The business behind the Bustling Cities
While visiting Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh, I not only got to experience the bustling streets both during the day and at night, but I also had the opportunity to learn about business in South East Asia from the perspective of experienced professionals that work and manage businesses in their respective host country. Two particular companies that left an indelible mark on me were MPG, Mahanakorn Partners Group, and IKEA Thailand. Both of these company visits offered vastly different experiences in regards to the format of the discussion, the location of the visit, and the panel of speakers. The variety in the company visits was appealing and enjoyable because each company was a unique experience and it never felt repetitive, and therefore, never uninteresting.
Pre-Visit Jitters and Expectations
When getting ready each morning and putting on my business casual attire, the customary business attire in South East Asia, I never truly knew what the company visit for that day was going to be like. Since I have never done a formal company visit before, I had no background knowledge or experience. In order to prepare myself and overcome this lack of experience, I took the initiative to put in some time to self-research the company before visiting so I had general knowledge. This is an activity also encouraged by IBS Leaders and my faculty leader at California Lutheran.
Additionally, as a part of the business experience, IBS assigns students into groups to present on the companies, so the group has some background information. Consequently, the information I learned online was reinforced when the groups spoke on their assigned company. Although small, even this effort to learn about the basics of the company assisted in generating questions during presentations.
Despite my preparation, I still did not know what to expect out of these visits, but they were not like anything I imagined. My expectations for the visits were that the main presenter(s) would give some form of a PowerPoint presentation that contained information about the company and his/her role within that company. Instead, it was an interactive environment that inspired my curious nature. I quickly learned that my small research efforts were important because nearly all of the speakers and guest presenters actively sought questions rather than simply informing us. This opened the floor for discussion of any topics that I, or any other student, found interesting. Both IKEA Thailand and MPG offered this kind of experience, but in vastly different manners.
From Conferences Rooms Talks to Warehouse Walks
The two companies I found myself inspired by are located in Thailand. MPG and IKEA Thailand gave unique experiences. MPG was not a company I had an extreme interest in because I have little interest in consulting and legal services, while IKEA was a company I was looking forward to visiting because I wanted to know the differences between America and Thailand operations and strategies. Two vastly different levels of interest surprisingly resulted in two similarly satisfying experiences. A business focused on legal and consulting services addressed topics that I realized I was passionate about only after I got to visit versus a company in the furniture retail industry that offered me a fresh perspective on the shoppers’ experience.
Follow the White Arrow Road
The IKEA Thailand company visit started off with us entering a relaxed room that had a lounge atmosphere. We all took our seats on pillows and were invited to kick off our shoes by the main presenter. In an unexpected twist, the IKEA presenters included several departments from Logistics, Marketing, and Business Development. Together there were about six team members, which steadily grew by the end of the visit, available to address questions. This was pleasantly surprising because this opened the opportunity to ask more direct questions about all of these departments and receive insight from the team members who directly interact and discuss those topics for their job.
Suddenly, mid presentations, a cart was rolled in containing a Thai staple: Boba Tea.
FUN FACT: IKEA Thailand is the only IKEA location that sells Boba Tea onsite. It was delicious. It was brought because a Thai cultural influence on business is the concept of family-style chat before formally starting meetings. This creates a comfortable environment and enables better communication for business.
After all of the presenters gave brief introductions of their department, we left the conference area and began our full IKEA store tour. Being able to walk with a group of team members from IKEA and have the marketing and display tactics explained to you was fascinating. As a consumer, I never recognized how often stores, such as IKEA, attempt to capture your attention for particular goods, literally at every turn! At every 90-degree-turn, a vibrant display is located to draw the consumers’ attention to that location. Additionally, I learned that IKEA takes its used display items and sells them for a discounted price to help manage costs. Another interesting discovery is that compared to Americans when shopping at IKEA, Thais will utilize the furniture as if it was their own home. This allows them to envision and interact with the goods in a manner that is realistic for them. Taking a nap in beds, hanging out on couches with friends, and playing with children in playroom spaces was a common interaction to witness, and completely accepted. I even engaged in these activities during the tour because we were in IKEA and of course I wanted to be a shopper as well! Without this tour, I would probably not have found out all of these interesting facts about IKEA Thailand.
Would You Like to Stay for Lunch?
Mahanakorn Partners Group, MPG, is a reorganized company that provides various services, including consulting, legal counseling, and accounting assistance. The CEO of the company was the speaker for this company visit. All 20-25 of us IBS attendees squeezed into a conference room together with the speaker at the head of the table. Quiet a presence we had as students! With a cup of espresso in his hand, the speaker sat down, we all introduced ourselves and jumped right into a conversation. There was no PowerPoint, there were no visual displays, and it was simply human-to-human- interaction and discussion. For some, this may seem daunting, but for me, it was exactly what I was looking for in a company visit.
Although I had no interest in the services offered by the company, the speaker started the conversation off by explaining his transition to Thailand and his failed business communications that resulted in two major losses. Following this, he explained the importance of cultural training and immersion when conducting international business. Immediately my attention was caught. Suddenly I found myself asking back-to-back questions and maintaining a steady conversation with the presenter. At moments I had to stop myself to check and see if any of the other students wanted to speak. This carried on to the point at which the speaker jokingly asked if I wanted to stay for lunch to continue the discussion.
In the dialogue that I had with the speaker, I learned that he was a key player in the reorganization of the company, including the development of the new logo inspired by the mathematical logarithm, the Fibonacci sequence.
Take-aways were the following:
This last take away was an observation, not a statement from the speaker. When I directly asked if he was a part of the major reorganization of the company, he humbly stated yes. Nothing in the demeanor of the speaker was braggadocios or expressed a high level of ego. He is a prominent member within the business community in Thailand and his behavior was nothing but respectful and modest.
This experience was awe-inspiring. The presenter became a standard for how I should compose myself and how to be ambitious and strive for success, but being willing to accept failure to grow from it.
Alternative to Learning Through Lectures
Compared to a classroom setting, this IBS program offered a different kind of value to education. To expound upon what I previously mentioned, the ability to ask open-ended questions about the various industries, and how businesses operate in South East Asia was not anything I expected it to be. I envisioned long hour or two-hour presentations that would make me drowsier than engaged, but, instead, I got intriguing and engaging back-and-forth dialogue with these representatives. I amassed and gained a better understanding of how the business operates in Thailand and Vietnam than any of the research I was able to conduct in America over the internet. It is one thing to research a topic, it is another to actually experience the theories in practice and hear insight on the matter from experience professionals. Furthermore, being immersed in the culture and learning about the business enhanced my awareness and knowledge in unprecedented manners.
This form of discussion catered to my need of applying knowledge and getting hands-on experience compared to learning theory in a classroom. Additionally, these short seminars lacked academic stress, instead, it challenged me professionally. It challenged me to properly introduce myself to executives and engaged in meaningful conversations. It challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and take advantage of the opportunity to gain insight from these individuals who may otherwise have been unreachable for me without this seminar. It challenged me to stay tuned into the conversation and fight past the fatigue I was feeling instead of checking out. I learned how I professionally handled myself when I was mentally exhausted, but the speakers made this easy for me because they inspired enthusiasm in how they approached the visits, making me want to be there and grateful for the opportunity.