Journey into the Future: Czech Republic & Hungary

What can be learned from countries that have travelled the rocky road from Soviet-style communism toward a market economy—in two short decades?

Seeking answers, last summer four Bay Area Working Professional MBA students visited the Czech Republic and Hungary with Wil Agatstein, executive director for the Center for Entrepreneurship. The School’s International Study Practicum includes 10 weeks of intensive classroom preparation and culminates in a trip.

The biggest lesson learned 0n the trip is that history matters more than we understand. Time and again, a seemingly simple question to our host would open up an hour-long discussion about the issue, its history — and why it mattered to them and should matter to us. –Wil Agatstein

The team learned about innovation in the global economy, culture and capitalism, the impact of the international financial crisis and the nature of its recovery.

“The best time to visit Central Europe would have been 20 years ago, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall—or what the people call ‘the change,’” says Agatstein. “The second best time is today. We saw first-hand the changes, improvements, growth and problems that have occurred as a result of this seachange, as well as these countries’ experience ascending into the European Union during these turbulent times.”

The Real thing, Czech Style

Purchasing supervisor Richard Sebesta gave a short presentation and a fascinating tour of Coca-Cola Hellenic’s bottling facility, showing us the process from start to finish, from the making of the standard two-liter bottles to their contents- everything from Coke to juices, energy drinks and more. We also learned how the various bottlers share product and capacity – even as they compete. It was a great lesson on European economics.

It’s a Wonderful Life

Alumnus Aaron Burda ‘07 moved to Prague as International Operations director form Wunderbar, a leading manufacturer of food and drink dispensers. While the days of ex-pats leading large, multinational firms in the Czech Republic may be over, Burda said, there is plenty of opportunity for small and medium-sized businesses.

U.S. Ambassador Visit

The U.S. Ambassador to HUngary is a local! Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis is a California native and was living in Sacramento prior to being appointed by President Obama and sworn in by Secretary of State Clinton in January 2010. Under Kounalakis’s leadership, the embassy emphasizes youth education programs that promote tolerance, peace and equal rights.
-Jennifer Hsu Barrett

“Ekonomie dobra a zla” (The Economics of Good and Evil)

We met with Jan Kruzik, the bank’s relationship manager, and Tomáš Sedláček, chief macroeconomic strategist at ČSOB, the Czech Republic’s largest commercial bank. A former economic advisor to President Václav Havel and other top officials, Sedláček has been influential in his country’s fiscal consolidation and tax, pension and healthcare reform. He believes the current economic situation is only a “crisis” when compared to the growth spike that immediately preceeded it. Watch for the English translation of his bestseller, The Economics of Good and Evil.
-Stacey Hagen

Flight into the Future

At the Aero Vodochody factory, we saw Sikorsky helicopters being built—and learned how a U.S. and a Czech company work together to build a complex product. We received a powerful education on the transition that manufacturing companies traveled in the 20th century. During the Cold War, Aero built more than 10,000 MIG fighters and employed 10,000 people. After 1989, both the market and their suppliers evaporated. Today they have new suppliers – and new customers.
-Wil Agatstein

Culture Shock

Albany, N.Y.–based AMRI is a global drug discovery, development and manufacturing company. AMRI Hungary is fully integrated with the firm’s U.S. and Asia locations, allowing customers to efficiently move projects from discovery to development to commercialization. The new Hungarian facility includes 3,000 square feet of 120 chemical hoods and scale-up lab space. This is AMRI’s only international acquisition; other sites were built from the ground up. U.S. ownership—with its audits, performance appraisals, deadlines, reporting and client expectations—has brought considerable culture shock.
-Ashley Shah


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