August 17th, 2010
It has been a busy five weeks, full of change — we changed the focus of our project, changed the client’s perceptions about their business, and in the last week of the project, even re-visited and changed one of our key recommendations based on new data. Each of these changes brought us one step closer to delivering a comprehensive set of plans to enhance the business of Lincoln Center.
Last Thursday we submitted our final report and made our final presentation to Lincoln Center. We gave the client the weekend to read and digest our 23,000-word tome and two dozen supporting Excel sheets mapping out where we hope Lincoln Center will go next. This afternoon we did a follow-up call to answer any questions about our recommendations, stressing the importance of including all levels of Lincoln’s management in making the decisions that drive change in the organization. We’re doing everything possible to ensure that the Lincoln Center is equipped to implement our recommendations and thrive in the future.
As we get ready to present our project to the Thunderbird community tomorrow morning, we are excited to have participated in a project that truly contributes to Thunderbird’s mission to “create sustainable prosperity worldwide” — as they grow over the next several years, we expect that Lincoln Center will contribute further to the development of Albania.
August 13th, 2010
As we crossed the border into Kosovo last weekend, I was expecting to see much of the same things I’d already seen in Albania, because of the size, proximity and cultural closeness of the 2 countries. But as we saw in three of the five major cities that dot the newly established country, Kosovo has a uniqueness all its own.
The architecture seemed to change as we crossed the border, and so did the landscape — but what made the biggest effect on me was the noticeable presence of NATO troops. They became a constant reminder of the country’s recent battles, and suddenly what I had seen in the news many years ago started to take on a new sense of reality.
The second night in Kosovo, our dinner discussion turned to the country’s history and how ethnic violence had left a lasting impression on its people. The conversation took on a personal note when one of our group members began to explain what is currently going on in her country and how horrible ethnic violence is. She told us about the uncertainty, fear, and hate that surrounds this type of violence and the damage that it causes a nation. Later I couldn’t help thinking how fortunate I was to never have had to see something so horrible.
Yet these people had not only seen such destruction, they had lived it. I had come to Kosovo seeking a new experience, but I didn’t expect to learn more about myself in the process. I gained a much greater appreciation for the people of Kosovo that night. I don’t think I’ll ever understand what they have been through, but if I can move forward in life with a fraction of their optimism after having dealt with something so onerous, then I’m doing okay.
August 12th, 2010
The last five weeks have flown by; now we’re in the process of finalizing our report for Lincoln Center. We’re dotting our “i”s, crossing our “t”s, and checking all our numbers.
When we first looked at the situation with our client, in some ways things didn’t look good. Numbers were down, finances were tight, and there was a big question of what the future of Lincoln Center looked like. But as we have conducted research, examined the market and competitors, crunched the numbers, met with the staff, talked to current students, crunched some more numbers, met with corporate clients, and come to a full understanding of the situation, we’re quite optimistic.
Lincoln Center has had a great impact over the last thirteen years, and as we give them our many recommendations, we believe that they have many more great years ahead. They are recognized as one of the leaders of the EFL market in Albania and are strategically positioned for entering new markets. By improving their operational effectiveness, cutting some unnecessary expenses, building on their core services, and capitalizing on their brand image, the Lincoln Center will continue to grow and have a tremendous influence in Albania.
August 11th, 2010
When I first came to Thunderbird I was surprised to see that there were more men than women. In my previous places of education it was the opposite. Not surprisingly TEM Lab project teams follow the same tendency in male-to-female ratio. Since January there have been seven projects involving thirty-two students and only ten of them were women.
There are discussions and criticism about women earning less than men holding similar positions. It is true for MBA graduates too. Among MBAs who do not work after getting their degree, the majority are women. A study by a management consultancy explains this by stating that “women are generally less ambitious and motivated than men and have completely different priorities when it comes to the world of work.” It is true that we may have different priorities than men but are we less ambitious? Didn’t we come to the best international business school to pursue high paid careers worldwide?
I would encourage more female T-birds to join TEM lab projects as it is such a great opportunity to learn new things, apply knowledge from school, meet new people, and explore new places. TEM lab is one of the best ways of adding international experience to your resume that makes you a more attractive candidate for international jobs.
I am the only woman on our team. Of course there are advantages of being the only lady – I always get a separate room wherever we travel, I get the front seat in a taxi, I get help with my bags, etc. But I wish there was at least one more lady on our team who I could go shopping with or chat in the evenings. Our project is ending in a few days and I can’t believe I have not been to any mall or nice shop yet, except for groceries or souvenir shops. I guess it is different for different people but I can’t go shopping alone and I don’t think my teammates would go with me to female shops…
August 7th, 2010
Last week, after we wrapped up our draft report to our client at about midnight, we decided to celebrate this milestone at a nearby café. This is when it occurred to us – “How about we hold a First Tuesday on August 3rd? It might just be the first First Tuesday in Albania.” First Tuesday is a Thunderbird tradition — on the first Tuesday of each month, T-bird alumni around the globe gather to share food, drink, and stories. I have attended First Tuesdays in Mexico, Czech Republic, and in the US and felt amazed to discover this sense of community.
We got in touch with one of the alumni here in Tirana, Maja Hakani ‘97, and met at the Xheko Imperial Hotel, one of the most beautiful places in Tirana with a panoramic view of the city. It was a perfect evening with a smooth breeze, a live classical guitarist in the background and a good selection of delectable Italian food.
We talked about how Albania has changed over the years since 1997, becoming the emerging market that it is today with enormous potential for growth and investment. Maja then shared with us the story of her Thunderbird experience — arriving from Europe with great expectations, coming to terms with the culture shock of being in Glendale, and finally integrating herself into the T-bird culture. She talked about how Thunderbird eventually became like home.
We learned that ours was not really the ‘first’ First Tuesday in Albania as we had hoped, but it makes us happy that the Thunderbird spirit continues to bring people from all over the world together to share ideas and experiences. I guess that’s part of what we call the “Thunderbird mystique.”
President Cabrera once mentioned that the school can only accomplish the first half of its mission — educating global leaders — but it is up to the students to achieve the other half, which is to create sustainable prosperity worldwide. When I graduate this December 2010, I will be proud to join the ranks of T-bird Alumni.
August 6th, 2010
“All that great stuff you learned in school, throw it out — it doesn’t apply here.”
This statement was made a couple of weeks ago by an Albanian businessman we were meeting. While it may sound a little extreme, there is some truth to what he said. In a post-Communist emerging market, the business mindset and individual decision-making processes are not always rational. Ideas of profit and loss are diluted by pride and hardheadedness. From the cleaning lady in our hotel to large business owners, the idea of opportunity cost is sometimes overlooked.
For example, we were told the story of an owner of a mostly-empty high-rise building in Tirana. Our real-estate friend had a client who wanted to rent three entire floors, and asked to negotiate on the price. The owner was too proud to negotiate even a little, and walked away from the deal. To this day, most of the building is still sitting empty.
As Thunderbird students we feel that our experience and unique training has prepared us for meeting these challenges head on. In our interactions with businessmen at all levels we have seen that there is growing business acumen here in Albania, but in some areas it still needs to develop. I have seen great progress since my first time in Albania 12 years ago, and I’m optimistic about the future.
In working with our client, we have kept these lessons in mind when looking at the market within which they are operating. While a given suggestion may seem rational to us, we have to figure out how it would work in this culture and market. We haven’t gone as far as throwing out what we learned in school, but we have definitely had to adapt to the way things are done in Albania.
August 5th, 2010
Ideally, a consulting process includes the people of the client organization as full partners, so that the recommendations produced are actionable and the people of the organization will buy into them. However, to operate here we have to adjust our methods a bit. A fully inclusive process, or “whole-system discovery”, where all levels of the organization participate in the decision-making process and ultimately produce the plan for action, is not practical in a hierarchical work environment. However, we can work with staff one-on-one to get a portion of the benefits of an inclusive process.
Sometimes as a consultant your job is not just to bring in recommendations based on your outside expertise, but to listen to the expertise of those who are already within the organization. Often, these people already know the solutions to many of the organization’s problems, but due to the hierarchical nature of the society, may not promote their ideas in a way that results in implementation.
In developing recommendations to our client, we have worked extensively with the middle management of the organization, especially on operational and marketing issues, to understand their views and help them develop plans to make Lincoln Center stronger. We therefore get the “best of both worlds” – the best ideas from within the organization, and the direct channel to the top of the organization to get ideas considered and implemented.
August 4th, 2010
Though I’m not as well traveled as some, out of the countries I’ve been to thus far, I’ve generally felt an acceptance and love for Americans, but never a real love for the United States. So when I arrived in Albania, you can imagine how surprised I was to see American flags everywhere. They’re at the banks, the hotels, and even the ubiquitous coffee bars. It seems like there are more American flags on display here than there are in the US. Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but even George Bush Jr. has a street and a coffee shop named after him. If you saw how popular coffee was here, you’d understand how big of a deal that is!
So why is this love for America so pronounced in such a small, beautiful, mostly Islamic, country so far away? There are many theories, but I believe it has a lot to do with perception. After communism fell, for most Albanians going to America was the ultimate dream. For many here it is still like winning the lottery – except “The Lottery” is in fact the US government green card lottery. It’s that same old perception that “the grass is always greener on the other side.”
What I see in Albania is a growing economy (unlike many that are dancing around disaster, here in Europe and around the globe). People are learning more and more about business and work ethic. Individual success is plainly visible by their cars and clothes. A good life and chance for success can be found right here without having to win “The Lottery”. But yet it’s difficult to overcome the mindset that “abroad” is where the money is.
Of course, that’s just my perception, but one thing is certain, while I’m here, I get to fall in love with a country that is also in love with mine. While their love may or may not last, I will always love the time I have spent with these good people.
July 26th, 2010
With its post-Communist mentality, coupled with Turkish influence left over from the Ottoman invasion of the 15th century, Albania is much like my home country of Kyrgyzstan. As in my country, markets line the streets of Tirana where foreigners must be wary of a “good” deal. I hear the same music and catch familiar words in the language. Even celebrations are conducted in the same fashion. I feel at home here, but still a little out of place.
Living outside my country for so long has changed me. I find myself acting more and more like a westerner. This is no more apparent than when I’m walking down the street and I look up at the person walking towards me — I have to resist the strong urge to smile. You see, in the U.S., smiling is a constant. You smile to the grocery clerk, you smile to the gas station attendant, you smile to pretty much everybody you pass by, whether they be a friend or somebody you’ve never seen before. This is polite, and to not do so would be considered an insult.
Albania, however, is more like my country. Here, smiling at strangers takes on a completely different connotation — suddenly you feel the awkwardness and hear the catcalls as you pass. Women smiling at strangers is not accepted. Yet still I can’t help myself. It’s a beautiful morning, the sun is out, and the streets are bustling with people, how can I not smile? So I have to ask myself, what makes me more uncomfortable, getting awkward stares, or not smiling?
When in Tirana do as Tiranans do.