Thursday, May 20, 2010

Home Sweet Home

So, I’ve made it back to the states. It has been about a week since our MBA trip, and I can’t quite say I’m fully adjusted just yet. The biggest change right now is with my sleep schedule still. Getting up early isn’t so bad (it gives me plenty of time to get things done in the morning), but wanting to go to bed at about 7 or 8pm is a little depressing.

Once we made it back to Chicago, it was on a bus to Fort Wayne with the rest of the travelers to get back to our cars and families. From Fort Wayne I then had to make that 3 hour drive back home to Alma, Michigan. Talk about some jet lag. About 2 hours in I couldn’t take it anymore and had to pull over for a quick nap. I ended up getting back home at around 4 in the morning and then was back to work at 8. A day off would had been nice, but we had some business professionals coming to tour our facilities, and I didn’t want to miss that.

It’s a bit hard being back in the “American pace of life.” I remember Professor Rottmeyer told us it takes him a good while to get back into the normal pace of things, and I can see why. I really enjoyed the long coffee breaks with friends, strolling around the mountains, and having no stacks of papers on my desk. I wasn’t quite ready to leave but am so grateful for the experience.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Can't you see my sign?!?! .... and on the right is the Chocolate Shop

This was our final night in Europe.  We did not have much time after the technical visits, but we did all go out to dinner together as a group one last time to a place called Café Paris.  This had to be my favorite dinner so far.  The food was very delicious; we had steak and french fries.  It doesn’t sound too spectacular, but I also cannot describe the way it was prepared and tasted.  The best part though was the company.  As a group, we have all grown to be a fairly close and the jokes never stopped this evening.

The highlight though was when a Spanish guitarist came into sing.  Our bus driver Marcel, a man with the best character you could find between his cheesy jokes and heavy accents, stole the show.  He stood up and began to sing, gaining applause from the café.  Marcel actually made it into the top 10 of “Luxingburg’s Got Talent show” with a personality that matches his voice. 

During the dinner we all ate, sang, clapped and really enjoyed a show more than dinner.  It was kind of sad to leave everyone and the dinner lingered on a little longer than usual, but at the same time, we all are ready to get back to our families and daily lives.

Tomorrow, I’m up at four to get to the Geneva airport for a plane ride to London.  Then the next stop is to Chicago where I’ll take a coach to my car in Fort Wayne, IN and the drive back to my home in Michigan.  I’m ready to get things back to normal, but I can’t really say that I’m ready to leave yet.  We were told that a good trip fulfills what you want to learn, but still leaves you to want more.  Well, I learned a lot and want even more. Hopefully, I’ll be traveling again real soon.

The Geneva Chamber of Commerce

The final technical visit of the day and for the trip was to Geneva’s Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber brings together over 2,000 businesses from all sectors and sizes together for networking, coaching, and business growth.  The chamber is a privately held organization and consists of 75% of the private sector within Geneva.

One of the Chamber’s main goals is to provide international arbitration services. The Swiss export many of their products and 40% of the people working in Geneva depend on foreign markets.  Geneva is also the 2nd largest city in the world for congress and exhibition.  Because of this, many services are needed for foreign diplomats, their families, and international travelers.

It was fascinating to see that the Chamber of Commerce there runs much in the same manner as our ones back home.  They consist of members who pay a fee to join and then have access to business services and meet regularly to discuss community improvements and business strategies.  The chamber is also the holder of much of the economic and local business information.  One key difference for the Geneva Chamber is that 50% of their incoming money comes from product passports that they sell.  With Geneva being an international capital, often time products must come and go in and out of the country.  The Chamber has the ability to issue passports for these products to make the travel of these products easier.

For me, this was one of my favorite presentations.  I have a real interest in the idea of global business strategies and the international arbitration that organizations such as this one performs.  Also, the fact that the Chamber in another far off country runs so similar to my small town Chamber amazes me.  Its comforting to see that small town and large-sized business have so much in common at the roots.

"Earthmoving Solutions for Today's Challenges."

Our second technical visit today was to Caterpillar headquarters with Ruud A. Kronenburg, Dean of the Caterpillar University.  Caterpillar is the world’s largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, and industrial gas turbines.  They are a technology leader for their industry with $5million a day dedicated to research and development.

The building that we went to was strictly administration and marketing so there was not too much to see outside of the offices.  However, from listening to the presenter, you can really get a taste for the dedication their employees have to the company.  Those within the company tend to stay there for life and they have a lot of leadership and development training.  In fact, Caterpillar University is one of only three company training programs in the world that has been accredited as a higher learning facility. 

Catapiller uses the slogan, “we are proud of what we make and proud of what we do.”  It’s unfortunate that more companies don’t show this dedication to their industry and organization.  If we did, the integrity of the business world would be much more appreciated by all.

"Time is Movement"

Today we had a full day with three technical visits around Geneva.  Our first stop was to Chopard, a family-owned luxury watch, jewelry, and accessory company.   The company produces 75,000 pieces daily with 1700 people in their organization worldwide.  Almost all of their products are produced in house, something of a rarity for today’s manufacturers

Touring the company was an extremely unique experience.  First off, the fact that we got in at all is quite an accomplishment.   Chopard typically does not do any tours and rarely lets even their best clients in.  To give you an idea of a one-time client, a Chopard watch values anywhere between $3,000 to $500,000.  Their best clients definitely have more than one little watch.

We actually were able to get behind the doors to see how their products were made were made, from the fusion and melting of the gold which they buy in bricks from the bank, to the design centers, and to the rooms where they cut the stones and hand assemble each watch by hand. At times we were able to hold the gold bars and pass around the diamonds and other precious gems for a close look.  At one time, I easily had $40,000 just sitting in my hand.  And, seeing the skills the crafters have for finite detail is nearly unbelievable.

The most impressive part of this company was the fact that it is still family run despite the size and representation of the organization.  Chopard still sponsors several events from having part in the Oscars to helping AIDs organizations.  At the end, the CEO of Chopard took the time to come out to talk to us personally and answer any questions.  I would have to say, if you have a few extra grand just lying around, Chopard is the place to use it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Wrong Way Up

After the Nestle visit, we had a quick lunch and it was off to Charmonix, France, home of Mont Blanc the tallest mountain in Europe.  My main goal was to climb to the top, but well, I didn’t quite achieve that goal today.  First off, a few of us purchased train tickets to for a trip to the top.  With our amazing French we were able to buy the wrong tickets for a hour tour ride to basically nowhere.  Luckily, we were able to get a refund to the right ride up.  By the right ride up, I mean a lift to the wrong mountain and not all the way up.  Apparently Mont Blanc is unclimbable, at least by amateurs.  It also was cloudy and a bit stormy so the lifts were going up and down irregularly and there was zero visibility.  So, instead I ended up getting some last minute shopping done, mostly gifts to bring home.  Something I really need to do, so maybe this all was just a sign.

I can’t say France was my favorite place.  The city and scenery was quite nice, but the people weren’t necessarily the friendliest.  Or, at least not from what I saw. You can definitely tell the image of the French and their take on Americans, however we made the best of it, despite the language barrier. 
This trip has been full of rain, and we have been told we’ve see some of the worst weather in the area for quite some time.  Still, it was a good chance to just look around at the mountains and valleys and really take in the sites.  The backgrounds are all so beautiful and the buildings filled with such history and character.  It’s hard not to look around and be amazed, and I often wonder if those that see these sights everyday take them for granted. I know there are so many things back home that I begin to take for granted myself, and one of these reasons I love to travel is because it really bring things back into perspective.

Europe is very similar to the US, but still, I realize how lucky I have it back at home and find the things that I miss.  When I lived in South America, being in a third world country, it really showed me the extravagant lives we have been blessed with, and I vowed never to take things for granted again and try to live in limited means.  However, I find myself doing all these things over again and maybe even feel a bit ashamed.   We really need to take time to see how something as mighty as a mountain is nothing without a low valley and begin to give thanks for all the gifts we have been given, even if we don't get to the summit right away.

Germany and France Slideshow

"Good Food, Good Life"

This morning consisted of a tour and meeting with Nestle headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland.  Nestle is a multinational company that is the world leader in nutrition and health components.    The first thing one thinks of when hearing the name Nestle is chocolate.  I know I’m guilty of that, but today I found out that they are much, much more than that.  From Gerber foods to Purina pet chow, Nestle has does it all as far as food and nutrition goes offering over 10,000 products around the world.

The company started when Henri Nestle developed the first milk food for infants in 1867.  This was to save the life of his neighbor’s child, whose mother was unable to breast feed.  Since that start, Nestle has continued to grow through strategic acquisitions and smart product launches following the 60/40 + rule, or that Nestle will not launch a product unless 60% of testers prefer their product to the competition.

Nestle is now the largest company in their industry and holds the highest market share at only 1.7%.  This shows just how much room the organization has to grow.  And they do grow, nearly 5-6% a year.  As it says above, Nestle is a multinational company with 9 nationalities on their Board and 80 nationalities within the corporation.

It was interesting to see Nestle’s strategy, growing from more than just a food provider to a nutrition company focused on health.  One of their two biggest growth areas is with Nestle Professional. These are products focused on convenience, taste, and the ability for out-of-home consumption.  The other product area is the PPPs for developing countries.  These micro-distribution products are smaller sized and cheaper priced for those areas that are still under development.

The Nestle organization sells 1 billion products every day, and these products are for all types of times through the day and used by all ages.  It’s stressed that most people actually live a Nestle day, even if they do not know it.  Regardless of whether you know you live Nestle days or not, getting to tour this organization could not had been more worth it.  Seeing this wellness company based on sound human values and principles is refreshing in today’s environment, but not nearly as refreshing as the free samples they gave out!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Innsbruck, Austria Slideshow

Happy Mother's day from Geneva!

First off, Happy Mother’s Day!  I’ve realized that I have been out of the country for the past three Mother’s Days… what a bad son.

Today was our longest day of travel so far, so I really don’t have much to write about.  We got up early to prepare for over a nine hour coach ride to Geneva, Switzerland.  Along the way, we stopped at a mix between a mall and a truck stop for lunch.  Being that in Europe you are expected to take a good couple of hours to sit and eat a meal, we went real creative and ate Burger King.  Our break for lunch was limited and we wanted as much extra time to walk around and stretch as possible.

One of the most interesting aspects of this travel, at least from an American standpoint, is the use of bathrooms.  All of the bathrooms, well most of them, have a charge for use.  Even bathrooms in restaurants often have a charge before being able to do your business.  I’m not sure if this is just annoying or a great business strategy.  Either way, it does take a bit to get used to.

We arrived to Geneva late in the afternoon, and wow, is the hotel we’re at nice.  It’s one of those classy places you only see in movies, or in real life Geneva.  We had a quick check in then a guided tour of the city.  First, our group walked down and around the streets, then jumped into the coach for a driven tour.  Again, this city has a rich history.  Not only is it rich as far as its past goes, but it’s just plain rich.  The term Geneva stands for banking and is one of the international business capitals of the world and the centre for diplomacy.  It is home to many global organizations such as the  World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Economic Forum (WEF), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the International Committee of the Red Cross(ICRC) with the Red Cross being the first international organization in the world.

We had dinner as a group this evening.  It started with a raw salmon dish, the main course was a brat with mushroom potatoes, and then followed by a pudding desert.  I can’t say it has been my favorite meal so far, but I am always ready to try something new.  Tomorrow is a long day, so tonight will be a relaxing one staying in.  Until then, I’m going to practice up on my German an French.  Until next time, Au Revoir.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Up Through the Alps

A Lucky and Breezy Day in the Alps

My last day in Austria- Today was one of the only days we didn’t have anything actually planned out ahead of time.  First, I was able to start the day off right by sleeping in to… oh, about 7:30ish.  Doesn’t sound like much, but it was amazing.   After that, a group of us decided to get to the top of the Alps. I had a chance to take a train to Italy, which was only about 20 minutes from where we were staying, but somehow the travel would had taken a minimum of 3 hours one way.  I decided to try and cut out any extra travel time, so that idea was scrapped.   Anyways, back to the Alp: At about 9 in the morning we walked over to a train that took us over to the mountain.  After this shuttle, we jumped into our first cable car to start heading to the top.  These were made of glass so there was a good view all around.  There were three cable cars with check points after each to get out and walk around a bit before heading up to the next station.  At the final cable car we then had the option to hike up to the top.  Now, how could that be passed up?  So up to the summit a few of us went.  Going up mountains is always a little more difficult as far climbing goes because of the altitude and thin air.  Getting to the top, as out of breath as I was, could not have been more worth it; however, at the top of the Mountain began the starting point of it just not being my day.

Up at the top was a small section, partly being roped off and others blockaded by a man made stone ledge to keep people safe.  Well, I thought it was necessary to climb that protective ledge to get a good picture of everyone on the top. I hoped over to stand on the snow below.  What I didn’t realize was that the snow was much deeper than it appeared and I fel thigh deep into the snow, but don’t worry, my pants caught on the ledge, ripping out the back of my jeans.  It made for a good laugh though and a very breezy decline.  At the point where we got down to the cable cart, my camera decided to drop as well (I did get it back but also nearly dropped it in my soup later at dinner; luckily, the bowl was too small.)  A little later my sunglasses decided to fall down the mountain as well.  It was a fun time for us all to see them roll down the rocks.  At this point, I decided today was not the day to try and climb down after them. Who knows what could had happened then with the way my luck was going.

Once the cable cart came back to the top to get us, everyone walked in nicely, except for one.  I had a pretty graceful stumble into the cart if I say so myself.  Two more changeovers to cable carts down, back into the train, numerous trips and falls along the way, and then it was time to walk through the streets of Innsbruck back to the hotel exposing my rear end to everyone.  Late that afternoon we walked around in and out of shops, buying all those things no one really needs, but every American just has to get. We had dinner as a large group at the hotel, followed by a few of us going out for coffee afterwards.  This is starting to become a little tradition and is great for us all to relax and just get to know each other.
There, one of the guys tried to order a Radler, this is their local beer but that they mix it with Sprite, Fanta, or a fruit juice.  Strange sounding I know, but it’s actually quite tasty.  This place had no sprite or juice at the time, so the guy was just at a lost.  He kept asking for different things to try and mix in and finally came up with coke.  The young waiter gave him the funniest look, and in his accent said sarcastically, “you want coke…. In your beer??”  Its hard to get the image though writing, but seeing this guy pick on our friend was hilarious.  He settled on just having coffee, but later the waiter said coke isn’t that peculiar with beer.  They actually have a wheat beer that they mix with coke…. It’s real popular with young teenagers.  Of course this only lead us to more jokes.

From there it was more wandering.  In the middle of town we were able to catch a free concert and then walked back into the hotel where we sat in the lounge for a few hours before going to bed.  I’m really beginning to get to that laid back, free relaxation mode.  The low key go-with-the flow lifestyle here is getting almost addicting and its going to be hard to adjust once getting back home.  Back in the states we rush to get up, rush to have breakfast, rush to work, rush to have lunch, rush to get back, rush to meet deadlines, rush home, rush the time with our family and studies, then rush to bed to start the rushing process over.  Here, as I had posted earlier, life is slow and relaxing.  People only work when its necessary and enjoy the rest of the day.  It’s a very appealing pace of life, and I can’t say I’m quite ready to leave it yet, despite my ability to fall and stumble constantly while dropping things with ripped pants.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Travel and Relaxation

The eighth was a day of relaxation.  The morning consisted of us traveling over to the next stop.  Once there in Innsbruck we began the afternoon with a tour seeing the sights of the old city.  Next, it was shopping and more wandering.  We had another dinner as a group at our hotel, which is very upscale and extremely nice.  After dinner, we sat for about 3 hours playing Euchre in the hotel lobby.  This was fun, being that I haven’t played the game in quite some time (not counting being at the airport), except for one thing: there were a couple of local high school aged students harassing us from the window.  They kept tapping on the glass and yelling things.  We attempted to just ignore them, but it wasn’t all that easy.  Oh, well.  That’s really  about it.  Tomorrow should be more eventful.  I may take a train to Italy or climb to the top of the Alps.  Either way, pictures are sure to come.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Enjoying Coffee with Mozart to the “Sound of Music”

This past evening we had a city tour of Salzburg.  It started with a driven tour through the outer areas of the city to the sites where the movie The Sound of Music was filmed.  A few key spots for this part were seeing the houses that were in the movie (the palace actually consisted of two separate buildings for filming purposes), the gazebo, and the gardens.  From the coach, we began walking through old town with a hired guide.  This tour consisted mostly of seeing the area shops and churches with the last stop being at Mozart’s birthplace and free admittance into the Mozart Museum.  The museum is located in the house he grew up in and had several paintings and family objects including his first pianos.  I was able to snap a quick picture of one of the pianos even though photography was not allowed.  The guard offered to walk away and basically suggested if he didn't see it, then he can't stop us.
After the tour, we were left on our own, and so a small group of us set out to explore the city.  The culture of the old buildings and streets are quite fascinating.  Although most of the areas have been renovated and are now homes to modern shops and stores, all of that fundamental medieval feeling is left there.  Even some of the original iron shop signs remain outside the building.  Signs such as a picture  of a shoe for a shoemaker’s shop since many people of those times could not necessarily read or write.

We had another group dinner back at our hotel around 7pm and then a large group of us walked for coffee afterward.  The time at the café flew by and then it was off to Old Town again to explore most of the city. Since we had the chance to see some live music in Switzerland, we wanted to try to find something similar in Austria.  We walked for quite a while up and down side streets with no luck, so we began heading back the scenic route towards our hotel when a young girl handed us a small flyer for a club.  My first instinct was not to take the paper since my experience in South America was that these are typically for…. Lets just say, very adult clubs.

But, we grabbed a flyer and almost miraculously, it was for a small bar/café that was having live acoustic music.  We headed that way and came to a small place at the end of a hallway off a main street.  Inside was a man playing Austrian Pop with his guitar and a small foot drum to keep beat.  Our group of four was really the only ones in there, and so I think he played to our small crowd.  Instead of the Austrian pop that we walked into, he began to sing and play American songs such as Wonderwall and West Virginia.  The performer was great, but we thought it was a bit odd we were the only ones there, but decided to stay and enjoy the setting where we talked about everything and anything. At about midnight, we realized that we were way too earlier.  People just started pouring in the door, singing and yelling, and so on came some dance music and strobe lights.  This kind of ended our conversations as it became loud, but watching the way people interact and dance with each other is always fun for me.  

During the coffee trip and the time at our local bar/café area, I realized how much more our American culture is too devoted to time and money.  While drinking one cup of coffee, over two hours passed before we knew it.  That’s something we just don’t do back in the states, or at least I don’t.  Even if we go out for coffee with friends, it’s usually drink the coffee, get our points across, and get out to do the next thing.  We’re always thinking about what’s next and try to be as efficient in everything possible.  The places there work 9-5 and that’s it.  People think we are crazy if we go into work at 8 or leave after 5 or 6 in the evening.  The phrase “Americans live to work while the rest of the world works to live” is becoming more and more clear to me.  Even today, our coach driver told us that he will have to take one day off during the trip because he will actually get fined if he works more than 6 days in one week.  Can you imagine that? He’ll get a fine for putting in extra effort to his job.  For us, extra effort is now expected.  I think we have a lot to learn about the culture here around Europe, especially when it comes to social life and work.  Maybe if we lived life a little more, rather than worked at life, we would all have less stress and be a little bit happier through our day.  These people are content with where they are at, and I think that’s because friendship and family will top any amount of money they can make.  They have a patience for life that we do not.  If you’re going out to dinner, expect to sit there for a good few hours between courses and drinks, but know you’ll be in good company.  It’s going to be tough, but for me personally, I think it’s time to just develop a little patience, let life happen, and enjoy a 6 hour cup of coffee with friends once in a while.

Salzburg, Austria Slideshow

"Designing Desire"

Today we had a technical visit to KISKA Design in Salzburg.  This is probably going to be one of our most colorful visits as far at the organization and company meetings go.  KISKA Design focuses on “Designing Desire” and the first thing you notice walking in is the very white showroom, mostly made of hard concrete, is their KTM car right up front.  Our visit started with a presentation with the COO, an engaging Englishman named Steve.  He took us through his company and their idea of design and what differentiates them from other design companies.  The advantage with KISKA Design is their integrated design process.  They have six departments, such as engineering, design, and communication, that all collaborate together to form one overall brand for a company.

After our presentation and question session, we signed confidentiality contracts and received visitor passes to tour the center.  It was a creative atmosphere with many of their designs on display in the center of the room for constant influence as well as to be played with by the designer to get a feel of the material they work with.  The designers all sat at their computers with decorations around their desks and many had large headphones in order to listen to their choice of music.  It appeared as though much of the work was done originally on post-it notes.  These post-it notes were then stuck together on a board and the designs were revamped from there.

This would be someplace I could definitely see myself working at.  As someone who originally studied Fine Arts in college, the creativity of this place intrigued me.  However, it was interesting to find that KISKA has a high employee turnover with their designers.  I guess it’s a field where those who are in it often get bored fast and need to move on to a new place and country.  But at KISKA, if a designer stays for at least three years, which doesn’t happen too often, they receive a 6 month sabbatical to travel for inspiration.  How amazing is that?

Overall, KISKA is a company based on three elements:  excellence, integrity, and curiosity.  They strive to be more than just a design company or consultancy, but actually reach out to be a trusted adviser for their clients dealing past just the design of the brand, but actual branding of the person.   For more information you can check out their site here. KISKA

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Crowbars with Veal

As I posted earlier, today started out in Switzerland with breakfast and then it was onto a coach at 7:30 this morning.  From Zurich, we went straight over to Munich, Germany.  For the group to get there, the coach drove through the Alps.  I’ve seen quite a few mountains, but none quite like the snow capped highlands we went through today.  Once we finally got to Munich, it was about a 6 hour drive, we did a little sightseeing and then ate lunch at Ratskellar in the town’s square.  The restaurant was in a Gothic style building that used to be the town hall and the food (pork, sausage, potato salad, and an apple fritter) was absolutely delicious.  After that we walked around once again.  What else are you going to do in a foreign country? In the square I picked up some very nice Euro sunglasses… ok, they look absolutely stupid and are full of rhinestones, but they get a good laugh.  Also, I got a new camera so I can starting getting some pictures to post.  After wandering around Munich it was back to the coach and off Salzburg, Austria. 

We arrived in Salzburg this evening and are staying at a Best Western.  It’s a nice place, but for some reason they find it necessary to have very small rooms with the two smaller than twin sized beds pushed next to each other.  So, my roommate and I are going to get a little closer than we expected.  All is well though.

Here in Salzburg we haven’t had much time for anything too out there yet.  Our first mission was to find dinner, and so we headed downtown to see what was there.  We got a nice welcome: the first experience was seeing a man walk up to a BMW with a crowbar going down the road, stop it, starting yelling at the car in German, kick three people out and push the driver over to the side and drive off.  It was a nice warm hello from the city, and we figured we would head back to the hotel for dinner.  I got a nice scalloped veal with parsley potatoes and everyone else also had time to enjoy some homemade Austrian dishes.

After dinner, it was back up to our hotel room for a little rest and trying to get some work done.  As for right now, my travel roommate Brandon and I just got back from a small local bar.  We decided to walk around a bit and see what was out there.  One thing that's odd from my American perspective is that they tend to mix beer with sprite, lemonade, or Fanta.  It is also the cheapest drink to get. Tomorrow is another technical visit and then a formal city tour.  Until then, Zum Wohl!

Brandon's Funny Story

This is a quote from my travel roommate Brandon during out time at Munich:

"So funny story! I'm at a music store in Munich, Germany, and I couldn't find the bathroom. So I decided I'm not only going ask an employee for help, but I'm going to say it in German. I said, 'Entschuldigen Sie (excuse me) Wo ist die (where is the) WC' water closet. She looked at me with this puzzled look! I said, 'Wo ist Die Water Closet.' We both looked at each other with a puzzled look. My buddy with me says, 'Do you have a bathroom?' She replies, 'Oh, yeah a bathroom.....up the stairs to your right.' So much for trying to fit in! FYI - Switzerland refers to the bathroom as a WC and in Germany it's a Toilette....."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Skinny Jeans, Racist Beer, and Christina Maria

 Just a touch from the last blog entry, the very harsh man was the Chief Economist that was giving our group the nice, drawn-out presentation on risk analysis.  During the presentation, he had a special mouse that was also a pointer that “Tom” gave to him.  Well, this mouse didn’t quite function like he had hoped…. him dropping it on the floor and having it fall apart may have had something to do with it.  I don’t know. 

Anyways, once he figured out how the projector and his laptop worked, maybe around 30 minutes to get that going (yes, he is the real Chief Economist) he continued on, mouse or no mouse.  During his spiel, his crew kept trying to help by bringing in new mice and fancier pointers, but he needed “Tom’s” mouse to work, and unfortunately Tom wasn’t there to get the hard end of his temper.  Every time a new solution came up or someone tried to help, he would stop the presentation, start going off in German, and yell for them to get out.  It was a very friendly impression for some American tourists.
Once the evening was free, it was back out to the city we went.  There’s nothing like wandering around Switzerland to make you stick out and feel very American.  One of the first things you’ll notice is all the very fit and well styled Europeans.  Unless you’re wearing skinny jean pants, a blazer, shined up boots, and a scarf, you’re going to most likely stick right out.  So to combat this, a group of us decided to hit the local streets and visit the shops.  One of the places we first walked into was an H & M.  There we browsed around and two of the group members, Josh and Nick, decided to try their part to blend in.  So they jumped into the dressing room and donned their best v-necks and suction jeans and have never looked better.  Now, I by no means have any disrespect to the European fashion, which by the way, happens to be much better than our American one.  It’s just a new change from our very relaxed and comfortable ways to put it in the nicest form.

After the skinny jeans episode, we continued our journey trying to find a nice place to eat.  By nice, I mean cheap: preferably anything under 30 franks (for a small sandwich) which a frank is roughly 1 to 1 to the U.S. dollar. We finally came to a small place on a side street where it looked to have a younger crowd and invited ourselves in.  First thing was to order food; this is fun to do when you don’t speak German.  There were English descriptions for some of the food, but I thought I’d do this right and order something appearing to be authentically Swiss.  And so, I ordered Albino.  As it turns out, I basically traveled all the way to Zurich for pizza.   It had a light crust with bacon onions and various cheeses, but also something similar to scalloped potatoes, and it was actually quite delicious.  To drink, one of the few German words I know, “Beir.”  Again, we wanted to try something local.  The restaurant’s waitress told us they only had two kinds, dark and light.  I went dark.  Two around me ordered some Swiss beer as well.  Somehow though, when the waitress brought us our drinks, the kind with only two options, she placed three different flavors in front of us.  The funny thing about this is she basically picked for us and so proceeded to give the light beer to my white friend, I got the medium beer, and a Black man got the darkest beer.  She was basically matching our faces to our drinks light, dark, and darker.  Despite the drinks’ bigot ways, we finished very good pizza dinner.

Once done, we had a nice surprise.  The place we were at was going to have live music that night.  First up was a group of three guys that basically sang U.K. cover songs.  It’s amazing how although they speak with their native accents, once they begin singing, the English comes our clearly American. After them was a young singer named Christina Maria.   She was absolutely amazing.  We kept waiting for her to bellow out a mediocre song, but that just didn’t happen.   All of her music was original, she played the guitar like a pro, and had an engaging stage presence.  She has been traveling around Europe performing, and that was only one of her stops after being in Asian, Mexico, and originating back in Canada.  Now, I’m not one to usually buy someone’s CD, but none of us could resist a chance to get hers. 

At the end of the night, we hopped back on the public train.  The train system is really unique and the rails are actually built into the street where they share the roadways with the cars, taxis, and coaches.  It actually was quite enjoyable too.  The trains are a lot like the Eco-Via that I remember from Quito, Ecuador, minus the sardine can feeling and pick-pocketers.  We even met a couple from Chicago on there and a nice man from England who coached us on the dos and don’ts of living around the area.  He has been living in Switzerland for about a year now after pursuing a different job in a teaching program.

Now its about 8:30 in the morning on the 5th of May (not sure yet when this entry will be posted) and we hopped onto a coach again at about 7:30.  Our next stop is Munic, Germany for a little sightseeing and lunch at apparently one of the best restaurants in Europe.   We’ll see how that goes. After Munich, its back to traveling over to Austria for some more technical visits.  Until then, I hope we don’t run into anymore Chief Economists.

The First of my Technical Visits

We had an early start this morning, one that seemed extra early for the amount of sleep given.  Our first stop after a surprising delicious breakfast (complete with hot meat, an omelet bar, fresh fruit, bread and cold bar, and homemade juice) was to StartZentrum.  The START Center is a business incubator that opened in May of 1999 in Zurich.  This is a not for profit, or better yet, "not for loss," organization to help Swiss and neighboring area entrepreneurs.   It was a great compliment to my time at Fort Wayne during my MBA Seminars.  There, we meet at the Northeastern Innovation Center which is a U.S. business incubator for the greater Indiana area.

At StartZentrum, we had the opportunity to meet with Marc Hamburger, CEO of the center.  He explained to us that on average, nearly 50% off new businesses survive the first 5 years of life, whereas with the help of an incubator, more than 90% of the businesses live on.  These statistics are very similar for U.S. incubators.  What these centers do is provide much needed expert coaching, consultation, capital search, infrastructure, as well as office and commercial space in order to help entrepreneurs.  Over its lifetime, the START center has helped more than 125 companies with 300 or more employees.

One of these notable companies is AVIQ an “over the top TV” company.  We had a presentation from Rudy Kiselijak, the CEO and founder of AVIQ.  He explained first of all his product which is a service that provided everything you could digitally want through your TV with an emphasis on web presence.  With the help of START he has been able to expand his company by “revolutionizing the TV experience for viewers and operators."
After this visit, we had the chance to break for lunch.  We headed out to Old Town to find a nice local place to experiment with Swiss food.  After wandering around for nearly an hour and almost getting lost (none of the roads run parallel or have any geometric pattern which makes navigating an interesting experience) we ended back up at a Burger King.  The only thing Swiss with that lunch was the price, nearly $20 for a value meal.

After lunch, we hopped back onto a coach and headed over to Zurich Financial Group.  Founded in 1872, its headquartered in Zurich and has a global presence with offices in Europe, North America, Latin America, and Asia with more than 60,000 employees spread out over 170 countries. Their motto is “we don’t sell assets, we sell promises” and from meeting with the company leaders, they sure seem to keep those promises.  Not only are they a top 5 company in the world for their sector, they are also a very global and human conscious organization making sure not to leave anyone out from their protective services.  Zurich Financial Group  is extremely innovative and unique from their custom white show room to their singing, guitar playing Chief Administrator.  After meeting with the insurance area, we moved over to the other side of town to meet with their financial services.  There we had a conference with their Chief Economist explaining the risk analysis process.  Next we met with one of their lead innovators for their Global Risk Assessment Module.  This is a complex computer and logarithm system that calculates global risks and simulations.  Within a few years, they plan on this being the global standard for risk evaluation much like the CSI World Book is for statistics.

The visits were very interesting, especially for someone as business focused as myself.  A few things that stuck out: Switzerland has a very stern and perfectionist culture.  It is clear that the society here is detail oriented in everything from the way they dress to how their presentations work.  One example is during one of the seminars, the presenter’s mouse did not work.  He made it very clear, in harsh German, that this was not acceptable and made sure that the problem was known and corrected.  Another odd image, at least for me, is that although the buildings hold many trash and recycling bins, none of them ever actually had trash in them.  The halls and offices are very clean and organized.  Finally, I realized how lucky we have it in the U.S. with an entrepreneur friendly mentality.  In Europe, if your business does not succeed, which many do not, the person is branded a failure for life and this can lead to problems with credit and status.  Back in the states, we believe if you haven’t failed yet, then you just are not trying hard enough.  Regardless, it was a very educational day and it’s only the very beginning of the trip.

Zurich, Switzerland Slideshow

Monday, May 3, 2010

My Arrival

I’ve gotten through my first very long day of traveling, being up over 30 hours. We first arrived in Chicago, making it about 5 hours early to our flight and giving us a lot of time to kill.  Luckily, that’s what Euchre is for.  From Chicago we took an overnight flight into London.  I can officially check England off of my list of countries to visit, however, it didn’t seem all that culturally enriching from the simple sights we got in the Airport

At about 11:00am we arrived in Zurich, Switzerland.  It’s an old city with a lot of rich history and still maintains the original roads that the Romans constructed.  Some of the places we toured today consisted of Altsadt (Old Town) which encompasses the area of the entire city before 1893; Fraumunter, a church that was founded in 853 by King Louis and was a convent for female nobility; Grossmunster, another church we visited built in the 16th century and one of the three major churches of Zurich and also played a key role in the protestant reformation. 

We also saw Lindenhof which is in old town and a historical site of the Roman castle.  It now serves as a recreational space.  We also had a trip through Bahnhofstrasse which is one of the world’s most expensive and exclusive shopping avenues.  Needless to say, I didn’t buy anything there.

Although it was a long day, it wasn’t all that productive.  It involved mostly travel and waiting around for us to do more traveling.  I did get the chance to head out through a rainy Zurich with a few others to explore the city at night.  The odd part about it is that even though Zurich is a large and popular city, everything seemed to be closed down by 6 or 7 in the evening.  We couldn’t even find a good place to get a bratwurst…. the only thing on our minds.

Tomorrow starts of technical and corporate visits, the real reason I’m here.  Hopefully, I’ll have a little more to write about and also a camera that works so I can start to post some pictures.