(Rio, as seem from Christ the Redeemer)
Back from a two week trip to South America that then required nearly ten days to fully recover. As they say, travel broadens horizons and South America did that, and more – across three dimensions.
Understanding the story of business in Brazil and Argentina was the first dimension.
Meeting with some of the world’s largest petrochemical companies,
(Global HQ for Petrobras, one of the world’s major petrochemical players)
upstart airlines reshaping air travel and more broadly, travel itself in Brazil,
(Azul – think Brazilian JetBlue, same founder – Airline’s Embraer Flight Simulator)
venture capitalists that are further fostering (creating?) entrepreneurship there with a long term view, boutique wine distributors that are helping boutique Argentinian vineyards pry open large multi-billion dollar global markets, politicians that are trying to bring about innovation and change to some very entrenched and retrograde ways of doing things,
(Esteban Bullrich, Buenos Aires’ Minister of Education;
Reforming ~ 740 Schools, with 50,000 teachers, in Buenos Aires)
understanding how political decisions and (mis)management can cause “black market” currency exchange rates that are 25% higher than the official rates (in Argentina) – the trip had it all.
Being part of these meetings and discussions and interacting with these leaders and managers (many of whom were Kellogg alumni) really makes one appreciate the sheer scale of our world, the incredible diversity and how value is being created and captured in every part of it.
(Most items over ~ USD 100 in Brazil can be bought with monthly payments to enable the growing (lower) middle class to buy aspirational goods; Picture above shows monthly payments in the left hand column and
the one-time purchase price in the right hand column)
(Seat-back advertisements in TAM – not widely adopted in the US yet; good advertising strategy – brings in revenue for airlines and presumably increases brand “stickiness” with a captive passenger audience)
The second dimension was the local culture (to the extent we could imbibe of it, in two weeks).
Interactions with locals in convenience stores (some of which were open “25 Hours” a day, not 24), shops, buses, subway systems (that some of the more adventurous in our group tried) and restaurants
(Pizza at one of Buenos Aires’ most famous pizzerias)
gave us a taste of local culture and human behavior in those parts of the world (superficially different from the US of course but not that different at a more fundamental, deeper level). The waiter in the restaurant in Rio that wouldn’t stop smiling when we told him he reminded us of Tommy Lee Jones
or the owner of an amazing Italian place in Sao Paulo who told us (and showed us) with great pride how their delicious pasta was made upstairs every single day and how he wanted to expand or how one of our friends made our tour guide’s day by buying her souvenirs – each interaction enriched our trip and our experience in different ways.
The third dimension was of course relationship building and bonding.
Most of the people on the trip hadn’t spent a lot of time together, other than during classes or the occasional Saturday or weeknight dinner. To be with each other from 8 or 9 in the morning until 2 or 3 at night every night, partaking of local culture, experiences and meals – which included empanada making,
(Empanada making in Buenos Aires, at The Argentine Experience)
Malbec sampling, horseback polo learning and “playing”,
(Polo experience in Buenos Aires)
hiking, walking the streets of Buenos Aires at 2.30am, eating a cheese sandwich purchased at a gas station(!), getting used to “agua con gas ou sim gas” everywhere, shopping for local tropical fruit in Sao Paulo,
(A cousin of the so-called Custard Apple, one of the few fruits I cannot stand;
seen here at a local market in Sao Paulo)
eating Falafel in Sao Paulo, taking in Rio’s spectacular views from Sugarloaf mountain together, watching a very good Tango show in Buenos Aires – allowed us to deepen existing friendships and relationships while helping us form brand new ones (discovering, for example that still waters in quiet people do indeed run quite deep…) that will remain with us for a very, very long time…perhaps through this lifetime.
Which is probably how many of us will remember the trip – a “once in a lifetime” experience.