Dekuji Mnohokrat …. and, visit Prague without any ethnocentrism

Good Monday Morning!! Back in the USA and with my early morning CNN and ESPN friends. It looks like Libya has been taken to a new level and the Phils-Tigers still are on track to meet in the World Series.

I have heard from many of my travelling band who departed and returned safely. Mike – you made it to the airport by 4:30AM!! – thanks for your note. I know that Kristen C., Kristen R., Spencer and Will made it to their KLM flight to Amsterdam as I intersected with them at the airport. Dana – let us know about the playoffs. Paul, when are we sailing the Vltava?  The EMBA’s IFS loss was truly our gain.

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…and no Defenestrations occurred – not even of silly economic ideas

We did not realize that defenestration was first associated with Prague Castle hundreds of years ago. With that in mind, our group heard and had many different views of politics, economics, business and even social policy. For instance, the Prague Pride festival had just started as we arrived last Saturday and thousands of marchers marched. We heard that the all-embracing Czech President Klaus had referred to the LGBT participants in the festival as “deviants” and worse. That was a bit controversial, wouldn’t you think. 

Politically we understood that President Klaus is a Eurosceptic (similar to Prime Minister Thatcher years earlier) and that the other non-EU contingent, the Czech Communist Party, helped the President get elected a number of years ago. This strange coalition somewaht parallels the very liberal in our U.S. Congress aligning with that new little group who opposes tax/revenue increases to try to block recent proactive initiatives of Congress. Maybe politics is not a line from a far right totalitarianism to a far left one, with democracy in the middle. Maybe, it’s better depicted as a circle where those far left and right groups meet and even overlap. Time to get our truly stellar Political Science colleagues to help sort this out. 

These and many other Czech, U.S., and global issues that were discussed during the week are controversial and our MBA colleagues were so good discussing and listening with no dismissing of others’ opinions and definitely no meanness or name-calling that is evident so often when a differing view is presented to extremists on either side. All 20 colleagues exhibited the opposite of a Gabler-esque behavior that more recently has been growing in Washington and throughout our own culture.  This group of men and women indeed are very professional and quite cool.

But not all debates were that serious.  We know have an idea of our favorite movies of all genres, rock videos, SouthPark episodes, Broadway plays, current literature, Baltimore and D.C. restaurants, and lots more.  We did not get to the point of debating Moliere vs. Ibsen vs. Beckett vs the hometown hero Franz K. (I know, I know, he’s different than the others) – but that could have been next if we had a few more dinners. And speaking of dinners, we did debate schnitzel vs. goulash vs. duck and even brought into the conversation a totally cool pizzeria by the hotel. Food – that indeed was a popular topic. 

Sometimes, the group forgot I was there and discussed all of the MBA classes – and professors – they have taken. Plus, they were counseling each other on who to take for various courses.  I will keep that to myself but say that most was very positive. Plus, most importantly, we now know all so much about each others’ families and significant others in our lives – and our hopes. At one point, Will (I believe) asked “if you can have any job in the world, what would it be?”  As you can imagine, the answers were quite reflective.

From a business/economics perspective, we understood the various comparative advantages of the country as well as the significant comparative disadvantages. But, as that is one of the essays on the final exam, I will not go too much further now. Likewise, from a management perspective, we understood comparative motivation and leadership initiatives in the country – but that is another final exam question.

Last Day in Prague

Our last day together as a group began on a rainy and gloomy Friday morning. As our international program coordinator Shannon said, it is because Prague was sad that we were leaving. We started our day with a trip to the Terezin concentration camp where we learned about the horrible events that took place there during World War II, and although a sad experience, the skies opened up to reveal sunshine and the torture chambers of the past now had birds nesting in them and flowers were breaking through and growing on the stone surfaces of buildings. It was very sad and chilling to walk through the property, especially through the dreadful rooms that once housed hundreds of people and only contained poorly constructed bunk beds, a table and benches, cubbies, only two bathrooms (if they could even be called that) and few, if any, sinks, and not much else.

Later that day, most of us went shopping for souvenirs and visited the center of the city one last time. The rain once again caught up with us and at one point, we were wading through puddles as we scrambled to duck into stores that had something special that we could bring back to our families and friends. In the evening, we had a wonderful group dinner that was accompanied by national Czech dancing and singing and some of our own students and even professor Kashlak got to learn some traditional dances. Once the official group event was over, almost everyone headed back to the Old Town for one last stroll through the beautiful city streets and one last outing with the group.

During my time in Prague, I not only got to learn about emerging markets, visit companies from different industries, and learn about the history and culture of the country, but I also got to meet a lot of wonderful people (who were once only names in the photo roster of my class) who have made this trip unforgettable. Thank you all for an amazing time abroad and for all of the memories! :)

A Vocabulary Tangent

It seems that I cannot upload pictures from our Friday night finale/dinner. We all went out to a local Czech Folk restaurant and enjoyed lots of meat and potatoes, and folk dancing and singing. More on that later when I can add pictures as…. every picture tells a story doesn’t it?

So, to hold us over….. here is a lesson in the Czech language for all of those lague-ing into our blague.

A Bohemian amphibian??? A Prague Frague

A Czech Bunyon-esque Product??? A Prague Laugue (a different lague than above)

What Czech extreme left and right-wingers are in?? A Prague Fague

I’m bagued down to think of more. After all, it is the dague days of summer. Still, I do not want to hague (isn’t that a city?) all of the words.

We will be back with Friday pictures and a final wrap as our MBA colleagues have begun to depart and get back to their jobs and classes with our professors extraordinaire.

Terezin – A ‘Good Soldier Schweick’ reaction

Hasek’s famous character Schweick (or Svejk if you read it in Czech) observed and responded – more or less – to political and military goings-on during World War I with a feigned naivete as he viewed the absurdity of the situation. Seeing the Terezin Concentration Camp from World War II on Friday, our group had a Schweick-like quietness and responded with a solemnity and sobering attitude that contrasted the verve of the week to date.
The camp is about an hour outside of Prague and was built within a fortress dating back hundreds of years. Even though it was a work camp for the most part, thousands were transported east to Nazi death camps like Auschwitz.  It was also a camp where Jewish artists and musicians were sent – and we learned that beautiful music, including the famous Children’s Opera, Brundibar, was composed there.
Below are some pictures from outside and inside the camp.  Looking at the rooms where bunk-beds – sometimes stacked vertically in fours, reminded some of the scenes in the movie Life is Beautiful where Roberto Begnini’s character hides his son at the top of one of these stacks.

Outside of the Terezin Concentration Camp

The moment before we saw the sad reality

Kurt, Spencer and Mike

A non-Kafka-esque Metamorphosis

Each of our individual colleagues awoke on Thursday morning to discover that they collectively had been transformed into a giant (now here is where we deviate from good ‘ole Franz K.) team. A cohesive, caring group of men and women is so evident as all are looking out for each other, dinners are in groups of many, nobody arrives late at any function, and the permutations (or is it combinations?) of

colleagues in photographs approaches infinity.

We did visit IBM on Thursday morning and for a few hours learned about both global and in-country CSR initiatives. Afterwards, we did get a chance to tour a local brewery and have a schnitzel lunch there before the tour.

Now, about beer in the Czech Republic.  Many know that the Czech people drink more beer per capita than anywhere else in the world. And for those Leuven-ites reading this, they also believe it is the very best beer too. But here is what most do not know:  (1) There is zero tolerance for drinking and driving – no .08 or .07 rule – anything above .00 is a problem; and (2) the society, including the young adults, do not understand the concepts of binge-drinking or pre-gaming (if I have that word correct) – it is as foreign as spending beyond one’s means.

Thursday night?  Everybody split up into groups for dinner – some by Old Town, others on Petrin Hill after a very long walk.  And Friday was to be a tour to the Terezin Concentration Camp.

So, back to the top –  what would Franz Kafka have to say?  Actually, probably not much as he only published 400 pages during his 41 years and had asked that all of his work be burned upon his death.  But boy did he think, and he would have thought that even he would have a difficult time writing something dark about this shining, enthusiastic, and very decent group of 20 MBA colleagues from Loyola University Maryland.

Thursday Lunch with Dasha and Will

After the pre-dinner ride up Petrin Hill. Dana, what did the conductor say?

….Fill up the gas tank!!

Yep.. Skoda did have a bad reputation from the 1950s through 1989. Now, I’m sure it was not as bad as Zastava and the old Yugo that I had the pleasure of driving a few times around Dubrovnik, Sarajevo, etc. Still, the Skoda jokes persist until this day.

And a Skoda at the top of a hill???? Why, a Miracle.

The factory visits at Skoda were truly impressive.  We were not allowed to take pictures inside the plant. And as far as a little bit of Skoda history up until today — Take a look at what Kathleen Fitzgerald wrote:

Skoda Auto is one of nine brands within the Volkswagen Group. Only four automakers in the world can boast an unbroken tradition stretching back more than a hundred years.

Škoda Auto is one of them. An interesting part of their history:

The German occupation in 1939 to 1945 caused a considerable disruption in the history of the company, which was integrated into the industrial structure of the German Empire. The civilian production programme was immediately limited and production was turned to its needs. In the course of a large-scale nationalisation which began immediately after the end of the war, the Company became a national enterprise named AZNP in 1946. Within the political and economic changes of that time, it acquired the monopoly of passenger car production.

And now: With over two million customers worldwide, the Octavia is among the most successful models of the Škoda range.

Thanks Kathleen!! And now, riddle me this — What are on pages 3 and 4 of the old Skoda manual?? Train and bus schedules.

What Doubles the Value of a Skoda??

An old joke from pre-1989. Another one — What do you call a Skoda at the top of a hill???

After Johnson Controls, we ventured to Skoda Auto CZ and were treated to a nice lunch before we headed to the factory and museum tours.

Who knows the answer to the two riddles?? I will edit this after dinner and let you know. In the meantime, here is a photo of Christina and Kim, two of our colleagues, at Skoda.

Wednesday – A Road-Trip on our Antepenultimate Day

Wednesday took us on a road-trip about 60 kilometers northeast of Prague. Our first stop — Johnson Controls CZ where we met Mr. Jiri Smahel, the general manager of the plant that makes seats for autos. Mr. Smahel, like our other hosts, was so generous with his time and wisdom as he gave us an in-depth look of plant operations, logistics, strategy, and org behavior issues. It was an applied MBA program. Johnson Controls CZ productivity, efficiency, and safety indicators are all above industry norms. They basically manufacture car seats and sell them to Skoda Auto. The overview was truly value-added on top of the in-class knowledge the group has learned along the way of the MBA program. But at even a higher level was the tour that Mr. Smahel gave us of the plant and every operation it. Now, I know many reading this know everything about everything – but I don’t and boy was I blown away with the whole manufacturing and logistics issues that I heard. Through their questions, our MBA colleagues showed top form and professional knowledge. They sure beat my factory floor questions such as “Gee, what’s this lever do?”

Johnson Controls CZ Factory Tour