Jennifer Navarro, a second-year student in Wharton’s executive MBA program in Philadelphia, is director of government relations for a Virginia-based aerospace and defense company.
For our international seminar trip, we had several choices: Argentina, Hong Kong, Singapore and India. While all of them sounded interesting, my class ultimately selected Argentina. Many of my classmates spend time in China, Singapore and India for work so Buenos Aires was the one unfamiliar location, which really resonated with us.
Our week-long trip, which followed the core courses Competitive Strategy and Global Strategic Management, took place in September. During that time, we visited a wide variety of businesses ranging from financial services companies to food manufacturers to pharmaceutical firms to local startups. The visits usually involved a tour, presentation and Q&A session.
The Q&As were really interesting because they gave us a chance to understand how these companies are handling the challenges caused by Argentina’s troubled economy. In addition to 10-25% yearly inflation (the number depends on who you ask), Argentina is locked out of international capital markets, and companies face extremely stringent currency and import laws. Our discussions often centered around financing because it’s very hard to get bank loans, which carry interest rates of up to 30%. It was amazing to see how well these companies are doing in light of those restrictions.
My favorite visit, which I helped set up, was to the first CrossFit gym in Argentina. Since it launched, the business’ four owners have expanded and now own four CrossFit gyms in Buenos Aires. They started the business when nobody in Argentina had heard of CrossFit so they really had to advertise and educate customers. They also faced difficulty with loans so they ended up getting startup capital from a private investor. Now, the gyms are self-funded with their own revenue streams. In addition to learning about the business, our visit also included a sample introductory workout, which was a lot of fun.
Another highlight was a visit to one of the few private hospitals in the country. The hospital is even more unique because it’s the first private hospital to receive an international designation, which means it can receive patients from other countries for specialized care. The fact that the hospital can provide this level of care was very impressive, especially considering its limitations. For example, the hospital only owns one MRI machine. Because of the economy and strict import laws, it can’t import an MRI and Argentina doesn’t manufacture those machines. The hospital compensates for these challenges with a highly educated and dedicated staff.
We also had a very interactive conversation with managers at the largest privately-owned media company in Argentina. The company is number one in most of its areas of media, yet the government owns its competitors, creating an interesting dynamic.
While we were very busy with company visits during the day, we all looked forward to a large group meal each night at the traditional Argentine dinner time of 9pm (and later!). This was our main social time to unwind and hang out together. We also got to enjoy the local beef and wine, which were fabulous whether we were in a high-end restaurant or a local corner café.
By the end of the week, it was amazing how much more bonded we all felt as a class. This was really the first time since that initial week of school when we could all be together, away from the demands of classes. It also was a relatively new environment for us so we had to depend on each other to learn about the culture, how to get around, and where to go. I deepened many relationships and made some new friends that week. It was definitely a capstone experience of my time at Wharton so far.