P1040816-1351415590-OWelcome to the travel blog for the 2015 Products and Processes in Scandinavia Study Abroad!  MBA students from Virginia Tech’s National Capital Region will be traveling in Finland, Sweden and Denmark, visiting multi-national businesses and studying operations and supply chain topics.  See the Companies page for a list of the companies we will be visiting, and the Contributors page for a list of the students and their blogs.  The Pictures page has a slideshow of recent pictures from the trip.  Thanks for visiting!

Going out with a Bang

And then it happened – it was our last day in Scandinavia!

We started off with a company visit to Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company. Although each company we had visited was very different from the rest, this felt like the most different to me because it’s a logistics company. We heard from HR, their Internal Consulting Group, and the Director of Key Clients. My favorite part of this visit was learning from the Director of Key Clients. She was very open and had so much experience–I could have listened to her all day.

Then we were off to our final company visit for the trip:  Carlsberg Brewery. (Great choice Dr. Hoopes!!) Not only was it a delicious visit, it was informative as well. Check out this collection of beer bottles.

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That afternoon I had a little quality time with the roomie and we did some final touristy stuff in Copenhagen:  Little Mermaid, Guards, Nyhavn (colorful waterfront), and shopping on the pedestrian street.

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We hurried back to the hotel for our final group dinner where Dr. Hoopes provided the results to our ScanTrip Superlatives. I was voted “Most Adventurous Eater,” and rightfully so! :-)

The final stop on our Tour de Scandinavia?? Tivoli. It was a strange, magical place, and the perfect way to end the trip.

Days 17 and 18: From Gilding to Sewage – Danish Hotels are Odd

We woke up in the morning and made a quick trip to the church (seriously…did you expect me to pass one up that is open???) along with a trip to the local Viking museum. The museum was interesting because it was a museum build directly upon the ruins of the Viking settlement. There were lines on the floor that outlined exactly where the prior settlement buildings had been, including the remains of a murder victim! After this we checked out of our hotel.

Fun hotel fact: our hotel had the oldest elevator in Northern Europe – and it was a Kone elevator! One thing I love about this trip is just how much more in-tune I am to the products of the companies we visited, especially since I would normally never have paid attention to who made the elevator I was riding in!!

After checking out of our hotel we headed to the ferry to take a ride back to Zealand island. Despite not having any of Anna’s wonderful anti-nausea meds (thanks again, Anna!!) I did OK until the very end when, upon the ship doing a pretty quick 180 to line up with the dock, I got pretty queasy and green. Upon getting off the ferry in Odden (or Odde depending on what map you look at) we started driving. Ben, knowing what I love, saw a cute little roadside church and we stopped in. Come to find out, this was one of the churches in a brochure on roadside churches I had found on our first day in Denmark! Located in Overby, it was a very cute little church with a lovely graveyard. Something I found again in this church was a ship hanging from a ceiling. Apparently this custom is common in churches that are comprised of many seafaring parishioners – it is meant as a reminder to continually pray for their safe return.

We finally made our trip to Roskilde where we first stopped at the Viking Ship Museum. It was really cool! Centuries ago the citizens of the town sunk five different Viking ships in the harbor as a means of defense. They were excavated in the 1960s and are now in the museum. To get back to the purpose of this trip, supply chains, let me tell you – these ships embody that concept! Every single ship was made somewhere different in Scandinavia and every single one was used for various types of commerce – trade, raiding, simple transport between two places. Coming as far away as Ireland these ships WERE the supply chain during their times. Considering how much we’ve studied the benefits of train, plane, and boat it is interesting to think that for a 1000 years the same mode of transportation has essentially been the cheapest and most reliable – ships. This was something that I definitely took for granted on this trip and I’m hope I have a greater appreciation going forward.

After this we made our way to the Cathedral, thinking that we might have a chance to peak in for 5 minutes before they closed. As luck would have it, they were open until 6pm so we had a full hour to wander. Not surprisingly, this wasn’t enough time for me! Smilie: :-) What made this cathedral more interesting than some is that this is where the monarchs of Denmark are buried. Holy ostentatious Batman! These coffins/crypts were elaborate and, most of the time, gaudily over the top! Though this trip led to a breakthrough in my relationship with Ben: upon his death I am never to put him on display in a glass egg-shaped coffin. For anyone wondering where this revelation came from: this is how the current Queen will be displayed upon her death. I have no desire to ever go back to Denmark but I just might to see this after her death.

Random site note: I think I really took for granted how great it was that everything in Scandinavia had English plaques at all major tourist sites. Unlike Guatemala or Turkey (my last vacas) it was nice to be able to wander at my own pace and not have to pay for a guide at every interesting place so that I could get the full tourist information. It definitely made me sad that more of my high school Spanish and college German language classes did not make an impression.

We grabbed a bite to eat at a top rated restaurant near the Cathedral (or top rated in Lonely Planet) and made our way to our hotel. Ahh….our hotel. We walked in our room and the first thing we noticed was the sewage smell. Yes…sewage. There was something screwy with the plumbing. Luckily, we turned on the water to wash our hands and between that and the soap we used the smell greatly dissipated (and this hotel had two doors between the bathroom and the main room so we could just shut the door and open a window and be just fine). We figured that no one had used our room for awhile so we didn’t make a stink, mainly because of the view. OMG was the view gorgeous! Our room looked out at the sun setting over the Roskilde Fjord. We went out on the bar patio for one final drink to take in the view before we headed to bed.

The next day was a little eventful. We had to stop for gas and this was when not having a PIN for our credit cards really caused problems – we couldn’t use the self-serve stations because we couldn’t pay for the gas! We had to drive around until we found a station with an attendant and even then had to guess as to how much gas to pump and ended up having to use a debit card. Luckily this was the only time the stupid Chip and Signature cards didn’t work. We got the car delivered to the airport though a little later than we’d planned due to the gas station dilemmas and then got into the craziness of the check-in line. Of course we got in the wrong line and had problems checking in (none of my credit cards would bring up my ticked and I had problems connecting to the WiFi to get my confirmation number in the email) and I had to pay extra because I was 10 pounds over and they wouldn’t let me take anything out because then all the other bags would be too heavy and we’d not be allowed to bring them on the plane. Ugh…. After all of this bag craziness I’m not too keen on SAS airlines right now. Luckily we made our flight with only about 10 minutes to spare and the flight back was uneventful. Home was so great – I didn’t realize how much I missed my dog and cats until I hadn’t seen them in 2+ weeks. I am not looking to work tomorrow but all good things……..

Parting thoughts…

A placeholder for now until I get some time to compose my parting thoughts and observations on the trip.  I have to get the Carlsberg paper done first though, so don’t look for anything until after July 12th.

Fri Jul 3: Maersk and Carlsberg Visit

We arrived in the hotel previous night; we all met in the hotel lobby for Dinner. After dinner a small group left to walk around in the city. After going around for a while we ended up in a small English pub. This little place had a bit of the English pub charm however it was very quiet and the small. We decided to find a better place and started walking few blocks. We met the other group in the new bar. We all tasted couple of beers and spent the evening in that bar. It was one of the very good evenings with our student group.

Most of us were very happy that it was a late start in the morning to Maersk. Maersk was few minutes drive from our hotel. The HR person from Maersk headed the meeting. She had invited two representatives from Maersk’s internal consulting group and one representative from sales group. Internal consulting group concept was a new concept. Representatives their internal consulting group explained how their group functions. I personally felt that the internal consulting group concept might not be very effective. After the internal consulting group presentation, the sales team representative explained the business from sales perspective.

After Maersk we visited Carlsberg Beer Company. One of the tour guides took us for a facility/the area tour. After the tour they gave each of us coupons for 2 beers each. All of us tasted their beers and spent some time in their museum.

I had already starting to miss everyone because it was the last day. I was leaving to Belgium to meet my family that evening. I missed the last day dinner in Copenhagen. Overall the study abroad program was very good. We visited 13 companies, learnt about their supply chain, production processes and their business in general. We also got an opportunity to meet and know everyone in the group better.

July 02 2015: Lego and Lego Land Visit

July 1 2015 was a travel day. We had a bus breakdown and we ended up spending 3-4 hours in a parking lot 1.5 hours from Kolding, Denmark. Luckily it was just after our lunch. We all played card games. Someone in the group had a tennis ball, we found a small branch and we played “Baseball”. The temperature in the region was just perfect. We reached our hotel in Kolding @~7:50PM. Kolding is a very small town; we had dinner in the hotel and went to bed very early.

LEGO is an interesting company, LEGO is one of my favorite companies and I wanted to understand more about their business. LEGO plant that we visited in Denmark has ~800 employees. The LEGO facility that we visited manufactures and maintains inventories for different LEGO components.  We were given a tour of LEGO factory and warehouse. LEGO factory is highly automated, they have 64 machines running 24*7 and 2 operator are able to manage the operations!!! This factory can manufacture up to 3000 shapes in 60 different colors.

We all were given a LEGO task to be completed in the meeting room. We were told that the LEGO puzzle that we were given was designed for 7+ years old kids. It took forever for me to put the LEGO together. However the LEGO challenge kept me engaged the entire time. Plastic toy industry is very competitive. I was impressed by the fact that LEGO profit margin was~33%.

After the LEGO production facility visit we went to LEGO land, theme park by LEGO group. The theme park is small compared to Six Flags in the US. All the rides and attractions in the theme park is designed mostly for kids. We enjoyed couple of rides and my favorite ride was Polar Land roller coaster ride.

Back to reality…

Wow, I can’t believe the trip is over! What an amazing experience… Although going back to work and catching up on hundreds (literally) of emails has occupied a lot of my time, I have had some time to reflect on the trip. My first trip to Europe was eye opening – I got to see both cultural and professional aspects of three countries in Scandinavia! Not only did I get to see operations and lean concepts live, I also saw what it was like to have passion for a job. The people we met at the company visits spoke to us with such passion and wanted to share their stories. In particular, AstraZeneca, Stora Enso, LEGO, and Maersk really stand out. This has opened to eyes to what I want out of my career and what I want to do when I finish my MBA program.

Although I told myself the first thing I would do when I get home is go straight to Chipotle, I was so exhausted that I went home, watched TV, went to bed at 7 pm and didn’t wake up until my alarm went off for work! Many of my coworkers asked how my trip was, but I couldn’t even begin to put into words why it was so great. Of course everyone loves two weeks away from work, but it was more than that! I learned so much from the companies, my classmates, and my professor. To Dr. Hoopes, thank you for all the hard work of organizing such an amazing experience that none of us will ever forget! You truly made the past two weeks unforgettable. To Carol, thank you for all the pictures, smiles and all around positive attitude! To my classmates, thank you for the laughs, stories, dance moves, karaoke, and wonderful memories! I can’t wait until our reunion!

Day 41: Wait a minute?

So if you have been doing the math from my blog posts, you would realize that there were in fact more than 40 days in my “40 Days” blog.  So before I get into what I did on day 41 of my 40 day adventure, I should explain my math.  The 40 day figure refers from the start of the classroom portion of the study abroad to the end of the trip. Not specifically the day we leave (which for me was Sunday, July 5th) but the end of the ‘school’ portion of the trip, which was day 40: July 3rd.

We had the option to stay an extra day and about six of us ‘leftovers’ decided to do so.  It seemed like a good idea back in December when we made the decision, but after two weeks on the road, several of us were eager to get back home to family and dare I say it, even work.  That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy our extra day.  We did, as you’ll see.  But we’re a little homesick too.

For our last day, Wayne and I hit the road (well, rails actually) and took a train to Kronberg castle, a 16th century castle that was immortalized as Elsinore in Hamlet.  

A view of Kronberg from the outer ravelin. 


I’m certainly not going to take the Best Photographer crown from Wayne, but I like this shot of the tower. (Which, like the churches of Denmark, was closed to tourists)  


There were times on the trip I looked about this happy too.

At the risk of being anti-climatic, there isn’t too much to say about Kronberg. I didn’t take anywhere near enough pictures to capture the experience. But if you’ve been to the Tower of London, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Kronberg is like. If you haven’t been in a 15th or 16th century castle, Kronberg is a good place to start. It’s easy to get to from Copenhagen, and trust me, you won’t be missing much in Copenhagen but skipping town and going to Kronberg.

Day 40/-1: I wonder if anyone wants to go look at churches with me

So it’s our last day of the trip and we have the afternoon free to explore Copenhagen.  If you’ve been a faithful reader of the blog, you should have an idea what I did.  Yup, Laura and I, (now with her finance Ben who flew in) wandered the streets of Copenhagen looking for sites to see, including various closed churches.

Admittedly, it was late in the afternoon, but Laura, Ben and I went 0 for 3 on churches, bringing our trip average down to well under 50%.


I can’t tell if Laura is sad over the church being closed, or is already missing her now former classmates.

Maybe it was trip fatigue setting in, or maybe it was the heat, but I didn’t find Copenhagen to be that exciting of a city. We visited Nyhavn, and saw a few other sites, but Copenhagen just didn’t impress me as a European capital city. It had all the bustle of Rome or London, but didn’t have the offsetting cultural activities. Maybe I would have thought different if some of th cathedrals had been open, or if we would have time to visit an art museum, but I was underwhelmed with Copenhagen, and I don’t expect to be going back for a while.

There were a lot fewer people at the Legoland version of Nyhavn.

Day 40/-1: Company Visits: Maersk and Carlsberg

So we have made it to day 40 of our 40 day adventure, a little the worse for wear, but with only two company visits to go.  Today we visit Maersk, the global shipping company and Carlsberg, the 4th largest brewer of beer in the world.  Both companies have a particular interest for me, albeit for different reasons.
If you have any interest in the global supply chain or shipping industry you have to have some interest in Maersk.  More than any other company we visited, Maersk is the global supply chain.  During a break in our preentations I talked with Carol briefly about the idea that with the possible exception of the sports pages, every article in the newspaper was some impact on Maersk’s operations.  Revolution in an obscure country?  Maersk needs to respond.  Change in economic conditions? Maersk needs to respond.  Political issue impacting trade?  Maersk will be impacted.  More than any other company we’ve looked at, Maersk truly is a global company.  

We had a pair of presentations from Maersk.  The first was on their internal consulting group that was recently established to improve efficiencies among Maersk’s component organizations. Their primary objectives are to build a pipeline of talent across Maersk, enable superior project execution, provide Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in specific technical industries and to be cost competitive with external consultants. They presented on a recent project they had worked on to increase collaboration between the Maersk shipping line and one of their terminal operations (APM Terminals) By increasing collaboration and the use of shared analysis they were able to move from a transaction based relationship to a true parnership model, reducing costs for Maersk as a whole.

Because of our backgrounds, many of the people in our group understood the consulting business well, and there was a lively question and answer period.

The second presentation was regarding Maersk’s “key client” group. Key clients in this case are those most profitable for Maersk. The presentor spent most of her talk however going into more detail about how Maersk conducts business in general, which is good because we needed more education on the basics of their operations before we could understand th specifics of the key client group. Her presentation was very engaging and information, and I left feeling like not only did I understand where Maersk fit into the global supply chain, but more importantly (at least from Maersk’s perspective) how and when I would hire Maersk for cargo shipment. This may not seem important, but actually understanding enough about the shipping market to do this is no small feat.

After Maersk, and a very brief lunch stop we hustled over to visit Carlsberg.

My interest in Carlsberg is purely academic, as it is the subject of our paper.  Going into the visit, we knew that we would not be seeing a production Carlsberg brewrey, as the facility in Copenhagen is a small craft brewing facility, not a meanstream production brewrey.  But we at expected to see some of the company history and some production, albeit not as Carlsberg operates at large.  Unfortunately, however there was some miscommunication, and Carlsberg expected us to arrive at 1:00 PM, instead of our 1:30 scheduled arrival.  As a result, there was a 2:00 PM tour scheduled as well, so we recieved a mini-tour that focused mostly on the history of the Jacobson family and the early years of Carlsberg and did not cover the brewing process or histor in much detail.  (There was a self guided museum that you could go through, and I did, but it would have been better with the experience of a guide.)

Sadly, this is as close as we came to seeing a brewrey in production.

And so, we finished our last company visit of the trip, essentially (except for the paper) ending the course.  Conveniently at a brewrey that included two free drinks with the price of admission.  For six lucky membrs of our group, this was a particularly auspicious ending as it also marked their final class in the MBA progra and their graduation.  (Laura even brought a morterboard)  For the other twenty of us who were rather envious of our graduating classmates, we at least had beer to drown our jealousy in.

With the last company visit over, some of the group is blowing off a little steam at Carlsberg.

My final post — over and out!

More nostalgic thoughts about the trip flooded my head today while I reacquainted myself at work. What a great trip. It was really enlightening to see how these companies operate from a supply chain perspective. I learned something new in every lecture and tour, and these are concepts that will stay with me forever. Hearing these companies talk about their strategic decisions, areas for improvement, challenges, and opportunities with such forthrightness is something I’ve never experienced before. They didn’t treat us like wide-eyed students. They treated us as if we were outside consultants — sharing insightful presentations and answering all of our challenging questions.

I don’t feel like I was on a two-week vacation — rather, I feel like I was on a business trip. There was hard work involved at times, and some of the travel days really did a number on our energy levels. I guess I could have slept more if I wanted to, but I really value friendships and new experiences on these kinds of trips. If I had a choice between going to bed or joining a group of other students on some adventure, I always chose the latter, and I won’t regret that.

Learning about these different cultures was a major highlight of this trip for me. It was my first trip to Europe and I now know that I want to go back. There were things that I really liked: excellent tap water quality everywhere, easiness of using the chip and pin credit cards, free blankets provided to all patrons at outdoor patios (my wife would love that one), cleanliness of the cities, ice cream stands everywhere, etc…..but also things that I disliked: everything is smaller (bedrooms, bathrooms) and slower (service at any restaurant, bar service), breakfast consists of lunchmeat and meatballs, and I don’t think I ever saw a sport on television anywhere (aside from some random club soccer game).

Anyway, with all of that said, this concludes my blog. This was the first time I’d ever done something like this and I had a lot of fun with it. To all my wonderful classmates — I’ll see you all again, one place or another. Maybe we will even work together someday. And thanks to the friends and family that followed this blog!!! Over and out – Duff


What a crew….the end