Back to business, this time in Santiago.
After a fantastic rest day in Santiago, it was time for us to get down to business again. Our first destination was Endesa, the Chilean arm of the power corporation Enel. Compared to most nations, Chile is unusual in that the majority of its power needs are served by hydroelectric power (which incidentally is not classed as a renewable energy source in the country), and Endesa is responsible for some of the largest plants in the country.
We heard from their investor relations team on their history, their business model, and their newest investments. We also discussed the challenges in doing business in volatile markets such as Argentina, and the ongoing effects of the drought in Chile.
From there, it was back to the hotel for lunch, and for the next two company presentations. First off was Kantar World Panel, a market research firm, who provided us with deep insights into trends in the Chilean marketplace. Chile is on the line between being a developing and fully developed country, and because of this, there are trends in education and access to wealth and services that are not seen in mature economies like the US.
Following this presentation we met with a representative of Masisa, a fully integrated wood manufacturer that does everything from managing forestry to providing retail outlets where they cut to order for the construction and DIY industries. They have significant operations in Venezuela, so there was a lot of discussion on how these resources are managed (in short - for the long term). It was also a chance to learn about the intricacies of financing on the US market; we were handed a copy of the filing document for their last bond issue - it went to over 500 pages of disclosures. However, all that work paid off - they are seen as a solid investment internationally.
Beyond all the company visits, the GLP has also been a social and cultural experience for the students. We spend a large part of our free time socialising together, and exploring the life of the cities that we visit. Being in the MA/MBA program we had been idly joking about whether I'd get to see an opera on this trip, given my background in the art form both as a singer and in administration. On the off chance, I looked up the website for the Teatro Municipal de Santiago, and was amazed to find that I was in town for the last performance of Leoš Janáček's opera "Káťa Kabanová". It's a relatively rare opera to see live, despite the excellent quality of the music and a strong storyline.
However, I figured that I wouldn't be likely to get a ticket, so planned on spending the evening visiting artisan markets with my fellow classmates. When we passed the Teatro Municipal, I quickly ran in to check whether there were tickets left. In what can only be described as a fantastic stroke of luck, a lady who wasn't able to attend the performance had come in to donate her tickets back for resale, and she offered me her ticket - a front row box seat overlooking the orchestra! Suddenly my plans had changed for the evening. It also meant that I kept alive my tradition of catching an opera every time I travel overseas.
The experience was fantastic. The theatre is of the old horseshoe style famous in European houses, and it felt identical to any I had visited there, with its intricate decorations and marble lobby. The performance also pulled in a large audience of young and old - opera seems to be a popular pastime here in Chile. It was also a testament to the quality of the company that the production featured a strong mix of international and local talent, along with the state of the art in production design (the "walls" of the stage were in fact digitally animated projections, and the floor itself could change colour based on the needs of the scene). In all it was a great performance, receiving a standing ovation from many in the crowd.
After that it was a trip back to the hotel on the metro; even in the late evening there was still a sizeable crowd, and it felt safe and comfortable travelling around. Back there I enjoyed a different style of cultural experience - watching baseball on the TV and sampling Chilean beer from the Patagonia region.
The next morning it was back to business, with our first stop being Banco Estado, the state-owned bank. Their building is in the centre of the financial district, overlooking the presidential palace. There, we met with a representative of the firm who talked to us about the bank's role in society, and how it is bringing banking services (and particularly microfinancing arrangements) to the Chilean population, particularly in remote and underserved areas. We also were able to talk about how the bank manages both its private, public and government stakeholder base, particularly how it interacts with the government to reinvest earnings.
After this it was time for a tour of the financial district and some lunch. The city of Santiago is centuries old, and the downtown area is characterised by cobblestone streets and fountains. A group of us decided to take a look inside the Santiago Stock Exchange with the hope of glimpsing the trading floor. What happened next was unexpected. We were not only allowed to take a look at the trading floor, but they let us walk around the trading floor itself, housed in a beautifully appointed room at the centre of the building. Unlike, say, Wall Street, the trading floor at Santiago was virtually empty; most of the work is done remotely, but the stock ticker and the trading terminals are still there for any trader who needs it.
From there it was back on the bus, this time for a one hour trip south of the city to visit the winemaking facilities at Santa Rita Winery in the Maipo Valley. We toured the presses, fermentation tanks and the vast underground cellars where some of the finest Chilean wine is made, hearing about the history of not only winemaking in Chile, but also of the history of the country; the cellars of the original homestead at one point became a refuge for soldiers in the Chilean War of Independence. We also toured the extensive museum of pre-Colombian art that is housed on the site. Once the tour was complete, we were treated to a presentation by one of the managers of the company, hearing about the Chilean wine industry and Santa Rita's position in the market as a premium brand.
Naturally, we used the opportunity to visit their gift shop and bring back a few bottles of fine Chilean wine, before getting back on the bus to the hotel. Once we had returned, we went out for one last dinner in Santiago (more of the exceptional seafood) before gathering in a rooftop bar overlooking the city. Tomorrow would be our last day of the GLP, and we reflected on the experience together.
I think we have all gained a lot from the trip, both intellectually and socially. I've gotten to know people outside of the classroom in a way that I hadn't before, and have discovered a deep respect for them. During the breakneck pace of the academic year, it's sometimes hard to see beyond your own nose in terms of your surroundings, but the GLP helps to remind us of how talented and intelligent the students in the Cox MBA program are. It's a great preparation for the second year and beyond, where our relationships will be as important as our academic performance in taking the next step in our careers.
Observations on music, coffee, and the occasional controversial thought.
Copyright © Gerard Atkinson 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the owner is strictly prohibited.