Like students. Like bosses. Like comrades – the EMBA International Business Study Trip

Mena Thamburatnam enjoyed the International Business Trip to Silicon Valley in March, one that developed her skills and those of her “superhero” classmates.

I look through the cross-hairs of my rifle scope. I’ve been in stealthy pursuit of my quarry for over two hours. The next 30 seconds will need my undivided attention. But my thoughts wander. My eyes are on the deer, but my mind is elsewhere – painting a collage of the experiences of the week spent with my cohort at Silicon Valley. It was then that I had decided that if it meant so much to me, I might as well put pen to paper. So here goes.

Past the hectic work schedule and exams, my Executive MBA cohort was eager to embark on an adventure to Silicon Valley as a part of our International Business module.  The week was well-designed, and there was a good balance of lectures, group work, company visits and “networking” with classmates.

Academically, the theme was the institution-based view of international business strategy, with emphasis on political, cultural and economic development. Jochem made the sessions as lively as they could possibly get, navigating through questions posed by the boisterous audience with finesse. We relived our student days, this time through more advanced technologies such as WhatsApp.

“I can wait forever…”
“And me…”

Visiting companies such as Google – in their unique learning environment – enabled us to gain insights, broaden our horizons and meet new personalities. Ranging from the charismatic Dave Rensin to the awe-inspiring Alison Wagonfield, one theme was obvious: These “Googlers” had the thirst to make information more organised and available to this messy world.

The excitement was tangible amongst the wine connoisseurs in our class (and mind you, there were quite a few of us) during our visit to Napa Valley. The art of wine-making, its branding and how it is marketed blew our minds. The most noteworthy aspect for me is how each of the several wineries in the Napa Valley – although independent of each other – thrive in harmony, carving out their own niche. A curious, but successful business model.

The trip to Splunk was memorable, to say the least. It gave the term “Operational Intelligence” a whole new dimension, and rekindled many an engineer’s desire to revisit their programming skills (much to the exasperation of the non-engineers in the room). Our experience at the Tenderloin was in stark contrast to ones we had at the tech giants. Social entrepreneurship through innovation, and the residents’ growth from poverty to power, humbled many a proud ego. It enabled us to reflect on our role (or lack thereof) in creating social impact, setting aside the desire to build our own empires for a moment.

We benefited from the candid first-hand accounts of entrepreneurial guest speakers, and their stories from start-ups to fame across different areas. The importance of daring to fail before achieving phenomenal success was the resounding message that many of us took home.

As the trip progressed, the distinction between day and night became blurred. Sleep came at a premium – a few hours meant you were doing very well. Through the seemingly insurmountable amount of work, and a chock-a-block schedule, we managed to plough on like determined soldiers, making every moment count at both work and play alike.

Of course, I could travel elsewhere on my own and learn most of the things that I learnt on this trip. But, with this group of 81 superheroes that I am humbled to call my classmates, we were collectively able to reach beyond our comfort zones – culturally, philosophically and academically – plunging headlong into an experience that will be etched in our minds forever.  More importantly, I know we’ve made friends for life, quirky as each of us is.

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