I have been extremely lucky in the last years, for EOI has pledged me with the honor and privilege to lead some study trips to different countries, with different courses and students: the experience has been wonderful.
I made two trips to Orlando, Florida with Executive MBAs, having the University of Central Florida as our local partner: we visited great enterprises like Indra, Disney, Seaworld, local incubators and firms, having feedbacks from business angels and Spanish entrepreneurs and our students changed their minds in many ways, touching down at the American dream and understanding the first economy of the world in the last century.
Shanghai, China, was my second destination, leading a group of MBAs, young students who landed in the BRICs world, through the most brilliant door of fuelling and sparkling China, with its urban skyrocketing, its apparently unlimited growth, feeling the energy of a Country which is living in the future, full of contradictions and paradoxes, where Confucius values are fusioning with Bill Gates and western capitalism.
We visited both local giants challenging multinationals, as Baosteel, one of the largest steel plant in the world, global manufacturers like General Motors or Spanish firms well established there, like Grupo Mondragon, Gran Meliá Hotel, Día retailing brand etc.
We tasted how local firms are keeping western giants at bay, preparing future scenarios of reverse innovation, where creations are developed in emerging markets, targeting the entire world.
Silicon Valley, San Francisco was my third destination, with 41 Executive MBAs who have been living a week of high tech, dynamism, internet and social networking businesses and “pitches” everywhere: I already reported our visits to Google and Oracle, our meetings with Spanish entrepreneurs who are changing the world, while we visited Stanford University, being to entrepreneurs what Dalai Lama is to Tibetans.
Three very different environments with the main target to opening minds, make our students aware of their infinite potential, confident that sometimes they just need to explore new scenarios, to meet people like them who are successful mainly due to their decision to live their passions, the professional life they like and not the one society (family, etc.) expects from them.
Any of these scenarios inspired great learnings to us all; everywhere, everybody gave us the same message about success, about being a great leader, manager or start-upper: be yourself, work hard, do what you would do for free if necessary, ask for advise, learn and understand the local “kimtchi” (culture), open your networks, spread your ideas, share them with generosity.
Respect people, listen to everybody, “sell” your ideas, communicate, think like a team (the team is never wrong), think like a CEO (profit is necessary even and specially for ONGs), innovate, be global, think global, be green, be sustainable, “if this is not good for your customers, it could not be good for your firm”, talk “With” your customers, not “To” them, engage them, start up businesses not to (just) make money but to save the world.
We do not expect all our students would become entrepreneurs, leaving their companies/cities and jumping to China or the US: we hope we transmitted them a lot of skills and values they could apply into their firms tomorrow morning, being entrepreneurs while leading their departments and divisions.
We are confident we opened the eyes of those students who go to work just for earning a salary, who are not engaged and committed with their actual firms, shaking them up to their roots, pushing them to a deep reflection about the happiness they deserve in their professions, in their lives, being usually a mistake to live two lives (one miserable from 9 to 5 and the beautiful other later on) or to expect to be happy after our retirement.
The majority of our students are extremely talented and they deserve somebody who tells them honestly the truth, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses, coaching them towards the fulfillment of their full professional peaks.
In southern Europe sometimes we are too polite: in China and in the US, professional people talk to you directly, honestly, going to the point; when they say they are not interested in your idea or they do not “believe” your business plan numbers, that your actual idea is not scalable, your team is not the perfect one (lacking the financial guy, the tech guy, the marketing one or whatever), or that your actual product stinks … they are not trying to spoil you or make you feel bad.
They are HELPING you a lot and the best thing you can do is to take serious note of their critics and instead of feeling miserable, you just have to re-plan your business ideas for your next meeting, your next chance. Never give up, never.
Our study trips represent learning adventures, making our students think about where they are really going to and where they would like to go professionally: we have to plan and prepare our future and careers for nobody else will do that for us.
We expect our students would go back to their works with renewed ideas, new procedures to execute in their daily jobs, being much more efficient in the use of the scarcest resource of all: our time. If I lend you some money I have the expectation you will give it back to me one day, but nothing similar can be done with my time.
In fact, in Silicon Valley we have insisted a lot in our students “making their pitch”: we gave them an enterprise project and we asked for them to prepare a presentation of 5 minutes using a maximum of 5 slides; this will prepare them to make an “elevator pitch” of 2 minutes, without any graphic support.
The idea is simple: if you have a dream and you need some support to execute it (capital, resources, partners, etc.) you must “take” with you your pitch, just in case: in case you would meet a great entrepreneur, a Venture Capitalist, Steve Jobs or the Yahoo founders. The same concept is applicable to their actual company: if you want to propose some change/innovation you must be prepared for any opportunity you might have, at the coffee machine, at lunch, at the lobby, anywhere.
From now on our students know 30 minutes are a lot of time to discuss any idea in a meeting: in Google, people attending a meeting have to prepare it in advance and propose their ideas to be discussed: after a public poll, the most voted ideas win the team attention, in a meeting which will be ended on time, following the set agenda.
Enterprises of the XXIst century are paperless, networked, teamed: an idea is a better idea if we spread it around; a product is a living and improvable platform if we spread it around, if the market and our customers can try it and talk about it, comment about it, especially if in a very critical way.
Our study trips are designed to teach our students on real cases, meeting real entrepreneurs and listening to them while reporting their failures, their mistakes, which leaded them to their actual success: perseverant, failure tolerant, risk takers, optimistic and opportunity driven, crisis-phobic, looking always forward.
China, the US (Orlando, Portland, San Francisco) and Argentina are already in our portfolio, while we are preparing a study trip to Chicago and two visits to London and Dusseldorf wine Fairs, for our Wine Internationalization MBAs, while I am confident in the near future we will be able to offer learning experiences to other developing and developed countries of interest, to expand visions and horizons, to make our students thinking “global”, as the citizens of the flat world they are.
I have to thank sincerely EOI to allow me to be part of some of these experiences for, quoting Confucius: “I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand”, while what I teach, it is forever.