Thursday, March 3, 2011

Eurotrip Day 5 - Jazzing it up in Praha!

Quinn Plastics was the first company of the day. The Managing Director was refreshingly honest and candid. I really liked the fact that he began his presentation by asking us what exactly we wanted him to speak about - talk about knowing your audience. This was an excellent presentation where he spoke about some of the real problems facing international companies looking to establish operations in the Czech Republic, especially since this was a company affected by changes in commodity pricing. We also got to tour their manufacturing facility. A stark difference Czech and US manufacturing facilities seems to be the low safety standards here. We walked through the plastic extrusion plant without face masks or safety glasses.

After a quick lunch, we had a really interesting session with Vodafone with the head of their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) division and their Canadian CEO. Their effort to enhance their brand image as a socially responsible outfit has been quite remarkable, especially given the nature of the society in which they are operating. Another fact that stayed with me, again, was how excited the the gentleman was about CSR. It just goes on to reiterate the fact that I must try to find a job that I absolutely love doing.

As much as I hate to admit, I was most excited about the Jazz boat we were scheduled to visit at the end of the day. Basically, this is a boat ride around Prague with live Jazz music. For those of you who know me, know how crazy I am about Jazz. We entered the boat and one of the tables was occupied by all the beautiful MBA girls, with just one vacant seat. Of course, Dr.V!

I was fortunate enough to sit next to Dr.Kwasnica and right behind Dr.V and, more importantly, right in front of the musicians. The music was, in a word, enchanting. The food was quite delicious, but the music just transported me to a different world. That, coupled with the lovely evening sights of the Prague Castle as we floated by, and a fellow jazz enthusiast in Dr.V made this perhaps one of the most memorable evenings of my life in recent times.

I just came back from another fruitful day and shall write about it tomorrow. Stay tuned for more!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Eurotrip Day 4 - Praha!

Day 4 began with a bang. Group A went to visit Coke while we in group B visited GE Money. This was a huge learning experience because the CEO Peter Herbert (the girls loved his British accent) spent over an hour with us discussing the challenges and opportunities facing the banking industry in the Czech Republic. What really stayed with me was how much he loved his job. I hope that when I am his age, I too have worked in a field I absolutely love. We were also given some very valuable lessons in management and a facility tour by their Chief Strategy Officer. As a side note, he has just returned from an 18 month paternity leave, something that would be considered absurd in the US.

After grabbing a quick lunch at a local mall (I ate Indian food in Czech!), we headed out to DHL. This leg of the day was a bit taxing on all of us. First of all, group A had to join us because of some unforeseen circumstances that prevented the scheduled company from presenting. Also, the change in plans caused a wait of over a couple hours. Finally, we had the presentation, but apparently, the person who was supposed to speak had to cancel and a last minute replacement arrived. Due to a mismatch of expectations, this wasn't the most fruitful experience. However, I was proud of the fact that we all stuck together and made sure the Smeal brand was represented professionally.

The evening brought about a much deserved relaxation. I went to visit Prague's famous Marionette Theater. This was a truly funny rendition of Mozart's famous opera Don Giovanni which he had written specifically for Prague. It was a fun time and I shall post pictures as soon as I get them from a friend.

I look forward to tomorrow because we will be hitting Vodafone's CSR department, something I am quite excited about. Also, I get to go on a Jazz boat with Dr.V an the gang! More updates tomorrow.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Eurotrip Day 3 - Praha!

Today we got into the true spirit of Praha.

The Monday began with a presentation by Mr.Roman Joch, Director of the Civic Institute. This was possibly the best start to the day because it was an engaging presentation on the Czech society as a whole. Mr. Joch discussed the socio-cultural shifts, and the effects the Communist regime has had on the Czechs. He also spoke about some of the major macroeconomic trends that are prevalent in Europe and some of the implications of the Czech Republic becoming a member of the European Union. All in all, the session gave us a good foundation for analyzing companies for the rest of our visit.

The second session of the morning was by folks from Moody's Analytics. They were basically economists and discussed the Czech Republic's smooth transition into a free-market economy from a socialist economy. They also gave us insights into real convergence as opposed to nominal convergence and discussed how Czech companies initially faced problems with the collapse of th communist block. Export is the main driver of the Czech economy. Right now the Government is providing a lot of subsidies to increase Foreign Direct Investments, which is what is helping the GDP. However, this is not a sustainable model, especially for an aging populace, and must be viewed as a means to fuel growth.

We also discussed the fiscal and monetary policies of the Czech National Bank. Initially the Koruna was pegged to a basket of USD and Deutschmark. However, after a crisis in May 1997, the rising inflation led to inflation targeting through indirect methods. This means adjustment of interest rates as opposed to pegging the currency. As interesting as this sounds, I must stop here. I shall include more details in my official report.

After a quick lunch (we chose to go to Sunway of all places!), we (Group B) visited Lindab which is a company specializing in ventilation and building components. Group A visited a similar company called Janka Engineering. Both the groups were given tours of the facilities and a good insight into each company's supply chain operations.

The evening was something all of us were waiting for with bated breath. We went on a Brewery Tour of a local brewery that has been in existence since 1499. It was a small and beautiful facility. We were all first shown a short video and served some authentic Czech beer. I could not tell the difference, but some of my fellow MBA students who were beer enthusiasts said this was one of the best beers they had tasted. Apparently, this beer is made completely with barley and this is how beer is supposed to be made (corrections welcome). Our tour guide was a jolly old man who actually looked like he absolutely enjoyed his work. He was also the master brewer. After showing us around the facility, he gave us all beer glasses. Since this place is just a short walk from the place we are staying, we might go back there some time before we return.

Tomorrow we will be heading to GE Money Bank and DHL. More updates after we get back.

Eurotrip Day 2 - Prague

Another day in the beautiful city of Prague, and today we had the opportunity to got and experience some of the local history and culture.

The day started off with a breakfast followed by an hour long drive to the famous Karlstejn Castle. This castle was founded in the 14th century by Charles IV, King of Bohemia and later, the Holy Roman Empire. We had to actually spend 20 mins walking up a steep incline after we parked our bus in order to get to the castle. The views, however, were absolutely worth it. I shall post more pics when I have them.

We were given a guided tour of the castle by a young woman called Blanka. She did a wonderful job of providing an in-depth background of the castle artifacts and stories relating to the castle. The only down-side was that by the time we were done, we were freezing. But, all in all, the castle tour was well worth it.

After returning and refueling ourselves with some lunch, we once again headed out, this time on foot, for a walking tour of Prague. I must say that this was one of the richest experiences so far on the trip. Our guide Hanka helped us understand many of the nuances of the Czech culture including the reason for the sarcastic and pessimistic Czech humor, the fact that most of the populace calls itself atheists, and the effect the Communist regime had on the daily lives of the people. We also walked around and visited the three main gates to the Old City (only two of which stand today), Charles University (which is supposed to be the third oldest university), the Charles Bridge and the Old Town Square. The old town square was interesting in that it showed architectural influences from a number of eras including 13th and 14th century Gothic, Rococo and Baroque, all on just one of the sides. It just went on to show that Prague was quite poor and could not afford to redo its architecture in one dominant style. So they chose to just add on to whatever already existed.

The old town square also has the astronomical clock which "rings" once every hour. And the ringing is an event, which many people gather around to see. There are puppets that appear to be sticking their heads out of tiny windows among other intricate mechanisms that drive this marvellous piece of machinery.

We were quite exhausted by the time we walked back to our hotel rooms. Little did we know that the treat was just beginning. An hour later, all of us were whisked away to an authentic folklore performance accompanied by a sumptuous dinner. Among other thing, we were treated to sprightly dance performances, some great, high energy music and one of the best cymbal players (cymbal here is an instrument consisting of a number of horizontally arranged strings and played with a mallet). I also ended up participating in a Broom dance while I watched Dr.V demonstrate his enthusiasm in another version of the same dance. It was a great evening with people inventing songs that sounded very much like Happy Birthday and with some absolutely breathtaking dance performances by the local dance troupe.

After a night of rest, I now look forward to today's business events. It would be quite interesting to learn about the Czech business culture. Once again, stay tuned for more updates.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Eurotrip - Day 1 - Prague

So I finally see a European city. And what a city - Prague, Czech Republic!

To back up a bit, the Smeal MBA program has Global Immersion as a required part of the curriculum. A few of us (over half the MBA program :) ) chose to visit Prague. This trip is being headed by Prof. Kwasnica and Dr. V. I am quite excited because on the one hand, Prof. Kwasnica taught us a lot about the Global Business Environment last semester. On the other, Dr.V is one of the most dynamic personalities I have come across, and he loves jazz (a deadly combination).

Anyway, after a Megabus ride from State College to NYC, followed by a tense metro ride into JFK (tense because a fellow classmate's flight was one hour before our flight), we finally made it aboard. Along the way, for the first time, I saw the inside of a Delta Sky Club (Thanks Nick!).

Although we were all drained and didn't get much sleep in the flight, the energy levels upon reaching Prague hit new highs. The architecture was beautiful all around the city and it was quite a sight. Most of the day was spent relaxing except for a short walk around the city with a few MBA folks after dinner. At night the city looks really beautiful.

Here are some pictures from today: Day 1 - Prague

Tomorrow we head to the Castle visit and the City Tour.

In true reporter style, stay tuned for more updates!