Ideas born in the USA – EMBA International Business Study Trip

Tom Martin returns from the Executive MBA International Business Trip to San Francisco, California, ready to change the world.

Tom Martin (second from left) visits Google headquarters with EMBA classmates.

Ideas born in the USA

I’m sat in San Francisco International Airport wondering what just happened … I think my world has just been turned upside down. We’ve just spent a week together on the International Business Study Trip:  My brain is full of learning and self-reflection. My bags are now full of a new bunch of friends.  My heart is burning with a desire to change the world.

Something totally unexpected

There’s only one place to start – and I guarantee you it won’t be where or what you associate with Silicon Valley.  After a number of days visiting the business and technology high flyers we went to see a social enterprise. If I’m honest I was pretty indifferent about the prospect. However, it turned out to be one of the most impactful three hours of the trip as it brought many of us close to tears.

Meet Del Seymour, who spent much of his life in drugs. No, not in pharma, but as a dealer. Yes, that’s right. He spoke poignantly about his own reinvention and how he now helps others … by learning code!   Bear in mind this is in the most deprived area of the city, where one in three of the homeless suffer some form of severe mental illness. The experience took our breath away. It put in perspective how blessed and fortunate we are and how every single one of us can, if we choose to, do something about it.   Person by person. Such a visit would have been impactful anytime, but the stark contrast to the wealth, talent, educational background and opportunity in Silicon Valley, pulled even harder at the heartstrings. Shock treatment at its best.

Common theme

Throughout the week we heard from multiple CEOs, tech start-ups, professors and successful businesses. We even spent a day at the Googleplex – thanks to one of the cohort for organising! Without exception each and every speaker (and I think we had 19!) referenced the importance of not just tolerating failure, but embracing it. Whether it be the Thomas-Edison-style ‘fail fast’  or even assessing the cost of employees repeating the same mistakes, the theme kept coming through, again and again. Vitaly Golomb, a start-up veteran turned investor at 32, talked about his three start-ups and he’s still learning! A culture where failure is not only expected, but is shared and embraced.  It’s an absolute imperative for innovative businesses and is part of the Silicon Valley DNA.

19 guest speakers worked with the EMBA class across their week-long trip, including Stephen Brauer, President and CEO of LDV Associates.

A special mix

Over 6 months into the programme you think you know your cohort members. Having the opportunity, no correction, privilege, to work with another small group was brilliant. To give you a sample of people I worked with; director of research at a world-leading pharma company, CEO of a wealth fund, someone who sends satellites into space and a brilliant Finance whizz at a very large Telecoms company.  Now tell me where else would I get an opportunity like that?!  We had some assignment ‘work’ to do while we were away, but it felt more akin to a brilliant dinner party with friends!

The combination of multiple meals together, coach rides, even shared exercise have created friends for life. We shared bucket loads of business ideas and learning as conversations reverberated continuously. We used the time to shape and agree the most incredible Team Consulting project to undertake later in the year. I would have never dreamed we’d be talking drones and post offices in countries outside of the UK!  But hey, this is the Cambridge EMBA.  And, it’s a long time since I remember laughing as heartedly for as long as I did.

EMBA participants enjoyed meeting the Android lawn statues at Googleplex.

Chocks away

As we’re taxiing down the runway I’m thinking how much is stuffed inside my metaphorical suitcase. It’s more than I could ever imagined. What I’ll do with it I don’t know. Where will this journey end? Not sure. But, it’s proving to be one fantastic ride!


Find out more about the International Business Study Trip, one of the core courses on the Cambridge Executive MBA programme. 

View the photos from the International Business Study Trip in San Francisco on Flickr.

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