MBA students Zarrah Birdie, Tenley Ghan, Stanley Hou, Yuka Morita and Jay Obaze are working on an International Business Development project with PAG Asia Capital in Chengdu China. The project is focused on one of PAG’s portfolio companies in the K-12 space, the team is working closely with senior management to better understand opportunities for expansion of brand equity across the K-12 spectrum.
Team IBD China headed to Chengdu earlier this May to help one of the best pre-school and elementary school chains in the city explore options to strengthen its brand and expand its operations. Our motley crew included Zarrah Birdie (Ms. Fearless Team Lead), Tenley Ghan (Ms. Lets-Try-All-The-Foods), Stanley Hou (Mr. Best-Make-Believe-Dad), Yuka Morita (Chief Food Officer and great Mandarin speaker), and Jay Obaze (Mr. Chill). During our time in Chengdu, we pushed ourselves to operate in a vastly different cultural and linguistic setting than that to which we’re accustomed, tried new and crazy foods, found ourselves in all types of adventures, and deepened our friendships in ways that only traveling and working together can. Here are the top ten most memorable moments from our three weeks in China.
- Hanging out with awesome kids at 10 pre-schools and elementary schools: What happened when five MBA’s walk into a kindergarten in Chengdu? We saw how eager they are to learn, watched them be better artists than we ever could be, and best of all, had the chance to eat dumplings that they made for us in their cooking class from scratch, right there in the school hallway! The team can attest to these dumplings being the best we’ve ever had.
- Basketball at the Primary School: After a busy day visiting the primary school, the team found ourselves standing on their basketball courts. After a friendly bout of trash talk with the Principal of the school, Tenley, Stan and Jay weren’t going to let skirts, slacks and hard bottoms get in the way of showing how the U.S. dominates at basketball. Needless to say, the crowds of primary students were very impressed!
- Learning how to host meetings to a largely Mandarin speaking audience solely through an interpreter, and never really knowing what the translation came out as on the other side.
- Going undercover during our our investigative research into competitor kindergartens in Chengdu: Stan had two “wives,” Yuka and Zarrah, and each of these “married” couples visited competitors’ kindergarten as “parents.” Stan performed especially well in his parental duties by being a doting, empathetic father.
- Getting a massage the afternoon after we delivered our final presentation to a group of 30 principals and school managers. After 3 weeks of work in-country, including three 12+ hour days immediately prior, scrambling to write our final 55-page report and prepare our 2 hour presentation, we had earned it!
- Staying at Zhou Ma’s Tibetan Homestay in Jiuzhaigou: Our visit to Jiuzhaiguo (pronounced “joo-jai-go” and often referenced as China’s most beautiful national park) was filled with surreally beautiful scenery of the Min mountains, glacial fog kissed lakes, and free-roaming yaks in the hills. We stayed at a traditional Tibetan home run by a woman named Zhou Ma and her Amma (mother), a grandmotherly Tibetan lady who barely spoke English but cooked us some of the best meals we had in China. Breakfasts consisted of homemade eggs and bread with yak meat combined with honey straight from honeycombs the family harvested in their garden. For anyone traveling to Jiuzhaigou, we highly recommend staying at Zhou Ma’s Tibetan Homestay or Eco Lodge.
- Being featured as surprise guests on BBC Travel’s special on Juzhaigou: Jiuzhaigou’s scenery was awe-inspiring but the real surprise was when we got drafted as last-minute guests on a BBC Travel special in the town during a cooking class at the Tibetan restaurant Abu Lu Zi (another of Zhou Ma’s entrepreneurial ventures). Look for us on the BBC Travel website sometime in June!
- Doing laundry in Zarrah’s bathtub: Living out of a 5-star hotel. Private drivers every morning. Eating on the dime of our extremely gracious clients. Needless to say, we were transitioning into our new routine pretty easily. Only one problem: we quickly realized that laundromats are not a “thing” in Chengdu – it’s either dry clean or do your own laundry here. So, we improvised and worked on our “spin cycles” in Zarrah’s spacious bathtub.
- Boldly trying new Chinese foods, with the fearless leadership of our “Chief Food Officer” (Yuka): Though originally from Japan, Yuka knows her Chinese food from living in Beijing for three months and Shanghai for six in her pre-Haas life with McKinsey. Our team depended on Yuka to help us explore a range of new flavors in Chengdu. Some were delicious, like hot pot, soup dumplings, mapotofu, baozi (buns!), delicious greens, and dim sum. Others pushed our limits, like fried chicken feet, cow spinal cord, tongue, various intestines, and frog.
- Baby pandas: Chengdu is the panda capital of China. We watched 7 baby pandas play for an hour. What more do we need to say?