that sound business models and sustainable revenue flows can benefit social initiatives in creating long standing change,” Tanner said.

Strangers in a Strange Land: Finding Love Abroad

In the fall of 2009, two young strangers, an Italian man named Nicolo and a Spanish woman named Anna, decided to embark on study abroad programs to the United States from their respective universities of Bocconi in Italy and EADA in Spain. Little did either know how much of a journey their time during their exchange programs would be.

Nicolo and Anna first met at their exchange student orientation hosted by the Ahlers Center, and soon developed a friendship while both living in Mission Beach and sharing a class and the same friend group. Two months later, the two multinational friends developed strong feelings for each other, and on their first trip to New York City during Thanksgiving, they officially became a couple. Fast forward five years, and the European couple are now happily married and living in Andorra.

Niccolo (center) and Anna (second from the right) in San Diego.

Niccolo (center) and Anna (second from the right) in San Diego in 2009.

Anna commented on her unexpected fairytale, “When I first met Nico at USD, I couldn’t have imagined that after almost 5 years I would be married to him… We have spent much of our relationship traveling and working together in countries such as Italy, Switzerland and Spain, and now we are living in the small but breathtaking Principality of Andorra. We are both so thankful to the University of San Diego for the study abroad opportunity that brought us to each other!”

Niccolo and Anna at their 2014 wedding.

Niccolo and Anna at their 2014 wedding.

International experiences bring so much more to the participants than what’s learned in a classroom or in tourist trap destinations; unexpected positive outcomes, such as the romance between Anna and Nicolo, can be hiding around every corner, waiting to be discovered. Although it may make you slightly nervous and take some courage, temporarily leaving your country on your path of higher education during international programs will expand your horizons and forever change your world in one way or another.

Do you have a similar story to share? Please comment below!

MBA Students in Buenos Aires with Prof. Meyskens

Buenos Aires: The Phoenix of Latin America – Glimpses of Checkered Past Through Irresistible Present

 

Written by 1st year International Track MBA Student, Swastik Mukherjee

Long called the Paris of South America, Buenos Aires is exactly that, and yet so, so much more besides. Granted, this is a city of wide boulevards and French-styled palaces, but it is one too of wildly exciting innovations and new styles. From the state-of-the-art museums like the MALBA, to the thrilling renaissance of the tango, Buenos Aires now buzzes with a contagious, creative energy and a brash new self-confidence. Sexy, alive and supremely confident, this beautiful city gets under your skin. Like Europe with a melancholic twist, Buenos Aires is unforgettable.

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Avenida 9 de julio, one of the major wide boulevards in Buenos Aires, Argentina

The above snippet is what I took with me to Buenos Aires, on my first study abroad session with The University of San Diego in January 2015. Upon my arrival, I realized how big of a challenge the language barrier would be. I did not know a word of Spanish and the prospect of spending 3 weeks in a country without being able to communicate was scary rather than daunting.

But little did I know that this city does indeed have an intoxicating effect on its visitors. The language barriers were overcome with gestures and smiles, the inability to read street signs or knowing the difference between “caballeros” and “damas” were balanced by the infectious love and hospitality of the locals of Buenos Aires. Who could tell that one of my best days in the city would be one when I would meet six people from Brazil who did not know a word of Spanish or English. This is why we travel, this is why we do an international MBA. To know that what we perceive as differences aren’t differences at all; they are opportunities. Opportunities for us to grow and learn and cherish and admire.

Getting the opportunity to take the Social Entrepreneurship class in Buenos Aires was an eye-opener. Learning about the different bureaucratic styles of government and the ways to do business and the ways to tackle the severe headwinds that entrepreneurs face made me realize how much we take our lives in the United States for granted. Visiting the recovered factories where people work on meager stipends and seeing the efforts they make to keep the people happy and engaged was also a humbling moment. At one point, you stop asking questions of standards of safety and quality and realize that those questions are irrelevant to their aspect of life. These people are working to make ends meet, not to have global levels of quality or safety. Life as we know it, is not how they live it.

Visit to Sume Materiales

Global Entrepreneurship for Social Change Class Visit to Sume Materiales

For the practicum, I had an excellent team that combined four unique individuals with different industry experience and backgrounds. We were working with Wal-Mart Argentina and the project that we were assigned to was complex and challenging. But the team rose to the challenge and figured out very quickly what was expected of us as deliverables. The team fed off each other’s strengths and ensured that the final product was over and above what the client had expected and thus ensured the client’s satisfaction and possible further interaction in the near future.

USD Students gaining some international consulting experience at Walmart Argentina

USD Students gaining some international consulting experience at Walmart Argentina

Being on a trip such as this, I was joined by a wonderful group of people, friends from my cohort and some new faces from the evening and second year MBA. Suffice to say, we bonded pretty well. We bonded over steaks and Malbecs, empanadas and cervezas, financial models and feasibility analysis and the collective goal of making the best of our time in Buenos Aires. (Read this post to find out more on how to make the most of your experience in Buenos Aires) With a group of high-thinking and highly ambitious students and individuals, the recipe was ideal for ultimate success or disaster. I am glad to say that it was the former. There were differences that crept in but none that we could not resolve amicably. Our local administrator helped make sure we were regularly informed of things that are happening in and around town along with info on study sessions, group meetings, currency exchange and local hotspots to check out for dinners and drinks.

Typical Argentine dinner: steak, wine and good company

Typical Argentine dinner: steak, wine and good company

My experience in Argentina can be summed up in three words: enlightening and privileged. It taught me a lot, both academically as well as personally. It was a privilege to be in Argentina, doing the class and the project with a great bunch of people that I would love to work with again.

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Swastik Mukherjee on the right and Joe Bird – MBA students at Suma Materiales company visit

Practicum Experience

Company: Wal-Mart Argentina

Project Scope: The project entrusted to us was complex yet intellectually stimulating. The main points were:

1) Analyze current accounts payable process and suggest improvements.

2) Use the suggested electronic invoicing process and make it leaner.

3) Come up with a financial and economic feasibility model for the electronic invoicing go-live

Solution presented: Compared the old process to the new and eliminated 5 days of non-value added work in order to implement the new process. Also analyzed cost savings and revenue to come up with a NPV analysis with an IRR that exceeded expectations of Wal-Mart finance personnel. In short, we presented the worst case, management case and best case scenarios and we decided that the project is a go with huge windfalls.

Students Final Presentation at Walmart Argentina

And the room was full of executives… Student’s Final Presentation at Walmart Argentina

What about you? Have you also been to Buenos Aires? What would you recommend for students who will be studying there next year?

Beautiful view in Toulouse

“Chassez le sommeil!”

The University of San Diego’s School of Business Administration offers graduate business students the opportunity to attend courses at universities in several countries and earn graduate credits toward USD’s MBA program. One of our current MBA students, Andrea Ruiz, writes about her experience in Bordeaux, France as an exchange student at KEDGE Business School.

KEDGE Business School in Bordeaux

KEDGE Business School in Bordeaux

“Chassez le sommeil!” As Advent begins, Frère Sebastian—a Dominican brother at Saint Paul Monastery in Bordeaux—reminds us to “chase away our sleep!” It’s a powerful phrase that defines my experience here in Bordeaux. For me, Bordeaux has been my time of preparation.

Away from my family, friends and the comforts of Southern California, Bordeaux has offered me a moment to refocus, especially on my career and on how—come next summer—I will make noise in the market with the experience that I have gained at USD. I’ve discovered new insights far beyond the classroom. The most memorable insights have come from two special people I’ve met here in France: Roland and Sofia.

  • Roland is from Hungary. He’s one of the rare Hungarians that learned a foreign language. He speaks fluent English, and he was quick to approach me when he knew I was from California. To him, the U.S. is a dream, a place where his hard, honest work would be valued. Roland helped me look back at my home with brand new awe, and I’m excited to be a part of an American company that creates the value that puts a twinkle in peoples’ eyes—just like Roland.
  • Sofia, a Colombian transfer student in Bordeaux, lives day by day. She came to France on a scholarship that she received miraculously, and she’s here with limited financial resources. Regardless, Sofia invited me to her small room for dinner when she knew we shared our Latin American culture. She took an internship at UNESCO in Paris recently, and although she didn’t know how she was going to pay for rent or any of her expenses while in Paris, her drive to make a difference in the world motivated her to go. Sofia reminded me that if we are motivated to do good in the market or in the world, everything else will fall into place.
MBA student Andrea Ruiz with other exchange students in Bordeaux, France

MBA student Andrea Ruiz with other exchange students in Bordeaux, France

One of my professors at KEDGE, Dr. Gerald Lang, put it beautifully on the last day of class: “It was very nice to have the whole world here.” Indeed, it was a pleasure to interact with students from around the world and to represent both the U.S. and Mexico myself. I’ve gained new confidence in leading teams of people with absolutely no cultural connections, and I’m learning to create bridges where I once would have thought impossible. Learning French has been an exercise in learning a new corporate culture—a company’s own language—the key is in finding details that will make the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

Bordeaux will always be the place where I woke up. I’m excited to see what the new day will bring!

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The Man, the Country, the Brand: Juan Valdez Café

According to Mr. Méndez Juan Valdez Café’s value proposition is to “create well-being, emotions, and satisfaction around the best coffee in the world”. The brand’s vision is “to be the premium Colombian coffee brand preferred globally by its quality and the well-being that generates around it.”

Hernán Méndez (below), CEO of Procafecol S.A., agreed to fly to San Diego from Colombia on September 23, 2014 exclusively to present to the USD community on the story of how Juan Valdez Café centered its branding strategy on quality and its ethics on the small Colombian coffee growers producing it. This presentation is part of the Ahlers Center 20th Anniversary International Speakers Series, which is highlighting the positive impact of businesses on society.

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Mr. Méndez began his presentation by speaking of the grassroots organization of the Colombian coffee-making machine: the coffee growers. Because of Colombia’s diverse Andean terrain, the country is able to grow mild-washed, Arabica coffee year-round. Coffee production has become a “socially-stable income source” throughout the entire country, with over 500,000 small Colombian families growing coffee. Mr. Mendez, then, broke down the evolution of the Juan Valdez brand into four sections: the creation of the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia in 1927; the differentiation strategy of the 1960´s of creating the Juan Valdez character for marketing and advertising in the United States; the 1982 ingredient brand strategy and logo creation; and the 2002 inclusive business and international projection.

In 1927, Colombia’s coffee producers founded the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (FNC), which is a non-profit organization that actively represents the interests of the small coffee producers of Colombia. Its tasks include: guaranteeing open-market floor prices based on international markets and the dollar-peso exchange rate, scientific research and strategies to adapt to climate change, technical assistance to growers, quality control checks for all exported coffee, and promotional and advertising efforts.

The late 1950’s saw the international price inflation of Colombian coffee, low country-of-origin knowledge by customers, and other factors impeding the growth and success of Colombian coffee sales abroad. To combat this, the FNC, and Colombian growers in general, created a differentiation strategy to show how Colombian coffee is a better quality of product than other mass-producing countries, such as Brazil, who had an advantage of lower costs of production due to various geographical differences. The brainchild of this strategy was the creation of the Juan Valdez character in 1960 to put a face to the quality-first, hard-working and family-oriented brand Colombian coffee growers were portraying their product to be. The United States, where a large portion of Colombian coffee has always been sold, saw a strong influx of modern marketing and advertising campaigns with this character through all media outlets to promote “100% Colombian coffee” brands and the notion that “only with hard work makes the best coffee.”

Denise Dimon, Director of Ahlers Center for International Business with Mr. Hernán Mendez

Denise Dimon, Director of Ahlers Center for International Business with Mr. Hernán Mendez

In the 1980’s, the trend in customer preferences became geared towards the ingredients of their purchased products, and so the FNC and Colombian coffee growers shifted the focus of their marketing from the Juan Valdez character to how the quality of Colombian coffee warranted a higher cost than competing brands. This culminated in a successful “push-pull” strategy and the creation of a universal “Café de Colombia” logo (featuring the face of Juan Valdez). This also including a monstrous advertising campaign costing upwards of $600 million.

The new millennium brought both new challenges and new successes for Colombian coffee. With international popular culture suddenly so focused on expanding the facets of coffee-drinking, such as the emergence of multinational chain coffee shops and single-serve coffee brands, Colombian coffee growers had to once again evolve their strategies. In 2001, the FNC recommended Procafecolto to move their coffee in the value chain by taking advantage of the available brand equity and opening coffee shops around the world. This would, in turn, create profits that would be distributed by the FNC to improve the standard of living for its growers. Thus, the overall goals were: share profits (with growers), increase international demand with a better price and increase the visibility of Colombian coffee as a brand.

Juan Valdez Café came about because, in order to increase brand visibility, the FNC had to forgo the Café de Colombia logo in favor of a unitarily-structured single brand. This resulted in a licensing agreement between the FNC and Procafecol with the National Coffee Fund and Juan Valdez Café. Thus, the Juan Valdez Café is the product of a joint collaboration of public and private management, with most of the legal ownership going to the FNC, but with good portion going to the International Finance Corporation (a World Bank group), and over 18,600 shareholders being actual Colombian coffee growers.

Hernán Méndez said that Juan Valdez Café’s value proposition is to “create well-being, emotions, and satisfaction around the best coffee in the world” and that the brand’s vision is “to be the premium Colombian coffee brand preferred globally by its quality and the well-being that generates around it.”

The new frontier for Juan Valdez Café is their ever-expanding number of worldwide coffee stores, currently culminating in over 200 within Colombia and over 99 in 14 other countries. This expansion has been a process of trial-and-error, with some stores in the United States having to close due to being large flagship stores in areas with expensive retail spaces. However, with a Juan Valdez Café on almost every continent, the “authentic premium coffee experience” the brand offers has found success through a myriad of different concept stores that cater to the vast demands of its customers.

If you missed his presentation or would like to watch it again click here.

IMBA students with Mr. Hernan Mendez

IMBA students with Mr. Hernan Mendez