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To the Beach!

For our last day in Barcelona we were set lose. With the weather as lovely as it was, the vast majority headed down to the beach for some R&R. Others wandered the city for art and markets, but I believe everyone made it to the beach at some point that day and used the remaining time to catch up on errands or naps.

Camp Nau and the Gothic District

We continued our tourist industry themed business visits by touring Camp Nou, the largest soccer stadium in Europe and home to the Futbol Club de Barcelona. The stadium was packed with avid fans because the night before the club had won the championship of their league as well as said goodbye to Xavi, who had been with the team for 17 years. We got to see quite a bit of the complex including the seats, press box, visitors’ locker rooms, chapel, players’ seats, and got to stand next to the pitch (field as we call it). Many of us weren’t the avid fans that comprised the majority of the visitors, but it was very impressive to see how a facility can handle such large crowds. The stadium currently holds just under 100,000 people. It originally was designed to hold 150,000 but was finished with a capacity of 93,000. Several renovations expanded the capacity, including digging the pitch 3 feet down. Despite these improvements there are still plans to construct a new and even larger stadium on the complex.

After touring the soccer world, we rejoined for a tour of the old world of Barcelona. Merina was unfortunately sick, but Carmen was ready to fill her place. She took us down la Rambla, a street running from one of the largest plaza’s nearly to the sea with lots of shops and restaurants along it. From there we also saw remnants of the Roman influence in the layout of the town, and the remaining walls and reconstructed aqueduct. We also saw the two most influential churches of the city’s history; el Catedral de Barcelona and la Santa Maria del Mar. We didn’t have a chance to go in, but the exteriors were impressive. The varied types of architecture and the relatively few remaining historical sites indicate the tumultuous history the region has had. They have gone through occupations by the Romans, the Visigoth, the Arabians, the French, and debatable the Spanish. The state very much considers itself a different, albeit related, culture that comes from the Spanish throne in Madrid.

The tour was extensive and left us simultaneously starved, tired, and excited to explore a little deeper on our day off the following day. She suggested we start our free time that night by seeing the “magic fountain” water, light, and music show. About half of her took up her suggestion and were immensely impressed. Some had seen similar things in Las Vegas, but this blew them out of the water (pun intended).

Architecture Walking Tour and Freixenet

For our first full day in Barcelona we very much embraced their lifestyle and started a little later. From the hotel we started our city tour from the bus and walked some distance on the beach passed the Olympic Village, then hopped back on the bus to walk down Gracias Avenue. This street was where the particularly wealthy built their homes, and lived in the first two floors in order to be seen by anyone passing through. Gaudí designed a remodel of a home here, now referred to as Casa Batlló. Another building of his we saw is referred to as “Pedrera” meaning “quarry stone” because of its appearance. I consider it a pretty apt description. Personally I thought his stuff was a little too far out there to be as obsessed over him as the city seems to be, but then we stopped by la Sagrada Familia.

La Sagrada Familia is now classified as a basilica because it was conscecreated in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI. Previous to then it was a worship space, built as a cathedral, and designed by Gaudí. It is funded purely by donations and a portion of entrance fees, and as a consequence has been under construction for some 130 years. It is still unfinished, but the architects believe it will be finished by 2026. Unfortunately Gaudí never lived to see the end of construction, but work continues with as much of his influence as possible. The drawn plans were destroyed in a fire during the civil war, but Gaudí preferred to first make models and then transcribe them to paper. After some painstaking work, models were begun to be pieced together again in the 1950’s. Work continues today with architecture by Gaudí rendered from the models, but the decoration is often given to other artists who use his style and influence. Regardless of how, who, or when the work was done we were all in awe. We remained in the area for lunch then drove a short way out of town for our next business visit, Freixenet.

Many of us took a quick nap and felt much restored by the time we arrived at the winery, the scenery and weather also had much to do with it. Freixenet is a winery specializing in cava, what we know as champagne. It must be called cava because champagne only comes from a specific area in France. Other bubbly wines must be called by a different name. The introduction video was beautiful and elegant and emphasized. Interestingly they have stayed dedicated to producing cava, but have expanded their operations and sales geographically to become the number one sparkling wine in the world. They also focus on the quality of vines they cultivate and the dedication to sustainability. They recognize that their livelihood is so dependent on the land that they must be good stewards of it to ensure its continued productivity. All of this was demonstrated excellently with a tour of the facilities and of course a tasting. The vast majority of us walked away with a souvenir or two. Tomorrow holds another business visit related to the tourist industry and Spanish culture and another walking tour of a different part of the city.

We Have to Be Ready When?!

We paid for the pleasure of sunshine with a little sacrifice of sleep. We were assembled and ready to go at 6:55 am for our flight to Barcelona. Everyone made it through the process without a problem, a minor feat with a party of 17. In Barcelona we met up with our new guide Merina who gave us a brief description of the city on our way to our business visit. Barcelona is located in Catalonia between the Mediterranean Sea and the Collserola mountains. With an urban population of 1.6 million, it’s the second largest city in Spain and the largest on the Mediterranean Sea. They are very proud of their Catalonian heritage and are quick to point out all the famous architecture of the city, especially that of Gaudi.

Our first business visit in Spain was to Grifols, a company who processes plasma to extract specific proteins, as well as design and manufacture related machinery and diagnostics. Their business plan is very different from our last visit with Hetras in that they are focused on a very specific skillset they possess and pride themselves in being able to provide the correct results, a high amount of automation, and low cost, all of which are critical aspects for their customers. We also learned about the matrix structure they use to optimize the best from both their cross functional technical teams and their product offerings. This was not the first organizational structure they implemented, but it has proved effective despite sometimes finding difficulties in reporting to two supervisors. They try to overcome this by providing employees with the right input at the right time from both managers.

On our factory tour the warehouses demonstrated that this particular industry can find it very hard to implement lean principles. On one hand their manufacturing efficiency has greatly benefited from these concepts, but on the other the nature of the pharmaceutical and related industries make it very hard to keep a low inventory. Our tour was running late so we didn’t get to see too much of the factory in action, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

iwb & Dachau

We were up bright and early for our third and final business visit in Munich. This time we were treated to visit iwb, a research lab in the technical school, Tum, of Munich. It’s plain how much they respect and support their engineers in Germany based on this campus alone. At UK we felt privileged to have our own little courtyard and complex of buildings. Here, Tum is so large that they’ve relocated the campus with its 36,000 students to the outside of the city.

We were without a doubt amazed at the brilliance of the students as well as the impressive labs. Our guide was a doctoral student involved in lean management, and specifically the management aspect side. Rather than focusing on how to better use and further Lean Six Sigma tools, his area is concerned on the most effective time to use the tools. After learning how to execute the tools in our certificate program, hearing some theories about implementation were enlightening. I think our favorite part was the lab tour where we got to see some of their tools and theories at work.

They showed us project including building better user friendly networks of factory equipment. When new equipment is installed it often takes several days and a professional coder to bring the machine up and running. This new idea is to reduce that time to a few hours using principles similar to what computers use to install new printers and devices quickly and easily. Next we were shown some samples of how they’ve used lasers to increase cut quality for carbon fiber, and how to better mesh it with steel. On our way to the next station was a chunk of concrete riddles with holes proudly displaying the power of the laser. On our way back to the meeting room we also saw “learning factories” where student and professionals alike come in to experience lean principles to demonstrate their effectiveness. We did something similar with our certification process, but this was a lot more intense.

Our last stop of the day was somber compared to playing with robots and lasers. We made our way north to Dachau to tour the first concentration camp opened by the Nazis. Dachau was the first of roughly 2,000 camps that were in operation by the end of their regime. Opened only two months after Hitler was named Chancellor, the 20 acre site was initially an SS training ground and prison camp tasked with the function of rehabilitating any opposers of the regime in order that they understand the benefits of the regime and may be safely allowed back into society. The work camp gates read “Work will set your free,” but this was not the case for some 41,500 registered deaths. All told over 206,000 people passed through the gates before it was liberated. After the war the grounds were used to house some of the thousands of displaced Germans because so much of the housing had been destroyed by bombings. After this point in time it was opened as the memorial seen today.

Tomorrow we fly to Barcelona! We cannot wait to finally see some sunshine and warmth again.

Soggy Salzburg

On our first free day the group decided to take the train to Salzburg, Austria. The train workers’ union strike put a small hitch in the plans, but we all arrived without a problem. We had a slight hope that a 2 hour drive would get us out of the rain, but no such luck. It has been raining for 2 days straight with temperatures barely hitting 50ºF. We were prepared for around 60ºF daily lows and many of us are thinking of doing some shopping for an extra sweater or two.

Despite the drizzly weather masking some of the views, Salzburg was beautiful. Our first stop was the Restaurant Zipfer Bierhause. Nick has been raving about the wiener schnitzel dish and since it is originally from Austria most of us felt this was the perfect time to try it. It’s essentially a thinly sliced piece of pork breaded, fried, smeared with a cranberry jelly, and drizzled with lemon juice. On all accounts it lived up to the hype.

Following lunch we split into two groups. One visited the Hohensalzburg Castle, one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. The ride up was a funicular railway, possible the oldest railway still operated in the world, on an incline steeper than 45º. Along a brief audio tour we learned the history of the castle and took in some amazing views at the very tallest tower at the peak of the city. The rain and fog blocked much of the mountains, but we got there early enough in the day to still be able to see the city.

After seeing the castle we set off to find two more landmarks famous to the city, the house of Mozart, and the fountain from the sound of music. We found the house but none were big enough fans to cough up the entrance fees. Stopping by for a picture was enough. The next picture location was a little harder to find, turns out we had passed it earlier in the day and had no idea. The fountain was set back in a walled courtyard with very trim English garden. Following this we had just enough time to stop for a coffee to warm up before dashing to make the train back to Munich. Once back we decided for one more meal at the Haufbrauhaus for dinner before crawling into bed for a Game of Thrones viewing party.

GE Global Research and Hetras

Tuesday brought about our first business visits, and both were quite distinct. Our first stop brought us to GE’s global research campus where we talked with the Global Strategy Leader for the Electric Technology systems. We felt like this was a great connection for us to talk to because he also had a technical background, but was in a more business related role now, very similar to the track many of us will take with our BS/MBA combination.

He stressed a theme much heard in the MBA program; using multifunctional teams. This in order to think fast and remain reactive despite being such a large company. They are also working to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit within the firm and moving to providing more management and resources to start ups instead of strictly providing money and acting as a bank because a broader skillset is needed in a shorter timeframe in order to grow these companies. Despite these benefits, this mindset also produces some of their more difficult issues.

One of the most effective ways for a team to problem solve is for all members to be physically present. With such a geographic reach, GE can have problems with this. Even within the office there is a wide cultural variety which can lead to communication difficulties. They also encounter problems in team formation when the various functions are in the process of learning how to work together. Once this initial barrier is overcome however, the results make the effort well worthwhile.

After a few hours of free time for lunch we met with the Chief Technology Officer of Hetras, a company who focuses on offering software and related services to the hospitality industry. Their product specifically focuses on how to best analyze data to distribute rooms to various dealers in order that all rooms are sold. This is a small young company with a very forward thinking office style, a great shift from the more traditional structure of GE. This company is still at the very early stages and accordingly takes a more aggressive approach in that long term goals are not as important as the next immediate step to survive.

Very similar to some cases read in the classroom, this next step involves developing a deeper culture in order to hire the right people to advance their capabilities. The CTO felt that he had several employees who were capable of being proactive with less coaching, leaving more space for employees to grow their skill set through delegation and coaching. In order to find the appropriate people to fill these positions he conducts extensive interviews and would rather let go a person with good performance but a poor cultural fit and keep a lesser performer with a good cultural fit. Being able to get such great perspectives in two radically different settings allowed us to have some very good dialogue with both companies.

Munich Cultural Tour

Monday was our first day of the official program, which entailed a bus tour around the city. Our tour guide Hilden has been fantastic to talk with. She answers all our endless questions and points out the lesser known and fun quirks about the city. Munich is in the south of Germany in the state of Bavaria, about 2 hours north of the Alps. It is a wonderful city with plenty of greenspace and rivers running through the town.

As we moved through the city we traveled down the Great Avenue constructed by King Ludwig I. The upper part of the street used to be grand houses for the nobility, and the bottom was dedicated to the university. The university is free to students, but they find it hard to receive support from professors who are not overly compensated due to the structure of the system. They consider this the first lesson in life that things are not easy. Perhaps because of this only 1/3 of Germans will receive a degree. One particular program we were interested in was associated with the technical school. Part of the university is St. Stephan, the oldest brewery in the world, where students can get advanced degrees in brewing. Their love for beer runs so deep that a company across town claims the invention of the refrigerator in order to assist a local brewer.

After the city tour we were dropped at the recommended beer garden in the English Garden. The garden is called “English” because it was built in the English style of the time, which was a natural meadow feel. It was the first people’s garden in Europe and remains one of the largest urban public parks, even larger than Central Park in New York.  We all tremendously enjoyed the parks and the food, both are spectacular. The environment makes it easy to enjoy with ample tables and shade. Bringing your own food is also allowed and even common. If a table does not have a tablecloth it is open to outside food, but one with a tablecloth signifies that it is to be used with food from the restaurant. After everyone had had their fill we walked back through the parks to the hotel. We had originally planned to change and try another beer garden, but were all too tired from the day and previous travels. We went to bed earlier than planned to be well rested for our business visits in the morning.

(Pictures will be upload as connections allow, so please keep checking back!)

Stuttgart Tour and Mercedes Museum

Today was the last day of official program events.  The day’s events started with a city tour, wherein we took a bus to both of the hillsides surrounding the city valley and later took a walking tour of the city’s center, which is one of the largest pedestrian areas in the world.  From the hillside, we could see down at the city’s surprisingly low skyline; local ordinances restrict the construction of buildings exceeding 100 meters in height in order to prevent alterations of local wind patterns.  In the city center, we walked past two castles and visited the indoor city market, which was originally built during the 19th century.

In the afternoon we visited the Mercedes-Benz museum, which recounts the history of the automobile from the very beginning in 1886 when Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler independently created the first two automobiles within one year of each other.  From there it tells the history of Benz and Daimler’s companies, which later merged to create Daimler Benz AG, now Daimler AG, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz and others.  In addition to automobile history, the museum also recounts other important historical developments and events in order to frame the automotive developments occurring during the same time period.  The combination of this information makes it very easy to take a peek into cultural history of Germany all throughout the last century.

Tomorrow we go our separate ways, some extending their stay in Europe to enjoy the sights and wonders of other cities and countries, while others return home to the U.S.  We all enjoyed our time here, and we’re sure that the program will only continue to get better.

Up on one of the hills overlooking the city. Daimler's "Grandfather Clock" engine.

Daimler and Philips

Today we conducted additional company visits in Stuttgart.  Our first stop was at the current largest manufacturing plant for Mercedes-Benz, part of the larger Daimler conglomerate.  During our visit, we learned a great deal about the company’s history, toured part of the expansive manufacturing facilities, and met with members from the marketing department.  Like many other modern manufacturers, Daimler practices Just In Time as well as Just In Sequence supply strategies to minimize wasted space and inventory.  In its Mercedes-Benz production, Daimler is highly vertically integrated from parts production to direct customer sales.  This strengthens their quality control capabilities, but also makes their company larger and more complex.  Additionally, Daimler is a very international company, making all job openings available to candidates from around the world, regardless of where the opening is located.

Our second company visit of the day was to Philips Healthcare.  We learned about the challenges and opportunities the healthcare division of the company is faced with, but also had the opportunity to see some of their newest products in their Customer Solutions Center.  One recurring theme of our visit was the focus on how Philips uses their people-focus to differentiate themselves from other providers of healthcare products such as business-focused GE and engineering-focused Siemens.  Recently, they have been seeking ways to bridge the gaps between the company’s other two divisions, lighting and consumer products, in hopes that developments from one can help the other two.  It was a very interesting visit, but it was also our final business visit of the trip.

Tomorrow we will conduct our city tour and cultural visits, and on Saturday the program officially ends.

Taken outside the Daimler entrance.