Spring 2014 IBD students Christen Chen, Garima Dhingra, Zane Keller and Andrew Mitsch are in Bangkok, Thailand.
Our team arrived in Thailand on Sunday, May 18th. One of the things you first notice when you arrive in Bangkok is the climate. To say it’s warm and humid here would be an understatement: daily high temperatures routinely reach 38 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit) with humidity in the 70-80% range. Needless to say, the best time to explore the city is in the morning and evenings when temperatures are cooler.
We are staying in the Sukhumvit neighborhood of Bangkok. Sukhumvit is a very modern neighborhood bustling with street life, soaring office and residential towers, and a vibrant mix of western and eastern stores and restaurants. The neighborhood is bisected by Sukhumvit Road, one of the main thoroughfares in Bangkok. This has worked to our advantage since the road is served by both the MRT (subway system) and SRT (monorail). We have found the public transit system here to be cheap, efficient, and safe. Transit is an especially favorable option due to local traffic and road conditions, which we will describe in a later post.
On the second day of our trip, we woke up to the surprising news that the Thai military had declared martial law in response to recent political unrest. This development took a further turn when the army declared on the fourth day of our trip that a coup was in progress. Despite these alarming headlines, we thankfully saw little change in day-to-day life in our neighborhood in Bangkok.
When we aren’t working on our project, we have enjoyed the local cuisine and coffee shops which are prevalent throughout the neighborhood. Thai food, which is most well known for being spicy, can also be surprisingly sweet and comes with various forms of meat (generally chicken or pork), seafood, and vegetables. To the surprise of the vegetarian in our group, it is relatively challenging to find strictly vegetarian food in Thailand.
Our first week in Thailand was an interesting one between the coup, the surprisingly modern and western environs of Sukhumvit, and the bustling street life of Bangkok. This weekend, three of our group members are heading to Chiang Mai, well known for its rich history. The fourth member will be staying in Bangkok and exploring the Rattanakosin neighborhood which includes sites such as Wat Pho, a well-known Buddhist temple.
During the second week, we finally had the opportunity to meet with our client in their office (the political situation previously delayed us from meeting with the client in-person). During the meeting, we discussed our project plan and scheduled some interviews with some of the client’s employees as well as several external parties.
We conducted these interviews throughout the week. When conducting these interviews, time zone differences often created a significant challenge: since our client is a multinational company, many of the employees that we spoke with were located in Europe or the United States. As a result, we conducted many of our interviews early in the morning or late at night from various locations. Additionally, employees in different geographical regions have different conversational styles: in Thailand, they prefer to build a relationship first before speaking, whereas in Europe and the U.S. the employees preferred highly structured and direct conversations. Subtle differences such as these are what make the IBD experience a true learning opportunity.
At the end of the second week, half of our team headed to Vientiane, Laos while the other half headed to Krabi, Thailand. Krabi is a quaint beach town located in southern Thailand which is lower profile than its sister beach town Phuket. On the first day, the group climbed up the famous Tiger Mountain; 1,200 steps the team finally made it to the top. The breathtaking views made the hour long climb worth the effort. Meanwhile, the pair that went to Laos enjoyed the French-influenced city of Vientiane and the relatively undeveloped countryside of Laos. When the team arrived back in Bangkok, the political tensions seemed to have eased a bit as the curfew was extended from 10pm to 12am.
On the last week, the team was able to extract some great insights from internal employees of the company. Because the Thailand market in which the client operated was underpenetrated, we were able to gain best practices from other parts of the company. These insights were very informative in when forming our final recommendations to the client. On Friday June 6th, we presented our conclusions to three members of our client’s country management team. The recommendations were well received and we discussed the next action items as well as possible future consulting projects.