Day 13: LEGO

So we visited LEGO yesterday, and in my opinion they had the best tour and presentation; and I’m not just saying that because they gave us lots of swag, or because it’s my company.  Their tour went directly to where we wanted, showing us a highly automated process involving very little waste.  Our presenter had obviously done tours for VT MBA groups before, because he seemed to answer our questions before we could ask them.  They showed us where their granulate ABS and polycarbonate were stored in their giant silos, how it got transported from the silos to their injection molding machines, and how it was transported to shipping – all automated.


Their presentation was my favorite!  They came out knowing exactly what to talk about.  What I found most interesting was their willingness to discuss their crisis back in the early 2000s.  I also was interested by the energy and humor that both our presenters had.  Both were on the north side of middle age, but still maintained their child like energy – I guess that’s why they’ve lasted at LEGO.  They demonstrated the versatility of their product by having everyone build a duck out of 6 pieces, and out of the 28 of us, no one had an identical design.  LEGO definitely won the swag award by giving us each a LEGO set as a parting gift!  We also got to keep our ducks….


After visiting LEGO, the class stopped at LegoLand (of course).  While it was a fun afternoon, I Definitely think that it’s a park you should go to with kids.  However, I did get to meet Yoda and R2-D2.

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As for that night, we went out to celebrate Allison S’ birthday with some good, Danish craft beers.  It was a good time…


Adventures and ending our trip in Denmark

Wednesday was quite the adventure. After leaving Sweden and taking the ferry over to Denmark, we were heading to our hotel in Kolding when one of the tires on the bus popped. We ended up pulling over to a rest stop and hanging out there for a few hours until someone could come fix it. Strangely enough, the rest stop was like a park and actually pretty. I finished reading The Girl on the Train (so good), went for a walk around, and played card games. We finally got the bus fixed and got to Kolding. By then it was night so we just had dinner and hung out a bit.

Yesterday I went for a run to start the day. After a week and a half of no gym action (albeit lots of walking), it was really nice to run a few miles outdoors. After we headed to Lego headquarters in Billund which was awesome; we got to do some exercises with Lego and they explained their marketing strategy and process to create Lego bricks. They even gave us a free box of Lego toys to bring home, so I’m excited to give that to Markie.

Then we went to LegoLand which was a lot of fun as well. Most of the rides are geared towards children but I still enjoyed the ones I went on.

We then headed to Copenhagen and went out for a few drinks, it was overall fun.

This morning we went to Maersk which was my favorite presentation by far. I was fascinated by their company and operations. After, we went to Carlsberg for a guided tour and a few beers.

The trip is as far as school goes, officially over. Some of the group is heading home tomorrow, but I am staying on till Sunday. I have a few things I’d like to do in the next 36ish hours. Looking forward to it!

Day 13: L-E-G-O

We toured the LEGO factory in Billund today and the LEGO song was running through my head.  They did the moldings here in Billund.  The plant was highly automated.  They had AGV moving from machine to machine to pick-up the finished pieces and replace the bin.  They had a highway of conveyor belts that took the full bins and transported them into their storage area.  It was very interesting to learn about the process of making the LEGO pieces.  I didn’t realize that the pieces come off a stem piece that was to be re-melted and reused.

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Learning about the history of LEGO was quite interesting from where it started and how it got to where it is today.  I didn’t realize that they had two factories fire that set them back.  Also they are quite interesting because they were doing really well and started to lose their vision and tried to expand too fast and had thing spiral out of control.  However, they were able to re-focus on their core customers and not the consumer and soon recovered.  It comes to show that if you have a vison and mission and stay course, good things come out of it.

After our visit, we as a whole class went to LEGOLAND.  It is totally a kids’ park but I had a blast.  The coasters are designed for ten year olds max but it was quite interesting to ride.  The layout is like any other amusement park but since everything was made out of LEGO, it made it cool.  I had fun for the three hours I spent there but if it was any longer I would have been bored.  I did like the fact that the longest wait I had for a ride was only 20 minutes.  All in all, I had a great day!  And now Copenhagen here I come!!!

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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!


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.


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.

Danish Rest Stops – Fun for the whole family… or MBA class

Following the boat ride and arrival into Denmark from my previous post, we boarded our bus and continued on the 3 hour or so drive  to the town of Kolding.  Everyone on the bus seemed to be snoozing, reading, listening to music when all of a sudden – BOOM!

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Our bus driver pulled off to the side of the road to check on the situation and once confirming the blown tire, pulled off to a rest stop for repairs.  Being a travel day, this was the best case scenario for something like this to happen, but having 28 people at a bathroom – only rest stop could go south very quickly.

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With all that said, the group not only took the day in stride, but we had a great time!  What started with someone finding a tennis ball in their book bag turned into a game of catch, make-shift baseball once someone found a stick for a bat, then there was poker, ‘Heads Up!’, some other cards games, and of course I couldn’t help but play on all the little kids toys in the field behind the bathroom.

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Don’t get me wrong, it was a long day – I think we were stuck at the rest stop for 3-4 hours, and back home I would have been losing my mind as my wife knows how great I handle myself in traffic.  However, for whatever reason, it seems more like everyone was finding fun instead of finding something to be annoyed about.  As much as I would have liked to have more time to kick back and relax at the hotel or see the town of Kolding (from what I understand we didn’t miss anything), I’m actually glad it happened – personally I need to do a better job of finding the fun in the moment since back home I always feel like I am rushing to the next thing, or stuck in a commute, or something that takes my mind away from appreciating all the good stuff.  My hope is that the next time the Orange line decides to crap out on the metro (probably this Monday when I go back to work), I hope I can take a step back, think to our rest stop experience, and just sit back and laugh.

Our next stop is LEGO where we will take a tour and receive a lecture followed by a trip to LEGOLAND!  Childhood dream coming true!




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!


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.

Something is rotten in Denmark….

OK, we’re in Denmark now.  I’ll get to what is rotten here in a bit.

The morning started out well — everyone checking out smoothly and promptly on the bus for our 0700 departure from the First G Hotel in the center of beautiful downtown Goteborg.   We even received kudos from the Professor for our cooperation in being on time.   I think perhaps some lessons were learned after that morning in Helsinki!  Don’t be that person who is late for the bus!

We enjoyed a 3+ hour ferry ride on the Stena Line to Fredrikshaven, Denmark where three of our own took the wrong passage way and couldn’t find the bus!

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After finding our lost classmates and cruising on the Danish highway for about 2 hours we stopped for lunch and quickly overwhelmed a roadside restaurant.  Anyway — after continuing the journey we heard a loud noise from under the right side of the bus — tire blowout!!!  Of course it had to be the inside tire of the duellies!  So we end up in a rest stop…..for about 4 hours!  So this is what’s rotten in Denmark — roadside service!  After our driver Jan made repeated calls, it ended up taking an inordinate amount of time to get the service truck to the site, the tire changed, and us back on our way.

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But being the resilient travelers, the group took advantage of the time and the beautiful weather by playing cards, reading, sunning, sleeping, playing stickball, and enjoying a stroll through the countryside to visit cows and an ancient bog where Danish warriors sacrificially tossed their vanquished opponents’ weapons after defeating them on the battlefield.  It turned out to be another restful day, despite the travel and the tire issue.

We arrived at the very nice Cromwell Hotel in Kolding just in time for a delicious dinner of fish salad, chicken, potatoes, asparagus, and a parfait.  And we sang Happy Birthday to Allison after dessert.  The class seems tired and drained a bit — so I think everyone called it an early night.  Tomorrow — a visit to Lego and Legoland!

Loads of fun with Lego

Tremendous day with Lego.   The factory tour was amazing and the afternoon videos and briefings told a complete story about this company.  It is absolutely astonishing how the factory operates so efficiently and creates so many Lego parts so quickly.  And I enjoyed our Lego assembly practicum.

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After the briefings the class used the bus as a changing room and we were off to Legoland!   The theme park was beautiful.  I spent a lot of time looking at the Lego displays of cities and boats and trains.  The whole set-up was incredible.   The theme park rides and atmosphere are geared toward a much younger crowd — probably in the 5-12-year-old age group, but it didn’t disappoint older folks.  The park was very clean and the workers were hospitable.  It was great fun!

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After a bit of a drive through Denmark (to include a drive across a very long and beautiful bridge), Jan had us safely in Copenhagen.  After a quick late check-in, a group went out to sample some of the local pubs and spirits in celebration of Allison’s birthday.  It was a great evening and a very nice way to end the superb day we spent with Lego.



Day 39/-2: Company Visit: Lego

I am challenging myself not to make a refence to the “Everything is Awesome” song from the Lego movie.  We’ll see if I can make it through the the entire day’s blog posts without referring to it.

On our penultimate day, we had just one site visit, but it was a big one.  We visited Lego.  (The same rule applies as with IKEA.  If you don’t know who Lego is and what they do, your license to read this blog is hereby revoked.  Go find a kid and ask them.)

Anyway, our visit to Lego began with a tour of their production facility in Billund, Denmark.  Lego was founded in Billund during the Depression and has been located here ever since.  (Lego is 3rd generation family owned, which probably has something to do with their ties to the local community  Today, their facility in Billund only does molding of pieces (it used to do packaging as well)  But saying the facility only does modling, while accurate, gives a bit of a misleading impression.  The facility in Billund has 760 injection molding machines running 24/7 for 361 production days a year production 4.5 million Lego bricks per hour. They use 80-100 tons of plastic (mostly ABS plastic but a few other types for specialized parts)

What was interesting about Lego was that technically there was nothing in the production facility we haven’t seen already on this tour, Lego had so many of the elements combined and on such a scale it was almost as if we were seeing them for the first time.  

  • Highly automated production: Check.  Lego typically has two employees to monitor 64 injection molding machines, which are fed raw materials (granulized plastic resin and dyes) through feeder lines.  
  • Robotic delivery of materials: Check.  The typical Lego brick is never touched by a human in any way during production.  When a molding machine fills a bin with bricks, it signals a delivery robot to automatically take the bin and feed in into the injection ingestion system.
  • Lights Out Automated Inventory storage: Check.  The Lego facility we visited only had inventory ranks maybe 50 feet tall.  But the new facility Lego is building in China will have inventory ranks 37 meters high (a little over 100 ft)  Their inventory system was controlled with LabView.  I know some developers that would kill to see the source code for that.  Heck, I’d love to see it and I haven’t used LabView in close to 20 years.
  • Lean Systems/Continuous Improvement Process: Check.  Lego has daily huddle meetings, one of which we walked by.  It was in English, but unfortunately we didn’t get to stop and listen in on it.

One other thing that was interesting about Lego was the efforts they put into reducing their waste steam.  The plastic runners (extra plastic used in the mold to connect each individual brick in the mold) are ground back up and fed back into the supply stream for that molder, resulting in Lego recycling 99.4% of their waste plastic.  

After the factory tour, where we got a cool “I was here” Lego brick, we headed over to Lego’s headquarters for a pair of presentations about Lego.  


The first presentation had a corporate overview and a detailed discussion about Lego and their values.  First and foremost of those values is quality.  And they really mean it.  During one of the breaks, our host showed me a few malformed bricks.  I mentioned that some manfacturers such as Jelly Belly actually sell their factory rejects in special packaging as ‘belly flops’.  and asked if Lego had ever considered something like that.  Short answer: No.  Long answer: Absolutely not, as selling rejects, even clearly sold as such, would undermine the quality of Lego’s brand.

Our host had a couple of exercises for us, both involving Lego’s naturally.  The first was to give each person a small six piece Lego kit without instructions and instructed us to create a duck.  We were only given a minute or so and all 28 of us produced a different style of duck, despite there only being six Lego bricks to work with.  (Some of the ducks were, shall we say, arather abstract.  But the point of how creative you can be with Lego bricks was made.)  The second exercise was more straight-forward, assembling  a small truck from a kit.

Hey, I’d like to see you come up with a better duck in a minute
After a lunch break, we settled in for a presentation on risk management and frank discussion of some of the challenges Lego faced in the 2000s. (and today)  The presented was very lkely and walked us through Porter’s four forces as they applied to Lego.

Lego has many strengths as a brand but they are in a very difficult industry with a product that has very short lifespans and is easy to duplicate.  How easy to duplicate?  The counterfiet package on the right in the picture below started appearing on shelves five weeks after the genuine Lego version was released.  


A couple of other points of note was the intense seasonalty of Lego’s demand.  50% of their sales occur in the 10 weeks leading up to Christmas and 20% in the first three weeks in December.  That makes demand forecasting, in an industry dictated by the fickle tastes of kids, crucial.  But Lego has an ace up its sleeve.  By delaying packaging as late as possible, and locating manufacturing facilities near the markets they serve, Lego can get product from factory floor to store shelves in as little as four days.  This allows them tremendous flexibility in responding to changing demand

The presenter talked in detail about the seven primary processes Lego uses to run their operations.  I will spare you listing all seven, but the key takeaway for me was this line: “Lego is run by processes not people.”  I think that’s a great question to ask about our own companies.  There were many additional insights (like how Lego creates a value proposition for retailers without lowering price) but the processes vs. people is a good thought to end on.

Lego was kind enough to let us keep the duck and truck Lego sets as well as a parting gift of another set.  But while the corporate swag was appreciated, the real gift was the opportunity to see Lego’s production up close and hear an unvarished account of their strengths and weaknesses.

With that, I’ll close out this post as I need to get ready for our Carlsberg presentation today.  At some pont, I’l add a supplimental post about our visit to Legoland.


Day 13: Optimus Duck and More Closed Churches*

*This post had originally been titled ‘Everything is Awesome’ but a ton of people had already done that so I changed mine.

I finally woke up early enough to take my meds and have breakfast! Win!!! Pete jokingly sent me a text message to let me know that there were no meatballs but instead there were Danishes. Haha Pete, very funny!

We were soon at Lego. First we had a production plant tour where we saw the process of how Lego bricks were made. Best of all: ROBOTS! Though these were not cooly named. They run a pretty tight, smooth ship. There is a lot of automation and conveyor belt systems. It was really interesting to hear how they used to not do the different colors there but, for efficiency, they moved that in-house. By this point certain things are starting to appear to be standard, i.e., the morning meeting where shift managers go over any issues from the previous shift. All the companies that are really doing a great job of implementing lean practices appear to be doing similar things an Lego was no different.

After this we went to another office where we had some interesting lectures on the Lego History and their supply chain. I think everyone who just finished Hatfield’s Strategic Management class was groaning internally when the second speaker pulled up Porter’s Five Forces and gave an overview. I kept hearing Hatfield’s voice in the back of my head saying “Porter isn’t enough. In fact, it’s actually pretty bad!” I think that, in the manner that Lego is utilizing such theory, they are doing a good job of using it for the tool that it is. And their numbers speak for themselves – huge growth! However, I wonder how much of that is due to the increased spending capability of people more so than Lego being creativiely strategic. From a supply chain perspective they are kings – they control and can set the price for almost all of their inputs. However it will be interesting to watch how Lego continues to grow (or not grow) as markets change and fluctuate.

But on a final note – we got free Legos! First we got a brick at the plant visit that said “I was here”. Next, we had a timed activity where we were all given 6 brick, 30 seconds, and were told to create a duck. Next, we were given a truck to build. I of course mounted my duck to the top of my truck and declared it Optimus Duck (not to be confused with Ducktimus Prime). But the best thing – at the end we were given a box of Legos! I chose the 3-in-1 that had a truck, boat, and (most excitingly) a helicopter!!! Who says Lego can’t market to girls!

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Next up was Legoland! I admit that I was not too thrilled. Amusement parks are really not my thing – with all the amazing little towns around the area I’d have rather been dropped off to explore one of those for awhile. That said, Legoland was fun. The miniature village at the beginning was fun to see and Pete and I had fun joking about how all the churches were closed (going back to our unsuccessful attempt in Helsinki to find one open). Doing this though meant that we lost sight of everyone else. After his declaration of “I really don’t like rollercoasters” I inadvertently led him onto one. In my defense, the sign did say “Dragon to the Right” because really, how can you NOT go see a dragon? And of course, when it was our turn to get on the ride broke. He was a good sport, though, and we both survived none the worse for wear. After this we met up with some others for a rousing game of Firetruck. I’ll spare you the details but all you need to know is my team lost. We finally ended the day with the ride to Copenhagen. I personally am excited to get there because Ben landed this morning and it’s been two weeks since I’ve seen him!

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