When I for the first time heard that the optional International Study Visit of the Henley Executive MBA programme was supposed to take place in Santiago, Chile this year, I was a little bit confused. Why on earth do we have to travel so far? Down to Chile, of all the possible places in the world. From Finnish and European perspective, Chile is very distant. From Finland, you can fly nonstop in less than 10 hours to Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, Bangkok and all the other major Asian business hubs. But to get to Latin America, you first fly four and a half hours to Madrid and then 13 and a half hours to Santiago. That’s a long way to sit in a flying kettle car…
However, for Finns Chile is relatively well known. Of course, for the wine and the fruits, but also for the assassinated president Salvador Allende (1973) and the famous poet Pablo Neruda, who was very popular in Finland in the 1970s’. Although China and the eastern direction are more important for Finnish business, we also do business with the Chileans, mostly in the forest industry. If you take any forest industry company in Chile, you could bet that half of the technology installed is Finnish.
Still, I was very suspicious. Is there any sense to travel so far? I remembered my last visit to Santiago in August 2004 when it was winter over there and bloody cold. But after spending now another week in Santiago, I’m happy to admit that my suspicion was proven groundless. We had some wonderful time in Santiago, including very nice weather. Time well spent!
First of all, it’s always a good idea to put people with different origins and different cultural backgrounds in the same room and make them work as a team. This is my first and most important point about this trip. In our group, we had several nationalities: British, Italian, Canadian, German, Russian, Ukrainian, South African, Zimbabwean – and some crazy Finns. It was our luck that there were no Swedes around – we couldn’t have had all that good discussion and negotiations!
I happened to be the only Finn in our team, and it was a very interesting and unique experience for me personally to work in such a diverse team. It took a moment before the group grew together and we knew how to communicate with our colleagues. It wasn’t an easy process. Some people laughed, some cried to be honest. The whole week was like a “band camp” with grown up people – very, very interesting. In the hectic working life, it’s a very rare occasion to have a chance like this and spend one whole week with strangers – who more or less only have the same academic education with you in common.
My second point is ambitiousness. As Dr Chris Dalton wrote in his previous blog some weeks ago, the Henley MBA is not the right place for perfectionists. I couldn’t agree more! The most important thing is to get things done, not to make them perfect. There was a lot of ambition in each of the teams, and I would say that it was even a little bit dangerous to make the conference rooms available until 10 pm to work on the cases. One can easily kill itself with the work. Every now and then it’s also good to remember to enjoy life and repeat the motto of one of my colleagues (not mine!): “Every single mark over 50 is waste of time!”. By the way, our group got 72 points for our presentation. Way to go!
My third and last point is culture shock. One could have expected that it would have been hard to communicate with Chilean companies, but as the language of business is global and universal there was actually no cultural shock at all with the Chilean “clients”. All the business cases we worked on were interesting, however some of the companies were still in a very early phase and not yet ready to make business. For a corporate guy like me, it’s great and useful to jump into the start-up world every now and then. As mentioned earlier, the biggest cultural clashes happened inside the teams as you work 24/7 for several days. It occasionally felt like a simulation of a serious merger/acquisition or consultation case. It was a great experience, but please take my word: Don’t take it too seriously!
To sum up: It was a very useful trip. Would I recommend: Yes, absolutely! Is it easy? No; is it fun: Most of the time. Is it worth it: Definitively! You always need to travel far to learn about yourself. And very far to learn a lot about yourself.