Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day 8: Gaucho ranch and pizza in the theater district

The group went to a Gaucho ranch to experience the equivalent of a southwestern horse show combined with a vaudeville act (on Saturday.) The Gaucho ranch was about 1 hour outside of Buenos Aires. Gauchos used to reside in the pampas, an area in the south of Argentina where most of the farming takes place. (They still are called this, they no longer don their classical garb and traditions.) Gauchos were Argentine cowboys who led the life of the recluse until the concept of land ownership started to cramp their style. This forced the Gauchos to settle and work for a ranch boss to make their keep. The dances, the traditions, and the lifestyle are kept alive by artists and families who own "tourist ranches."

We started the visit with wine and empenadas. There was a museum that showed some of the housing that the ranch boss held as well as the furniture of the Gaucho. The Gaucho lived off of the land so their homes were made of dirt, cow skins, and furniture made from cow bones. (I should have taken a picture here, grr.) As part of the experience, tourists could either chill out, ride horses, or ride in a horse drawn carriage. I chose to chill out. Some of the group actually went out and rode horses nearby.

Then a clanging cow bell called us back from our various activities to eat and enjoy the main show. The food was very good. An infinite supply of sausages (chorizo and blood), meat, chicken, and what could be classified as a cross between a dumpling and a donut coated in glaze and decorative sprinkles. As always on this trip, there was also a large, but finite supply of wine and beer.

In our meat-induced coma, they started the show. First we saw tango, of course. Then some sad, traditional songs that had everyone sniffling. We couldn't understand the words precisely, but one of the group translated one key phrase: children without a future but burdened with a past. Sad. Very sad.

After this sad song, they brought out the Gaucho. There was a dance between Gaucho and his wife. Then the Gaucho showed off his skills using bolas, three weights tied together with leather to bring down an animal, similar to a lasso. This Gaucho dance with bolas was impressive, jumping around spinning the bolas faster and faster. Very impressive.

The afternoon ended with a horse show where the Gauchos paraded groups of horses around quickly showing off their herding skills. Finally, the Gauchos had a competition where they would try and grab a ring hanging from a post with a rod while riding a horse at full speed. When the Gaucho was successful, a woman would move towards the Gaucho and he would give her the ring for a kiss. Nothing for men here, but some of the women on our trip were swooning.

Day 7: Intercultural training and Argentine economics/law

Our first day of visits in Bueno Aires was complementary to the first day of visits in Chile. We were introduced to a intercultural trainer who gave us an overview of things we learned in our global management class and how they applied to Argentina. It was a good review, and it segued nicely into the discussion of Argentine economics and business.

The second discussion was led by a lawyer from Zang, Bergel, and Vines. He told us the story of the financial crash of Argentina in 2001 where they defaulted on foreign loans, banks froze assets for 1-2 years, and their currency (and everyone's investments) fell to 1/4 their value. Since most Argentines were not debt burdened, nearly everyone in the country lost the value of their savings.

Now Argentina is in a political deadlock over how to boost their economy. Currently Argentina (and much of the developed Latin America) is growing at a rate of 9% a year. In order to free up more capital for further growth, Argentina needs to pay off some of its outstanding debt (that they were unable to default on). If they do so, foreign capital may flow freer to Argentina and continue to energize the growth.

However, to do so they need to pull cash from their reserves. There are two worries: one, the central bank would be entangled with (instead of autonomous from) the government. Secondly, by entagling these two, precedence may be set for the government to draw from the reserves, and their outstanding creditors may be able to gain access to those reserves. It's a tricky path they are walking, and something worth keeping tabs on.

Our final destination was Globant, an IT outsourcing firm in Argentina. Globant is based in Argentina, but has over 2000 employees world-wide. They are growing at a rate of 100 employees per month. Their value proposition is simple: they provide end-to-end design, development, and integration for companies wishing to cut costs or companies with chaotic growth that need help ASAP. While doing IT outsourcing is cheaper in India and China, Global has built in management of the entire pipeline. This means that the company could pay 20% more for Globant, but know that they will not be bogged down in managing a project on the other side of the world.

Globant is also committed to providing end-to-end solutions instead of boutique one-offs. From art design, UI design, backend development, network and network security, and data warehousing, Globant has rebuilt the value-chain for agile development. They claim that end users have specific desires in user interfaces and performance, and that Globant can make this happen better than any other IT outsourcing firm.

Day 6: Take me to Bueno Aires for beef and wine

(This was the day where I really started to get behind on sleep. This is also when Internet access got spotty. ;-)

We got up at 4:15AM to catch a flight to Bueno Aires at 7:30. With a group this large, you need to have folks moving a bit earlier than if you were on your own. The trip was without incident, but there was a weird thing that happened on the plane. Flying to Argentina they spray some sort of antseptic spray once all of the passengers board the plane. It was the weirdest thing I'd seen, and seemed like a fairly ineffective method to clean up whatever they needed cleaning. (I need to do more reading on this.)

Bueno Aires is quite beautiful. The buildings are a mixture of different styles: modern, french, italian, and spanish influences all brought together in a complex, frenetic, and vibrant downtown. The stories of the buildings were interesting as well. Many of the older buildings were part of a economic boom many many years ago, and were large for their time. We also toured Boca, a historic, but poor part of Buenos Aires. In boca (like the picture to the right) there were buildings where immigrants lived together in very small rooms. The whole building shared one bathroom. These poor immigrants worked and lived together to pull themselves out of poverty. In fact, according to the guide, different sets of immigrants would work through this neighborhood over time. First it was poor Italian immigrants, today there are mainly Peruvian immigrants.

The team wound down the evening with a fine wine tasting led by a sommolier. We then visited Porto Moderno and had a traditionally influenced meal at Estilio Campo. This was a carne-fest with lots of good wine and beef for a moderate, but definitely American price.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Day 5: Visit to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar

It was really really strange to revisit the place where Sarah and I spent 6 weeks learning Spanish. It was familiar, yet unfamiliar. I can't name the feeling quite right, but something had changed, and it didn't seem to be Valparaiso.

I did get a chance to meet our Spanish professor, Marcela. She was enchanting as ever and we swapped stories about family, I showed off pictures, and we talked politics. She was glad that Pinera won because he was younger, vibrant, and had a specific vision. However, the earthquake has changed Chile. Not in physical way, but in a mental one. "Chile changed in 3.5 minutes," was what she said. A country used to stability and control has been dislodged from comfort and faced with the same thing other well developed countries are facing: chaotic, unrelenting world markets.

Day 4: Energy, Lagoons, and Chile

Pushing more data to the blog...

On Day 4 we visited Enersis. This is the largest energy company in Chile. They used to provide end-to-end energy solutions: generation, transmission, and distribution. Now they've sold off the transmission portion of their company and focused on the generation and distribution. As you can imagine, the distribution of power provides the largest margins because they're selling to the end customer. Transmission is a long-term, low risk venture because you need to park money in transmission for 40-60 years to see a good return on investment. Stable, but not sexy.

We also visited the largest salt water man-made lagoon. There is a company with a set of technologies that makes it cost effective to have a very, very big swimming pool. A lagoon so large, you can sail on it. It's amazing, really amazing. Less environmentally impactful than a regular pool, consumes less energy/power, and cost less to run. You just have to visit their website to find out more: www.crystal-lagoons.com

I had an interesting side conversation on this day as well. A Chilean I was chatting with was critical of CORFO and felt they hadn't had any markable successes in technology. They also were lamenting the need for an extension campus or something in Chile. This would give Chile a leg-up and bring in more intellectual capital to generate more business.

Day 10: Internet is back, more stories

(Here are some tidbits for today! Internet finally works in our rooms)

Had a great visit at Ford Motors in Argentina today. I got to see cars and trucks on the assembly line being made at 2 cars per minute. Ford has been manufacturing cars and trucks in Argentina since 1913, unbelievable but true. They had a version of the focus Sarah and I may have considered if they were selling them outside of Latin America.

Another interesting tidbit is that cars and trucks in Latin America are primarily made to order. Argentines, in particular, don't have a lot of access to credit, so they pay cash for cars. Cars in the US are primarily pre-made in select models or packages.

We also went to Mercado Libre, the eBay of South America. The most curious part of that visit was to see how they addressed their customers. They felt that since South America was behind the technological times, many more of their customers are not very serious internet users. This requires more user education than in the US.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

To all of the people following this blog

Hey all,

I've got a bit of writers block right now supported by spotty internet access. I'm hoping to write more on Sunday after our trip to Uruguay.