It’s about the journey, not the destination (India – Week 2)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words: moments captured in a single snippet that convey what the viewer cannot. Some photographs leave the viewer speechless, but others entice the viewer to ask questions. The Fisher team has captured both during its travels, and each is equally as stimulating. In this blog post, I’ll present some of each because India cannot be conveyed solely through a series of photographs. The real story resides in-between the images and the experiences behind them.

The Shock and Awe of the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal needs neither an introduction nor an explanation. Whoever named it a “wonder of the world” was not kidding. Its sheer size is unfathomable; however, its true beauty resides in the intricacy of its architecture. Flawless white marble masterfully carved and studded by precious rare stones. Each design outlined perfectly with symbolic intent and optical illusions embedded around every corner. The marble changes tint based on the weather and the amount of sunlight. Meanwhile, inscriptions and designs change form with distance. The team grew more mesmerized with each step. Nothing could have prepared us for this monumental experience, which was as big as the Taj Mahal itself!

The experience was a well-deserved reward. The team endured a 3.5-hour car ride from Delhi, the nation’s capital, to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, a distance of 225km (approximately 150 miles) and persevered through growing and unrelenting temperatures that exceeded 43°C (approximately 110°F). The taste, the feel, the smell, the sight, and the sound at the Taj Mahal were absolutely indescribable. No matter how beautiful, all photos do the Taj Mahal a great injustice. You need to experience it for yourself…trust us.

The Fans and Fanatics of the Royal Challengers Bangalore

Goodbye football, hello cricket! To call cricket India’s beloved pastime would be an understatement. Every schoolboy wants to be a professional cricketer, and every schoolgirl wants to marry one. Bangalore and its team, Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), is no exception. The Indian Premiere League (IPL) season is nearing its end, and a heated battle is emerging as RCB fights to enter playoff contention. Prior to the game, RCB sat fifth place in the IPL standings. Only the top four teams make the playoffs. The entire Fisher team traveled alongside the RCB faithful to M. Chinnaswamy Stadium to watch RCB’s final home match. Little did we know, each and every one of us would become a full-fledge fan afterwards.

The match was originally scheduled for 20.0 overs. Few of us even knew what an “over” was, let alone how scoring or offense/defense worked. Due to inclement weather, the match was at risk of becoming the first rainout of the season. Luckily the rain cleared, and the match was reduced to 15.0 overs. Virat Kohli, captain of the RCB and vice-captain of India’s national team, then preceded to put on a spectacle. The rain cleared, yet a storm of “fours” and “sixes” ensued as the Royal Challengers scored with ease. Kolhi hit a century, i.e. scored more than 100 runs, in a masterful performance to beat the Kings XI Punjab. The final score was 211/3 (15.0) to 120/9 (14.0). We’ll all still take Ohio State football over any sporting event any day, but RCB cricket is a close second. We’ll be watching the playoffs stateside in two weeks.

A weekend in the Backwaters

The BackwatersBackwaters

Over the last three weeks, we have traveled to seven different cities in India. We have seen the cultural differences between north India and south India and large cities and rural cities/villages. Seeing the differences in cities, people, food and culture has been surprising, educational and fun. Seeing the cultural differences of India has increased my appreciation of the cultural differences in the US and the differences between people from around the world.

This past weekend we traveled to the state of Kerela, famously known for the “backwaters”. The closest thing I can compare the backwaters to is the inter-coastal waterway of Florida or the Florida Everglades.  We explored the backwaters via houseboat where we had lunch, relaxed on the outdoor patio of the house boat and enjoyed the beautiful views. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we only had four hours on the boat. The following day, we saw a different part of Kerela where we explored the wilderness, and saw wildlife and road elephants. The weekend in Kerela was filled with beautiful views, wilderness and the relaxing atmosphere that comes with nature.

For anyone who plans to visit India, I would highly recommend going to the backwaters; it is absolutely beautiful. I am not sure if I will ever visit India again, but if I do, I will make sure that I find time to spend a couple of days on a house boat on the backwaters.

Tanzania’s Own Island Paradise

Having worked through our first weekend in Dodoma, we carved out some valuable down time and found the perfect spot for a bit of rest and relaxation – the spice island, Zanzibar.


Tyler looks like he's about ready to stake his claim on Zanzibar.

Tyler looks like he’s about ready to stake his claim.

Throughout the centuries of the colonial age, Zanzibar was claimed, conquered and held by Portugal, Oman and, most recently, Great Britain. The island gained its independence in 1963 and merged with Tanganyika to become Tanzania in 1964. It’s obvious that Zanzibar’s place in the Omani Empire has the strongest historical and cultural impact on the island, despite Britain’s close temporal tie. Over 95% of Zanzibar’s 1.3-plus million people are Muslim. The traditional dress – schoolgirls and women with covered heads – and minarets dominate the island. Calls to prayer can be heard all over the island as each mosque’s loud speakers reach out to their followers throughout the day. It’s a very strange juxtaposition with Zanzibar’s tourist economy and reputation as a popular beach vacation spot for the rest of the world.

Lighthouses dot the beaches between resorts and seaside restaurants.

Lighthouses dot the beaches between resorts and seaside restaurants.

Resorts filled with foreigners and wealthy Tanzanians riddle the island’s many beaches. The tunes playing over the speakers are largely from the Western world, and the numerous bars are graciously serving plenty of alcohol, despite the more conservative, Muslim culture of the island. At one such resort, we sat on the beach, enjoying a cold Safari Lager (the best Tanzanian beer in my humble opinion – some teammates disagree), surrounded by many other Westerners sunning themselves in bikinis and short shorts while listening to a call to prayer from the local mosque. I felt guilty just holding the bottle, but such is life on Zanzibar. Tourism is huge, and as the tourists wants and needs go, so, too, do service industry providers.

With of all that said, the island is beautiful and, like any tropical paradise, sun, surf and sand abound. With a safari through the Serengeti under our belts, we thought we should complete the safari experience and enjoy a “blue safari” while on the island. I’d never heard the term either, so don’t worry. A “blue safari” is a snorkel trip on a traditional dhow (envision a very, very small pirate ship) complete with a seafood feast on the beach. Without a doubt, this meal was one of the best we had in country. Fresh grilled fish, slipper lobster, ugali, two types of curries and more fresh fruit than anyone could ever hope for was the menu. After lunch, we climbed a 500-year-old baobab tree left from the time of Portuguese occupation – a full 260 years older than our country. Basically dragging us from the beach, the captain told us that our day trip was over, and it was time for our choppy, seasick-inducing trip back to shore. I won’t go into too much detail here- you’re welcome.

We had a great O-H-I-O on top of this behemoth, but forgot our shirts.

We had a great O-H-I-O on top of this behemoth, but forgot our shirts.

All said and done, Zanzibar was great. It’s picturesque and unquestionably exotic. The history is tangible. The culture is unique and deep-rooted. What more can you ask for?

Our trusty dhow - the Salale.

Our trusty dhow – the Salale.

Our Last Week: Zanzibar, Maasai Market and Baby Elephants

Wow, how is it our last week in Kenya? I feel as though it was just yesterday that we arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport ready to start our Kenyan adventure. Now, it’s almost time to leave! The week started out great with a weekend of relaxation enjoying the pristine beaches of Zanzibar Island in Tanzania. In Zanzibar, we sailed across the Indian Ocean, saw coral reefs and tropical fish while snorkeling, enjoyed a lunchtime barbecue on Kwale Island in the Indian Ocean, climbed a giant baobab tree and enjoyed fresh local fruit on the white sandy beach. After the relaxing weekend, we headed back to Nairobi Sunday evening refreshed and energized for our final week in Kenya.


O-H-I-O in Zanzibar


Sailing on the Indian Ocean


Sunset in Zanzibar

Residing close to the U.N. African Headquarters has created a unique cultural experience for the team. All of the restaurants nearby are reminiscent of places we would eat back home with Italian, Thai and Indian just a few of the many restaurant options readily available; there’s even a Domino’s and Coldstone Ice Cream right down the street (I think they’re starting to know us by name at Coldstone.) While the restaurants may have similar menus to places back home, there are definitely some differences. Whereas many U.S. restaurants are all about speed- getting people in and out of the restaurant as quickly as possible- service in Nairobi tends to be slower, which highlights the overall experience of eating out and allows you to enjoy the process and unwind after the day. Initially, this leisurely approach took some getting used to, but now that we’ve become accustomed to the longer dinner experience, it’s something I am going to miss about Kenya after I return to the US.

This week, we also had the opportunity to go to the Maasai Market to buy some souvenirs made by local Kenyan artisans. Upon arriving, we were instantly perceived as tourists, so each member of the group had one or two “personal shoppers” who took us from stand to stand picking out items and suggesting additional items to buy. It took some serious practice getting used to haggling on the cost of every item we bought. Initially, prices were sometimes a 600% markup over the final negotiated price! But eventually, we each developed some techniques to bring the price down, including grouping purchases together, walking away before making a final offer and negotiating as a team. It was impressive to see the variety of goods offered at the Maasai Market, as well as the craftsmanship that went into each piece. There were so many options of things to buy from handmade beaded jewelry to carved ebony animal statues, beautifully woven Maasai blankets to delicately carved soapstone chess sets. The sheer splendor of everything made it very overwhelming to pick just one or two things.

Thursday, we went to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which is an orphanage for baby elephants whose parents were oftentimes the victims of poachers. These baby elephants have endured traumatic experiences at the hands of poachers and remember everything that happened to them- it’s true that elephants don’t forget. Once the elephants are brought to the orphanage, they receive their own individual caretaker who takes charge of being their “adoptive mother”. This caregiver takes care of them around the clock, making sure that they are well fed, warm or cool enough, and giving them lots of love. It’s truly an amazing place, and we feel lucky to have had the opportunity to experience it. The center is open to the public from 11-12pm, when they let the baby elephants out to play and feed. It was probably one of the top highlights of the trip for me. Seeing the baby elephants right next to us and getting to pet them as they walked by was amazing.  Each of the elephants had their own distinctive personalities that were quickly distinguishable as they played outside.


Baby Elephants Drink 24L of Milk a Day


IMG_6563-min[1]As we pack our bags and prepare for the 18+ hours of travelling to get back to the States, we’ve each been reflecting on the past three weeks in Kenya. It has been an incredible and humbling experience. The people of Kenya have been so warm and friendly throughout our travels, especially the Partners for Care staff whom we’ve worked with so closely the past three weeks. Thank you Greif, Partners for Care, Impact Economics and Fisher College of Business for this opportunity; we’ve learned and experienced more than we could ever put into words and can’t wait to use it wherever life takes us.


Overlooking Downtown Nairobi

China, Logistics, Maglev, Me and…. Woweee

Driven by increasing air pollution in China, as well an increasingly demanding industrial and retail sector, an e-commerce air-filter opportunity window has opened for the Columbus based air filter manufacturer Columbus Industries. My GAP team is visiting China to conduct a feasibility study for this new opportunity. The logistics and legal aspects are important and complicated pieces in the assessment of a go-to-market strategy for an imported product such as air-filters in China. 

I am a member of the Logistics team. Logistics is a totally new arena for me as I come from a technology background. However, a series of meetings and research regarding logistics in China has given me a huge amount of information I’d like to share in this blog. I would like to give the disclaimer that there isn’t a multi-step process for this understanding and “acing” of logistics in China. Rather, it is pure experience and one key asset – a native knowledge of  Chinese. Tadaaa!! Yes, it is very important to be fluent in Mandarin – writing and speaking. We set up most of the meetings in China via communicating in Mandarin.

I visited three logistics firms: SanXun (small scale), Kerry Logistics (medium scale) and FedEx (Large scale). Although the three firms differed in scale and presence, there was one common theme: all of the firms displayed a great willingness to analyze our needs. Many times the representatives shared a great amount of added information and gave us helpful suggestions. It was through one of these conversations that we learned about the two types of warehouses that can be employed for our client’s business needs. What is a warehouse? It may seem simple in theory, but I learned there is much more to it in practice.

Warehouse – A place where all the goods/products are stationed by the logistics firm and are under their authority and supervision.  There are basically two types – Bonded and Non-bonded. The bonded warehouse treats your product as if it is ‘in transit’. Therefore, the taxes are levied only when the product/goods are sold. In the event of uncertain demand or some assembly processing needed, bonded warehouses are recommended. The bonded warehouses do not have economies of scale on higher SKU’s in stock.

To our astonishment, the representatives at all the firms shared a huge amount of information on two other fronts as well: marketing and legal. It helped me learn a lot more and clear a myth – It takes a lot of meetings to do business in China. But with the right tools: a “nee-hao”, a Chinese-speaking friend, scale of business, and 60 minutes, you learn a lot.

I now know that the logistics industry is the backbone of the Chinese economy and this country truly exhibits its prowess in it. What else could explain the Maglev train (they whisk by at a speed of 300 km/hr, no kidding), the other amazing trains, and, to an extent, the budding logistics firms here. I have appreciated how the logistics industry in China is structured and delivers. In essence, it is just how they greet you when you go to meetings – no troubled waters here!

logistics blog pic

Understanding India’s conglomerates

It was when we went shopping through the streets of Bangalore that we happened to notice that a lot of retail shops belong to the same parent company. Working with Aditya Birla Group for the first time in my life, I was eager and excited to see the name “Aditya Birla Group” wherever I went. But when one of my team mates pointed it out that, unlike in the US markets, these conglomerates penetrate into every possible industry and still succeed that I started thinking about it. I discovered the huge extent to which these big conglomerates have penetrated into the Indian market and have become an indispensable part of Indian life.


In this era, where innovation is the single biggest factor that enables companies to survive, we still see organizations that are not ready to change their business models by trying out highly innovative and transformative ideas. Instead, they capture profits by using simple barrier-to-entry techniques. They flood the market with their own products and make it less profitable for their competitors to enter into their zone of operations.  This pattern is very evident with many big Indian conglomerates; their footprints are in almost every industry and they enjoy almost absolute monopolies. I understood this phenomenon when I saw the name “Aditya Birla” on almost every shop or mall that I walked into. Aditya Birla Group has a dominating presence in chemicals, metals, cement, fashion, telecom services, financial services and other retail operations. The same is the case with Reliance and TATA, the first big conglomerates in India.

As a one of the three biggest conglomerates in India, Aditya Birla Group enjoys a fairly monopolistic position in their chosen industries. Retail clothing/fashion is an interesting case in point. The Birla’s have conquered the Indian clothing market by either owning or being the licensee for using and retailing multiple brands that compete with each other. They have Peter England for the mainstream class, Van Heusen for luxury clothing in formals, Allen Solly to satisfy the target segment that lies between the former two and finally Louise Phillippe operating within Luxury formals as well as casuals. These brands satisfy the needs for different classes of people with different price points. Although initially I was a sure that these brands would cannibalize each other, their operational strategy makes it evident that by avoiding all types of competition, they succeed in capturing significant market share and drive huge revenues because of it. It also prevents loss of market share from switching customers as they offer an end-to-end solution within the clothing industry. The same is the case with other Indian players such as the Biyani group and the Singhania group. While the Biyani group controls the Pantaloon or Central malls, their Future Group handle brands like Urbana, Indigo Nation, RIG, Scullers, UMM, John Millers. And then, there is the Singhania group that sells the Raymond, Park Avenue, Colorplus and Parx brands and offers the sharpest looks possible.

The more I read and tried to understand the business strategy of these companies, I was able to see that the underlying principle behind their operations is “Platform Sharing”, a concept first used by automobile manufacturers in the early 20th century. By having almost the same raw materials for their entire product range, they are able to drive down costs by achieving economies of scale. Basically, they offer differential pricing to mutually exclusive customer segments for the same product that is sold under different brand names. In addition, the company is financially sound with highly efficient R&D, production and supply capabilities, and streamlined operations. Last but not least, the brand equity for Birla is incomparable The end-consumer clearly knows what they are paying for even if it comes with a premium pricing as they are ever ready to accept any product that comes from the parent company. Having said that, a benefit of working for ABG is that they offered us a 25% corporate discount for any purchases we might make from their local outlets :-).

To sum up, it was interesting for me to learn more about how these Indian conglomerates companies operate after seeing them through the lens of a foreigner and comparing their  operations to other conglomerates around the world.

Legal Team in Beijing: Notes on tax structure and import restrictions of retail scorpion snacks and air filters

Well, let’s pack our bags! China just released a regulation that severely restricts importing cross-boarder and direct-to-consumer retail goods, so I think we’re done here. Around 1200 products were placed on a list of allowable import goods, and, unfortunately, the only copy I have is twenty-four pages of simplified Chinese characters (or are they traditional?). In any case, I cannot read either; and what’s the chance an air filter will be on that short list anyway? Not likely! So let’s cut our losses, call the client and explain that China is controlling their oversupply through import restrictions that will likely last for a decade or more, then take the next camel train to Mongolia. I’m sure Heidi will appreciate our cultural curiosity.

Mongolia: Within Reach

There it is, on the other side of that wall, Mongolia!

Fortunately for the client (unfortunately for my bucket list of taking a camel train) and with the help of Google Translator, we were able to sift through the list of characters and find four items relating to air purifiers; somewhere between volcanized rubber condoms and prepared? or preserved? scallops. (Google has its limits.) We’re back in business!

Legal Team Conference

Legal Team: Doing Business

The legal team’s focus shifted through the week to study the tradeoff of between using a bonded warehouse versus a direct-to- consumer model to move products into China. Bonded warehouses connect customs control with the warehouse inside a boundary zone to stimulate open trade in a specific area and allow for faster delivery times on foreign products. They  also come with great tariff and tax reductions. However, the downside is the shortage of bonded warehouses in China and the rapidly changing regulations that reduce the tax benefits of cross-border trade, thus shifting the advantage to local retail and direct-to-consumer parcel shipment models in our model. In the remaining days, the Legal team will be working with the marketing and logistics teams to blend together a final recommendation for Columbus Industries.


Pumbaa, Lucy, and Land Cruisers


After an exciting week in Gondar, the OSU/OneHealth team arrived in Addis Ababa to finish the remainder of our three-week visit to Ethiopia. After sampling various restaurants around the city such as Yob Abyssinia (a traditional Ethiopian restaurant) and In-N-Out Burger (see the resemblance to an American burger restaurant anyone?) and numerous close encounters with aggressive pick-pocketers, the team was ready to venture out into the wilderness.


Following a four-hour car ride through rural Ethiopia, our GAP team finally arrived at Awash National Park. Wow, what an incredible experience! After snapping a quick picture in front of an inactive volcano, the team continued to explore the various wildlife that inhabits the region. From crocodiles to warthogs, the team witnessed various forms of wildlife at the park and, a few times a bit too close for comfort. On a trip to a hyena cave, the tour van got stuck in the mud, forcing the GAP team and the guide to walk through the barren lands to witness the rare sight of hyenas leaving the den just before sunset. Trust me, these hyenas were not shy!



Following the exciting encounter with hyenas, the team decided to relax after the long workweek at a natural hot spring. However there was a catch: the bridge needed to reach the spring had collapsed, and the only way to cross was by walking on two small logs spanning the stream. A good sense of balance was critical!


After cleansing ourselves in the natural hot springs and witnessing our guide fall into the stream, it was time to head home. The only problem was that one of the two Land Cruisers got stuck in the mud. Need I remind you that this was the second time that this happened!


Needless to say, some individuals in the second vehicle were not too keen on helping us get out…


Topping off a successful weekend at Awash, the team visited the National Museum of Ethiopia and was humbled by the sight of mankind’s first distant ancestor, Lucy. It was interesting to learn more about the evolution of man and amazing to consider how far we have come as a species.


After mastering the art of negotiation and haggling down taxi fares, the team finally arrived back at our hotel. What an exciting week! We eagerly look forward to what Ethiopia has in store for us next. There is so much mystery in these mountains in Africa, you never know what you are going to find next!



Digital Marketing in China

Week 2 in China had a lot of interesting events for the Marketing team. One of those was a project related conference. Through contact with the OSU Beijing Alumni Association, we were invited to an event focused on Renewable Energy and Air Pollution. We talked with a number of people for in-depth interviews and invited many of them to participate in our survey. While we may have failed to speak with people at the mall, we talked to a good number of people at the conference. This opportunity helped us diversify our sample, and also increase the reliability of our survey results.

9C8CE03B-24E9-40D3-8AE7-EAEDA24BD46A  390D29FA-DCB1-4F84-83AD-14CE01903E4C

After the event, Luke, Doug and I scheduled another meeting with my local Chinese friends for more in-depth interviews. After talking with different Chinese consumers, we gained better insights about the Chinese consumer’s decision making process and learned of product factors that are important to Chinese consumers.


Above (right) is a very professional air purifier-the IQ Air brand. This brand and model is widely used in commercial situations such as ICT (information and communications technology).  We have also studied all kinds of different quality and types of filters, and read through the product description. In addition, we have learned how consumers normally use air purifiers in their apartments.

We also talked to two of the largest and most popular e-commerce platform companies – Tmall and JD. We compared types of service, setup requirements and charges between these two companies. Based on consumers’ purchasing preference, we will recommend that our client launch the products on one platform first. Talking with these E-commerce companies, we learned a lot about setting up an online store, what kinds of legal issues are involved, and what risks we might face in the future.

Anticipating that Columbus Industries will face difficulties in managing an online store due to the language barrier, the distant geographic location and time difference, we also consulted with local agencies to learn about their services and digital marketing tricks in China. We also received a quote from an agency that could support us in analyzing the feasibility of the project.

Currently, we are working on compiling our survey results and making product and price recommendations for the project. So far, all is on track and we are looking forward to giving the client a strong presentation and a well conceived set of actionable recommendations.

Wonderful Trip in Nanjing and Beijing

This week was amazing! We traveled from Shanghai to Nanjing and then to Beijing. The bullet train in China is FAST; it travels at a speed of 300 km (186 miles) per hour. The train is clean and tidy, and the seats are comfortable. Additionally, the weather has been good on these travels days, and we were able to enjoy the beautiful view of rural areas of China during the trip.

In Nanjing, we stayed at the best hotel – Jinling Hotel. It is located in the center of the city, right above a crossing subway station. For our first dinner in Nanjing, we went to an authentic restaurant which serves extraordinary local food. The salty duck and duck soup are unique to Nanjing and taste delicious. Courageously, Sahil and Vlad even tried the fertilized eggs in which you could see the chicken embryos. The second afternoon after meeting with a contact, we went to Xuanwu Lake. We walked around the lake, enjoying the beautiful view. It was very relaxing. That evening, we went to the Confucius Temple where, during earlier times, people used to study Confucianism and take national exams. Beside the temple, there is a river called “Qin Huai River” known as the cradle of ancient Nanjing. The night view was quite beautiful. Nanjing is famous for its crawfish, so on the third evening in Nanjing, we went to a local restaurant to taste it. Sahil and Nat had never tried crawfish before, but after tasting, they immediately fell in love with it. On the last day in Nanjing, we went to the tallest building in Nanjing and the 7th tallest building in the world– “Zifeng Tower”. We had a few drinks at the bar on the top floor and enjoyed the beautiful sunset. Afterwards, we had a wonderful dinner at “Song He Lou”, a restaurant that serves very authentic and the best Suzhou food.

Our trip in Nanjing was fruitful. We met with one contact who is the distributor of JD and TMall (the two largest B2C online retailers in China). They are interested in doing business with us. Also, we met with Suning, the biggest offline retailer in China. We went to Suning’s HQ located in Nanjing. It’s huge and impressive.

In Beijing, we stayed at Novotel Hotel, the same as the other two teams in China. It’s near Wang Fu Jing, a traditional commercial area in Beijing. On the first night, we went to Hou Hai and Nan Luo Gu Xiang where we ate many local foods and enjoyed the beautiful night view of the old city. Sahil and Nat even tried some fermented bean milk. The taste was very strange to them and the funny looks they gave us after tasting it made us laugh for a while. On our way back, we had an unpleasant experience. When crossing a street (even though we were with a green light), a driver who was making a right turn shouted  “Fxxx You” because we were in his way. It was terrible; I guess rude people are everywhere. On the second day, we had many wonderful (amazing and different) snacks in Fang Fu Jing. Sahil ate scorpion, Vlad some bugs and Xiaoran lots of stinky tofu. That evening, we walked along the wall of the Forbidden City to Tian’anmen Square. The night view was beautiful.

While we didn’t met any contacts in Beijing, we did get in touch with two very important ones at JD and Baozun, which is the biggest brand partner in China. The rest of our time, we stayed in the hotel lobby and worked on our final presentation slides.

The past week was wonderful and the next few days will be even more exciting-  we are going to the Great Wall, the Summer Palace and the Forbidden City!