Chris Gagné

Delight customers. Create value. Do good.

Tag: femba travel

Back from Äänekoski

We’re back in Vantaa.

Äänekoski was gorgeous. George and I commented over breakfast this AM that life travels at a quiet, relaxed pace in Finland. It’s an interesting contrast to the hustle and bustle in Los Angeles.

We toured the company’s production facility (the anti-static jackets are very sharp looking!) and interviewed three employees. It was interesting to hear different perspectives about the company, from operations to financing, production to purchasing. I think these insights will be useful as we prepare for our research, recommendations, and presentation.

The weather has been very accommodating. I understand that this has been the warmest summer on record since 1942.

I’m hoping that we’ll have a chance to see a bit of Helsinki before we leave. Thankfully we’ve done most of our GAP-related work in the morning, so with luck we’ll be able to take a bus into downtown and walk around a little bit.

Impressions from the first day of GAP

George and I spent the day meeting with our GAP company executives and employees discussing our findings so far, strategizing

On the road to Jyväskylä, Finland

about further research, and gaining a deeper understanding of the company’s history, strengths, weaknesses, and objectives. It’s all well and good to talk about the theoretical in class or strategize over HBS cases. It is another matter entirely to sit across the conference room table from seasoned executives who have retained our team of five students to provide them with insights as to where to take their business next. I think the biggest feeling that I get from this is: “this is real and this matters very much to the company we are working for.” There’s no Part B to this case, no epilogue to tell us whether we got the levers right or wrong. We’ll present our findings to the executives in slightly less than four months, and while we’ll be backed up by dozens of hours of primary research, there’s no answer key for our work. Ultimately, that’s what makes this so exciting.

Moose crossing

We’re spending the night in Jyväskylä, Finland, about 300km north of Helsinki and about 46km south of Äänekoski where we’ll spend the day speaking with our company’s manufacturing and production team. Tomorrow evening, we’ll head south to Vantaa again to meet with the company’s board of directors and investors. Finally, we’ll spend Thursday in and around Vantaa speaking with two of the firm’s major customers.

This is shaping up to be a lot of work. Our industry isn’t exactly transparent, so it’s taking a lot of digging to understand where these products can be used, let alone get a sense of the total available market in any particular market or geographic area. Despite these challenges, we’ve got a good team dynamic, a good advisor, and a great host company.

First morning in Finland

George and I landed in Helsinki yesterday after a relevantly uneventful flight (save for a mad cross-terminal dash at JFK). After a good night’s sleep and a full breakfast, we’re preparing to meet with our  Global Access Program (GAP) company representatives at their headquarters in Vantaa, Finland. After a full day of interviews and discussions, we’ll drive 300km north to tour their factory in Aänekoski and interview additional employees.

Over the last several months at UCLA Anderson I’ve taken a significant interest in the program’s study-abroad offerings. I applied to four study-abroad programs expecting to be selected only for one or two given their popularity. It was quite a surprise to learn one by one that I was could participate in each!

Sunset in Helsinki, ~21:30

Of course, the invitations were just the beginning. All told, I could expect a week’s travel for GAP primary research, plus about aweek for each of the study programs. Asking my manager for more than five weeks off through the end of the year felt like quite a tall order. I am incredibly grateful to my managers and employer for giving me the opportunity to take such extended travel and study breaks.

And so it begins. I return to Los Angeles this Friday evening, only to hop on a plane to Seoul for a “Doing Business in South Korea” course at Seoul National University. Two weeks later, I’ll be traveling to India for “International Studies in India: Understanding Indian Financial Markets” with Professor Subrahmanyam, then off to HEC in Jouy-en-Josas, France, to study “Sustainable Investments” and “International Negotiations.” Finally, I’ll travel to South Africa in mid-December to take “International Studies in Africa: Focus on Health Economics” with Professor Victor Tabbush.

It’s a scary proposition to take this much time away from work and spend nearly $16,000 on airfare, hotels, and program fees. GAP is regarded as a difficult course and taking three weeks of travel is likely to make the summer very challenging. However, I came to UCLA to expand my horizons and broaden my career options. My core courses have been solid (I’ll never look at financial statements or queues of people in the same way again) and my electives have been eye-opening. So, in the words of one of the entrepreneurs I interviewed for my Venture Initiation class with Professor Jeff Scheinrock, it’s time to “Plan, Jump, and Commit.” Here’s to hoping that I’ll gain the seed of an idea for a project, business, or career. This is going to be great.

I’d like to express my gratitude to the people who are making these series of experiences possible for me. My thanks to Bonny Kim, Patty Gonzales, and Jamie Saure in the International Studies and Exchange Programs Department at UCLA Anderson for allowing me to participate in all of these programs, and for their patient and kind-hearted logistical support. My appreciation to Michael Fontanez, Tori Blair, and Deb Mincey in the Student Services and Financial Aid office for their help in scheduling and obtaining financial aid. My thanks to Professor Subrahmanyam for his flexibility in the on-campus schedule for his course. My thanks to Danna and my folks for their support. My thanks to David Denton and Mike Dodge at Atomic Online, my employer, for giving me the opportunity to leave work to travel and study. And, most importantly, thanks to my GAP team Ethan, George, George, and Kasia for their support and encouragement. Let’s make our GAP company proud!

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