Team Habanero Spices it up for EPI-USE!

Team Habanero (we’ll explain later) was recently in the United Kingdom, Australia, and South Africa working with EPI-USE on a project to build a forward-looking operational model to help senior leaders better understand regional performance and share best practices across EPI-USE, globally.

Our team was thrilled to learn that our International Business Development experience would be supporting a Haas alum, Quintin Smith.  Working with an alum was a privilege. Quintin went above and beyond to show us how important this project, and our professional development, was to him. Quintin is a 2008 FTMBA alum from Haas and joined EPI-USE upon graduating. This brought him back to his native South Africa, and more specifically, to his hometown of Pretoria which is also home to EPI-USE Global HQ.

A bit more on EPI-USE:  a technology solutions provider traditionally focused on SAP Human Capital Management products and implementations.  In additional to South Africa, EPI-USE has 3 other major Territories of operation: Australia, United Kingdom and the U.S. Luckily enough for our team, this meant we would have the unique opportunity to travel to multiple countries during our in-country stint.

Early on, the team realized that we had something big on our hands. Every week, we spent time with Quintin via telephone, bouncing ideas off of him and reporting on our progress.  Not only that, we held bi-weekly calls with Jonathan Tager, Group CEO of EPI-USE.  Jonathan was extremely engaged throughout our project, making sure that we had all the resources and access needed to build or model and understand the operations in each of the four regions.

The team spent a considerable amount of time scoping the project, making sure that our expectations were challenging, yet manageable.  This time proved to be crucial as we began to delve deeper into the nuances and differences in operations among the regions. Before traveling to the regions, we scoured their financial statements and held in-depth interviews with the leaders and head accountants in each region.  Our goal was to have a good understanding of the business before arriving in-country.  One key milestone we wanted to achieve was to have a working excel prototype of the model ready before our travel – and we did!


Berkeley > London & Sydney > Pretoria

As we mentioned before, in order to build our model with the level of accuracy required, we had to travel to each of the regions and uncover the drivers of revenues and costs.  Stephen and Kevin traveled to the UK while Rodrigo and I headed off to Sydney.  What we found there was no surprise: amazing people! An overarching theme of our IBD experience was the generosity, hospitality and kindness of each and every EPI-USE employee we encountered. Our team was taken aback by the level of caring showed by our hosts.  When we needed their time, they were there, no questions asked.  We cannot say enough about the unique culture at EPI-USE, where we learned ‘management’ is a verb, not a noun (thanks, Jonathan!).

So what did we do? After building a solid understanding of the EPI-USE business, including how the company earned and invested money, we iterated on our excel-based model.  These iterations made for some long days…


We worked long days…


…and long nights (Julio was the resident photographer. He actually did do some work)


Sleep? We got it however we could!

We certainly do not want to portray our IBD experience as all work. We played…a LOT! It was our first time in these countries, and we took full advantage thanks to our extraordinary hosts.


Rodrigo (left) and Julio (right) in Sydney


Kevin in London

South Africa was unbelievable. We saved rhinos! In South Africa today, rhinoceros poaching has reached an all-time high, threatening the species. They are poached for their horns, which can fetch upwards of $250,000 USD on the black market. We had the extremely rare opportunity to participate in the transport of a number rhinos, which were being moved to platinum mine, where they would be heavily guarded against poachers.


Kevin (left) and Rodrigo (right) on safari


Stephen getting up close and personal with the rhinos.


This was basically dinner each night.


In the end, our project was a success.  Our model was well received and is being piloted in the UK.  We have memories to last a life time.  Thank you EPI-USE and a special thanks to Quintin!

Oh, and we were dubbed Team Habanero because Quintin always wanted us to go the extra mile in our analysis.  He encouraged us to be creative and think outside of the box.  He called it “making things spicy”!


The guys found some time to play a few holes before hopping on their flights back home.


Signing off from Sydney

Team Iconic was in Sydney, Australia working with THE ICONIC to analyze their online retail profitability by category, drawing on market research and categorical analysis to recommend best practices for category strategy.

After three weeks at THE ICONIC (among fashionistas and hardcore ex-consultants-turned-CEOs) we can honestly say we made a difference in helping the company’s profitability! In the meantime, we played as hard as we worked, as Haassies do.

THE ICONIC team after our final presentation—they loved it!

THE ICONIC team after our final presentation—they loved it!


Exploring Queensland’s wild life


Whitsunday Island’s Whitehaven Beach


Hamilton Island (no cars, only buggies!)


Alex and Albert’s Great Barrier Reef adventure

Meeting up with Haassies JT Klepp (class of '98) and Team Hong Kong (Steve & Richard) on Alexey's 30th birthday.

Meeting up with Haassies JT Klepp (class of ’98) and Team Hong Kong (Steve & Richard) on Alexey’s 30th birthday.


Some of the best food in the world (and most expensive!) Exotic? Yep!

Thanks for an unforgettable, irreplaceable experience, Haas. We learned a ton from each other, about the retail industry, financial models, market sizing, consumer insights and—especially?—client services. Our team will be bonded for life!

Exporting Smart Services in the Land of Beef

Team Uruguay XXI is in Montevideo, Uruguay, working with Uruguay XXI on a project to promote exports of Uruguayan services to the United States. 

Our month-long trip to South America began in bustling Buenos Aires, Argentina: A city where the beef is plentiful, delicious, and thanks to widespread economic mismanagement, cheap.  Image

Our first interaction with a local resident was similar to our first interaction with our client, total confusion on both sides. Language and cultural barriers made corresponding with our Airbnb host, Dalia, challenging to say the least. We even considered canceling the reservation. However, once we met Dalia in person, she was incredibly nice. She gave us wine, showered us with hugs, and helped us to plan an amazing few days, including a personal Tango lesson from the world’s top (and strikingly beautiful) Tango dancers.


While in Argentina, we focused on acclimatizing to southern Latin America. The region has a distinctive accent that made our limited Spanish language abilities challenging. In Argentina and Uruguay, the ‘ll’ is pronounced ‘cja’ rather than the traditional ‘ya’. In addition, ‘que pasa’, which means ‘what’s up’ in the U.S., apparently means ‘WHAT’S GOING WRONG!’ in southern Latin America, which lead to several convoluted and panicked exchanges.  The remainder of our time was spent absorbing the culture, which included eating ‘ojo de bife’ (Ribeye cut) and enjoying the region’s notoriously late nightclubs.Image

After 4 great nights in Buenos Aires, we boarded our Aerolinas Argentinas flight to Montevideo. The airline, which was recently nationalized by the leftist Argentinian government, had an inflight magazine that amounted to an all out political advertisement for the current president. This government and economic uncertainty and anti-business sentiment in Argentina is something we learned is not shared by its close and stable neighbor, Uruguay.

Upon arrival in Montevideo, we walked over to our client’s offices to get a better sense of the city. The whole team was immediately struck by how quite Montevideo is compared with Buenos Aires.  The streets were deserted, few shops and restaurants were open, and we saw few signs of life.  This tranquil pace of life was initially dis-heartening to our adventure-minded team, but quickly became one of the country’s most endearing qualities.

The next morning we arrived at our client, Uruguay XXI, a government entity formed to attract foreign direct investment. Uruguay XXI was established as a collaborative project between the Inter-American Development Bank and the Uruguayan government. Its primary objectives are to act as a reference institution for both public and private sectors, to promote foreign direct investment and exports, to internationalize the Uruguayan economy, to promote export growth, and to position Uruguay as a strategic destination for investment in Latin America. We have been working specifically with the global services division that focuses on increasing service-based investments in Uruguay.

Our task was two fold. First to provide contacts for Uruguay XXI across 4 sectors: architecture, pharma and biotech, technology, and back office services. And second, to provide strategies for how Uruguay XXI should promote the country in the United States.

Let’s first give you some context on the problem Uruguay XXI faces. The country of Uruguay has only 3.5 million people and situated in the southern part of South America between two flashy neighbors, Brazil and Argentina. When U.S. companies consider expanding Latin American operations, most executives don’t even consider (and in many cases have never heard of) Uruguay. Beyond the problem of branding, Uruguay has considerable additional disadvantages including high labor costs, high infrastructure costs, little diversity of skill set, and labor market inflexibility.

As we set about our task, we developed a warm working relationship with our peers at Uruguay XXI. Our boss, Alejandro, visited our office many times everyday to consult about branding and brochure slogans. The services team took us on a barrage of interviews, which included company CEOs and the U.S. ambassador to Uruguay. After considering all the information collected during class and in-country, we came up with several strategic recommendations for Uruguay XXI. We recommended that Uruguay leverage its unique strengths, including talented work force, strategic location between Brazil and Argentina, pro-business environment, and governmental stability, to position Uruguay for high value-added investments such as regional headquarters and R&D centers. We also proposed that new marketing materials should aim at specific target segments, which we have helped them identify. Finally, we proposed the implementation of a customer relationship management tool to better manage relationships with investors.


For our final nights in Montevideo, we were treated to two night of fun with our Uruguayan hosts. On Wednesday night, we went to a traditional Uruguayan grill, hosted by our boss Alejandro. He grilled up a variety of meat, including kidney, live, pork, chicken, and of course, ojo de befe. We ate the meat and drank wine over the course of 3 hours, which gave us ample time for bonding with our new coworkers.


On Thursday night we attended the championship game of the Uruguay soccer league. We watched the clear favorite, Penarol, dominate the far smaller Defensor team. The crowd sang taunting songs and danced throughout the entire game. We learned that Uruguayans love sparklers and fireworks, and have no problem setting them off in soccer stadiums!


For our weekends, we were lucky enough to visit the quaint fishing village of Colonia and the posh resort town Puta del Este. Image

We all now feel an allegiance to Uruguay, this tiny country in Southern Latin America is our new adopted home. Everyone here, including our client, Haas alumni, and future Haas students, have gone way above expectations in assisting us with our work, and have made us feel at home 6,000 miles away from Berkeley.