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

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What a crew….the end

 

Wrapping it up

As I sit here in the airport, I’m thinking back on all the great experiences we had in this fast-paced 14-day travel marathon. 3 countries, 13 companies, 7 hotels and an overnight cruise. The trip was exhausting, but I loved every second of it. The people on this trip are really what made it so great. I can honestly say that I made 27 friends on this trip, all of whom are true professionals and great travel companions. I have no doubt that everyone in this class will go on to be successful as they progress through their careers.

I want to thank Dr. Hoopes for everything she did on this trip. It takes an unbelievable amount of work to arrange all of these company visits, keep tabs on everyone at all times, and provide wisdom and insight to us with all the company visits. Carol, her sister, was a perfect travel companion for all of us! She used her masterly camera skills to take great photos of us at all the companies. I will miss them both!

To our valiant bus driver, Jan, thank you for chauffeuring us all over the country and providing us with your wisdom!

For anyone who reads this blog in the future, if given the chance, do this trip. The learning experiences you gain are irreplaceable. I’m not just talking about the company visits, but the cultural experiences. These are the types of experiences all MBA students should have.

Maersk and Carlsberg

On Thursday night after our long drive to Copenhagen, a big group of us went out to explore the city. We didn’t get out until about 10:30 but headed to a local brewpub called Mikkeller. The bar had about 20 local brews on tap and was located in a small basement. Our group of around 18 people commandeered some picnic tables outside. I bought a traditional sausage and cheese, which was phenomenal with the beer. After that, a few of us wondered around looking for another spot where we could hang out for the remainder of the evening. Eventually, Tommy, Liz, and I stumbled upon another place called Axelborg Bodega, which was like an Irish Pub with dance music. We called the rest of the troops to join us and  once everyone showed up it was apparent that we brought the party to the bar. We were celebrating Allison S.’s birthday so everyone was in party mode. There was plenty of dancing and good music!

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Some of the crew at Axelborg

On Friday morning we got up for our morning lecture with Maersk, which is the world’s largest shipping company. They had a series of speakers lined up to tell us about different areas of the company. We learned about their internal consulting, management, and their supply chain challenges and opportunities.

After that we grabbed a quick lunch and headed to Carlsberg for our final tour of the trip! We did the standard guided public tour that the rest of the public gets. It was fun to walk around and check out the brewery — there is a lot of history there. We sampled a few beers, then headed back to the hotel.

In the evening we all gathered for one final dinner and Dr. Hoopes gave out the awards (as voted on by everyone in the travel group). She had asked everyone to fill out a form with 26 different categories for everyone else on the trip. Categories included things like “hardest worker,” “funniest,” “most adventurous,” etc. I tied with two other people for the “most laid back” award, as well as the “all-around” award, which meant that I received votes in many categories. It was great to spend one last dinner with the whole group.

From there we all headed over to Tivoli Gardens, the world-famous amusement park in the middle of Copenhagen. We had a great time walking around the park. I strongly recommend it! The highlight was watching Alex, Meredith, Mark A, and Allison ride a crazy upside-down airplane ride that made my stomach turn.

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The wild ride that our classmates rode

 

Business/Pleasure at LEGO!

On Thursday we packed up and checked out of the hotel to visit with LEGO in Billund. It was a short bus ride and Alex and Jason briefed us on the background and history of LEGO before we arrived. Once there, we were given a factory tour to check out the process of molding the Legos and storing and shipping them. It was pretty awesome to see the actual molding machines creating the Legos and placing them into appropriate shipping containers. In this factory, they utilize many robots that collect the bins of Legos and add them to conveyor belts. There were robots cruising all over the place while we took our tour. We had to be on the lookout for them as they approached us! They are built with smart detection functionality that makes them extremely safe when they see hazards in their way.

After the tour, we headed over to the corporate HQ where we assembled in a nice large conference room for a presentation about LEGO’s history. The presentation was given by Aksel Crabbe Nielson, the Visitor Manager for LEGO. It was really interesting to hear about LEGO’s storied history. We were then given a though provoking exercise – Askel gave us all packages of legos and told us that we had 45 seconds to assemble them into a duck. There were no instructions provided. Everybody rushed to completed their duck and put them all on the front table. Some of the results looked good, others were not so great (including mine). This exercise was interesting, because as Aksel said, no two were the same. Everybody had a different take on what a duck should look like with Legos. This demonstrates how great Legos are for creativity, especially in kids!

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The ducks! See if you can find the ugliest ducking, because it is mine

Shortly after that, he gave us another Lego kit to put together, with a 20-minute time limit. It was a Big Tow truck. During this exercise I really remembered how much fun playing with Legos can be! Everyone in the class made it a competition, of course. Wayne finished first and Jen was a close second.

After lunch, Hans Laessoe, the Senior Director of Strategic Risk Management came in to give us a more formal presentation about the LEGO business. He was an entertaining speaker and walked us through detail about the state of the toy industry and competition, Lego’s history and challenges, and management controls. After the lecture, our team asked some questions, and they were kind enough to give us all Lego “Creator” toys to take home as souvenirs. I’m pretty excited to put this together when I get home!

After the business, we changed and headed into Lego land for about 3 hours in the afternoon. We did as much exploring as we could. First, we checked out Miniland, which contains all sorts of miniature models of landmarks built in Legos. Then we scoped out some of the roller coasters. They were fun, but nowhere near the scale of the roller coasters at American parks like Hershey Park and Six Flags. One of the funnier moments of the day was when Jason, Wayne, Tommy, and I decided to do a ride called the “Falck Fire Brigade.” It was a fire truck competition where four people jump into a Lego fire truck, then do a manual pumping process to make the trucks move towards a burning house, and once there, manually pump water hoses to spray water onto the house. It was a race between us and about 7 other trucks. Being the competitive Americans that we are, we put in 100% effort to make sure we would win. Sure enough, we finished in first, but we all looked around and realized that we were competing against a bunch of 10-12 year old kids. We felt like bullies, haha. They gave me a strange inflatable beach ball as a prize and we high-tailed it out of there.

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A Lego model of Copenhagen’s bright houses

We tried out a few other rides, grabbed some dinner, then jumped back on the bus for a 3 hour drive to Copenhagen.

Arrival in Denmark

After we arrived by ferry into Denmark at about 11am, we jumped on the bus to embark on a three hour drive from Fredrikshavn down to a town called Kolding. Along the way, we stopped at a rest area along the highway for lunch. It was definitely different than what we typically see in the US. They had pictures of about 40 different dishes that you could order. Many of them were very strange, like bratwursts, eggrolls, potato pancakes, etc. I kept it simple and ordered the cheeseburger, which was a different style than those in the US, but tasted decent.

We then jumped back on the bus to complete the remainder of our two hour journey. However, along the way, we heard a loud “BANG!” from under the bus. We pulled over, and sure enough, one of the tires had blown. It was actually the inner tire on the right side of the bus. Our awesome bus driver, Jan, cautiously drove us up the road to the closest rest area. We arrived there around 3pm. Jan and Dr. Hoopes both called the nearest emergency tire repair company that was covered under insurance. The rest of us got out of the bus and tried to settle in at the rest stop – we knew we were going to be there for a while. The rest area was small – it was just a park with several picnic tables, some kids playground equipment, and a very small bathroom structure. Luckily, the weather was beautiful so we didn’t mind sitting outside. We all racked our brains to see what activities we could do to kill the time. Alex found a tennis ball in his bag, and Tommy found a stick, so we proceeded to play a makeshift version of baseball batting practice for about 45 minutes. Everyone took turns batting and I pitched for a while. We noticed a lot of Danish people at the rest stop looking at us with bewilderment. I’m not sure they understand or recognize baseball, so that was interesting. It was very American of us. I think one Danish guy on a motorcycle was trying to study how we were playing.

Later on one of the student groups started playing cards and another group played a cell phone game called “Head’s up” that Cathy had on her phone. In that game, one person holds the cell phone up to their forehead that shows a word, while the rest of the team gives that person clues to guess that word correctly. We played the movies and the animals categories for most of the time. It was a fun way to pass the time!

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The crew relaxing at the park

Finally after a four-hour wait, we were able to get back on the road by 7 and arrived at the Comwell Kolding Hotel near 8. Tommy and I were a little shocked at how hot our hotel room was when we walked in. As I may have mentioned in a prior blog post, none of these hotels have air conditioning, because they rarely need it in these Scandinavian countries. We saw on the news this morning that northern Europe has been getting some historically hot days recently. We cracked our window and got a fan going but it was really tough to cool the place down. I didn’t think I’d be sweating like this in Scandinavia! Anyway, we headed downstairs ate some dinner, had a few German beers, and crashed, with dreams of LEGOLAND dancing in our heads.

Cultural Observations and Volvo Recap

As I sit writing this blog post, we are on the deck of a ferry taking us from Gothenburg, Sweden to Fredrikshavn, Denmark. It is 8:30am local time, and we are sitting next to a snack bar, watching people drinking coffee, beer, and Jagermeister. I never thought I’d see people drinking alcohol like this before noon. We are all enjoying it. One guy just walked by with two beers and two shots of Jager on a tray. Certainly not commonplace in Arlington, Va.

Earlier this morning we got up early and headed to the ferry. The ferry is not like the Silja Line Cruise that we took last week. It is a bit smaller, but still an enormous ship itself. The ferry actually hauled our bus over to Denmark. Up on the top deck, they have live music and nice outdoor seating. For as cool as the climate is for most of the year, the Swedes have no shortage of outdoor seating and seem to love the outdoors. Over the past few days, the weather has turned beautiful – probably ranging from 75 high down to high 50’s in the evening. It feels like California weather.

Yesterday we did two tours: Volvo Car and Volvo Truck. Tommy and I are responsible for the written report on Volvo Truck, which was our first stop. We briefed the rest of the class on the history of the company and discussed their current operations and challenges, then we took a tram tour of the factory. The trucks are built on assembly line process, whereby teams at various stations assembly the trucks piece by piece. It was really interesting to see the trucks built from bare bones to the final product.

We then traveled to the Volvo Museum and spent a few hours looking around. This museum is really cool. They had all sorts of historical Volvo models on display, and even a Volvo SUV made of Legos! There were trucks, military vehicles, concept cars, boat engines, even old fire trucks.

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The Volvo XC90, made out of around 200,000 legos

After the museum we headed over to Volvo cars for a tour. This was another narrated tram tour. The process at Volvo car is much more automated than Volvo Truck – for several processes, they have a bunch of robots that do the work. One of the main models we saw was the new Volvo XC90 (which is a favorite of mine). Our guide walked us through the assembly of all the different components. Like Volvo Truck, it was very interesting to watch the cars get assembled from the bottom up.

Once we got back to the hotel we did a Canal tour of historic Gothenburg and also took a stroll in their botanical gardens. It was a beautiful day so we were happy to be outside.

After all of that, we headed back to the hotel and got some dinner. It was pretty good – some type of fish, mashed potatoes, and capers. I had never eaten capers in the form we had them last night. Some people liked them and others hated them.

To end the evening we headed over to a pub called Olrepubliken. We tried a few rare beers and then called it a night.

Monday – Back to Business

On Monday we left the hotel at 7am and made it to Stora Enso for our 9:30am tour and lecture. They took us on a long walking tour of their entire plant so we could see how they make paper. This specific plant produces paper for newspapers. However, understandably, they have recently faced some struggles with their operations as a result of the decreased demand for physical newspapers in most househoulds. Many people are reading news online and this actually forced Stora Enso to close two of their four paper mills in recent years. However, the company remains optimistic about the future, and they have other ideas in the pipeline. In spite of the challenges they face, they have a stable operation and have addressed sustainability issues with deforestation prudently. In an interactive exercise, our MBA students brainstormed ideas about potential areas where they can grow in the future. We learned a lot about the company on the tour, and we are hopeful that they can implement some innovative, profitable ideas going forward. It will be interesting to see where they go in the next few years.

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Massive pile of wood chips at Stora Enso

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Hans holds doors

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Hans holds more doors

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The seemingly endless inventory of Stora Enso paper

Ramoa Sweden — Outdoor Paradise

Sunday we had the day off from company visits and traveled over to an outdoor adventure village for some team building activities in the great outdoors. The drive to the village was beautiful. We made our way through back country roads that our group bus driver, Jan, navigated like a true professional. Once we got close we knew this place was going to be special. It reminded me of the old summer camp setting — a cabin, and beautiful lake, and a quiet nature setting. First, we formed 7 teams of 4 and participated in various team building competitions in the morning. They were a lot of fun. We had 8 different activities to perform. One involved a blindfolded wheelbarrow push, another involved tying a square knot with four different people holding the rope, and another involved shooting a blow dart at a target in a scrabble-style game…you get the idea. They were difficult but I had a blast with my teammates (Mark A., Liz, and Carol)!

Afterwards we had free time to use the different facilities for a variety of activities. They offered kayaking, biking, hot tub, sauna, axe-throwing, and soccer golf. I should probably elaborate on the axe-throwing, since I’m sure that piqued your interest. Basically, you stand about 20 feet from a target and heave an axe at a big bulls eye. The scoring is 1 point on the outside, 3 on the outer orange, 5 on the inner orange, and 10 on the bulls eye. Everyone had a blast trying this one out, and some competitions even broke out. I also went out kayaking and played some soccer golf with Thang, Alex, Prasanth, and Marc.

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Hans demonstrating the art of throwing an axe

 

All in all, it was a FANTASTIC experience. We all loved getting out into the serenity of the Swedish country. Certainly something I’ll never forget. The guy who owns the company — Jan — posted about us on their facebook page here:

https://sv-se.facebook.com/Ramkvillaoutdooractivity

Saturday….Glasriket!

We got to sleep a little longer on Saturday before we caught the bus at 9:15. From there, we drove a few hours down to Glasriket (aka, the Kingdom of Crystal). We had a great day visiting various glass blowers in the region. First, we visited Målerås Glasbruk. We then ventured southeast to Pukebergs Glasbruk, where we also ate lunch. I really enjoyed this place. The scenery was beautiful and they had some really nice handmade glass pieces. I got a good souvenir — for those back home, you’ll see it when I’m back! Next we stopped briefly at Nybro Glasbruk and the Glass Factory en route back east towards our hotel in Växjö.

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Some cool glass pieces at Målerås Glassworks…especially the guitar!

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Marc and I in front of the Nybro gift shop

When we arrived in Växjö, we checked in to the Clarion Hotel Cardinal, which was one of the more spacious hotels we’ve had on the trip. We were definitely excited about that. Shortly after check-in, we jumped back on the bus and traveled back over to Kosta Glassworks for their traditional Hyttsill evening. The evening is a full experience where they serve a traditional dinner, play music, and put on a professional glass blowing exhibition. The dinner consists of herring, sausage, lingonberries, and cheese curd cake. The glass blowing exhibition was eye opening as well. The pro glass blower made a beautiful plate and showed us the entire process. I was actually shocked at how many different steps the glass process involves, but the final product was awesome. After that, he let people from our group actually try out the glass blowing.

When the evening ended, we headed back to the hotel and enjoyed some down time for a change. We went to bed early to prepare for our group activities in the Swedish country on Sunday!

 

Fun night in Jönköping!

We checked into the Comfort Hotel, which was pretty small, but then headed out to explore the town. There’s a nice pier downtown that we wanted to check out. Apparently Jönköping is a real up-and-coming area of Sweden, with many bars/clubs and trendy looking people walking around. We found a bar that was built on top of a renovated boat so we all headed up there to hang out! We had a beer together to celebrate Mark A.’s birthday, then headed over to another place called the “Bishop’s Arms.”

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Mark on top of the boat on his birthday

There, we met a Swedish guy named Alvin who told me that he loved Americans. He came and sat with us and talked about his love for the American culture, as well as the TV shows How I Met your Mother and Game of Thrones. He also talked a bit about life in Jönköping. Later in the conversation, we figured out that he actually worked for SAAB Aircraft — which we had visited earlier in the day! I can’t emphasize enough how much he loved hanging out with us. He kept saying “I can’t believe I’m with Americans” the entire time. He was extremely polite — he kept asking if he was intruding and refused multiple times when I offered to buy him a beer.

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Alvin (second from left) poses with the crew

We then parted ways with Alvin and stopped in at a local pizza joint across from the hotel. There, we bought an exotic pizza with french fries, chipotle sauce, lettuce, tomato, and lamb — which was amazing!

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Pizza….one plain, one not so plain