Monthly Archives: August 2012

To the Minnesota State Fair, then Up North

Detail, blue-ribbon winner in beadwork, Minnesota State Fair

On Thursday the 22nd I flew north to Minnesota.  Time once again to visit the Minnesota State Fair.  Regular readers know that I never miss it, an opportunity to connect with a lot that is good about my native state.  Picked up a Hertz car and zoomed to Bob Woehrle’s house, two miles east of the fairgrounds.  Quickly changed into shorts, grabbed my camera, and hopped on bikes (what a great way to get there, no parking hassles).   We were inside the fine-arts show by 4:25, and less than an hour I bought a great oil painting, a total Minnesota scene titled “Waiting for Swimmers, Long Lake”:

Our house is filled with original art from the fair, and it will be a great addition.  Check and done, so we headed down the street for a beer and a yak.  Bob is good with words, and every time I see him he issues a couple of memorable phrases; that afternoon it was “more angles than geometry,” a reference to a schemer he knows!

Refreshed, we plunged into the Creative Activities building; my fair visits follow a strict formula, and stop #2 is always a chance to see the panoply of crafts; that day we spotted a couple of new categories, admiring blue ribbons in beadwork and, yes, teddy bears.  Members of the Minnesota Quilting Society, including Kathryn Nelson (below), were plying their craft and answering questions from the curious, like your scribe.

 

Kathryn Nelson

Stop #3, the Agriculture building, a mixed bag of gifts from the earth: cultivators of African violets, creators of crop art (a portrait of Elvis made entirely from seeds and grains), the state’s largest pumpkin, and ribbon-winning tomatoes, zucchini, onions, and more.  New for 2012 was a sampling stand – a fairly large installation actually – of the Minnesota Craft Brewers’ Guild.  For eight bucks you got four small glasses of different beers from the same genre – Bob chose darks and I went with hoppy ones, pale ales mostly.  Yum!

Fortified, we headed toward the animal barns, stopping at the All the Milk You Can Drink booth, where I downed “three whites and one chocolate.”   Then into the animal barns, rabbits first, then sheep.  As I always do, I grabbed a handful of fleece from a table, and encouraged Bob to do likewise.  After about five nuzzles of sheep chins and ears, softly saying “Doo doo doo,” the nonsensical term of endearment I use with MacKenzie, Bob said “you have this kinship with animals don’t you?”  That propelled me into an elegy about domestication, truly one of humankind’s greatest feats, and something I ponder, and thank God for, every time I visit the fair.  As I’ve said before, I just wish that, in general, modern agriculture (and we who are consumers) treated those gifts better.

Judging Chickens

We stopped for one more beer, then found our bikes and rode home.  It was a splendid outing, one of the better – of dozens of trips – to the fair.   Back at Bob’s, I did a bit of work, and fell hard to sleep on their comfy living-room couch.

Bob and Paula’s verdant side garden

Bob and I are both early risers, so we had coffee brewed and into a yak by six on Friday morning.  His wife Paula joined us for a bowl of cereal.  At 7:30 I hopped in the car and headed north, bound for the lake cabin (a house, really) of pal-since-1963 Tim McGlynn and his partner Sue Pehrson.  The visit was becoming an annual after-the-Fair tradition, three years of the past four.  Driving north, I wondered whether it made sense, because I could only stay 24 hours, but as soon as I pulled into their pine-lined driveway and looked down on Big Trout Lake, I knew I was in the right place, all the more so after the first few minutes with dear friends.  Tim is maybe the best-informed person I know, a critic of the goofiness in commerce and politics that also makes me crazy.  So we always have a lot to talk about.

 

Another view of “my office,” here on the screened porch of Tim’s cabin

Tim’s cabin, Big Trout Lake, Crow Wing County, Minnesota

My pals Tim and Sue on the dock

At one, we hopped in the boat and motored through a chain of lakes to lunch at a dockside tavern and more yakking.  High point of the day was an 18-mile bike ride with Tim and Sue, a great loop through the woods and past lakes – it’s not wilderness, but the water and air are clean.  We needed to cool down, so we put on swim trunks and dove into the lake.   Then grabbed some beers and planted ourselves on chairs at the end of their dock.  The distinctive cry of the loon punctuated our conversation.  We felt both hugely fortunate and quite lazy – we sat by the water from 5:30 until after the sun went down, three hours later.  Ate a salad and a bowl of ice cream with strawberries, and was asleep by 9:45.

 

Flowers in Tim’s and Sue’s garden, ablaze in the evening sun

 

Three loons at sunset, Big Trout Lake

Woke up early Saturday morning, cleaned up, made some coffee, and sat on the porch overlooking the lake.  Hugged Sue and Tim at 8:45 and hopped in the car, aimed south to Minneapolis.   The drive back was faster, even with patches of heavy rain.   I had nearly an hour before meeting nephew Evan for lunch, so I filled the time with a nice stop at the house of long friends Phil and Deb Ford.  It was a speedy yak, but we got up to date, and they showed me a nice home-expansion project that will yield a guest bedroom – naturally I invited myself for some future dates!

Evan and I had a sandwich and fries at Sun Street Bread, a new bakery-café in South Minneapolis.  After not seeing him for nearly a decade, two visits in less than two months felt really good.  He’s a great young man, huge work ethic, and a plan to succeed in screenwriting and film.  He just might do it!

Flew home at four, happy to have an agreeable seatmate, Mary Jo, another transplanted Minnsotan; she has been a real estate agent in Dallas for many years.  Got home at 7:30, but the house was way too empty (Linda was with the girls in D.C., and MacKenzie was with our friend Consuelo).

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And on to Chile

We landed in Santiago just after 8 pm on Sunday the 6th.  The three ATMs in the arrival hall were not working, ugh, but luckily I still had a few dollars and 50 Argentine pesos, and converted them.  Hopped on the Bus Azul to Pajaritos station, then line 1 of the Metro to Santa Lucia, a neighborhood just east of downtown.  As much as I appreciated SABF friends taking me from and to the airport, it felt good to be self-reliant, and back on public transit (the ride into town cost less than $3).  My hosts had offered a choice: hotel or apartment, and I took the latter.  Walked a couple of blocks up Avenida Santa Lucia to number 282.  After a bit of confusion, Pablo the building concierge greeted me and escorted me to apartment 41.  “Wow,” I said, as Pablo flipped on the lights in a huge, well-appointed two-bedroom apartment.  It was way too big for a small gringo, but it was a great choice.

As happens frequently in Latin America, I whispered “thanks, Don Miguel” (he was my first Spanish teacher; see earlier posts for the nice story) as Pablo walked me through the apartment, explaining how everything worked in his language.  Rodrigo, who owned the flat, e-mailed me that he was providing some breakfast fixings; it was late and I was tired, and rather than heading out for a light meal I buttered four slices of toast and fell into deep sleep.

The view from “my” desk, Avenida Santa Lucia 282, Santiago de Chile

After four busy mornings it felt good to wake up past seven, make coffee, and potter about the apartment, admiring the view of the park across the street, built on Cerro (hill) Santa Lucia. Unlike the new accommodation website AirBnB, which has profiles of host and guest, I could only infer a few things about Rodrigo from the furnishings and stuff in the kitchen.  A picture of a soccer team was the sole photo.  There were a lot of masks from tribes around the world, an interesting range of books (from Isabel Allende to American self-improvement volumes), and in the kitchen a small jar of Kama Sutra chocolate body paint!

About 9:30 I left the apartment, hopped on the Metro south to the San Joaquín campus of Universidad Católica.  It was my tenth annual visit, and it was good to be back.  Met my longtime UC host Andrés Ibañez, who with a bunch of his B-school colleagues was watching a Chilean gymnast narrowly miss winning a bronze medal, which would have been their first of the XXX Olympiad.  Bummer.

At 11:30 my autumn teaching term began, with a presentation on airline marketing to an undergraduate class.  At one we headed to a simple lunch and a good catch-up, then hopped on the Metro back to the apartment.  Did some work, took a short nap, and at six walked a few blocks to the older, original UC campus to deliver a talk on airline advertising to a lively group of MBA students.  It felt good to be back in the classroom.  Met my MBA host, Hernán Palacios, for a caloric Italian dinner at Squidritto, very near the apartment.   He and Andrés brought me up to speed on the Chilean economy and nation – one that I admire greatly; it is a well-managed place, with strong growth that has lifted living standards over the more than four decades that I have visited.

Tuesday morning and early afternoon was a repeat, with a pricing lecture in San Joaquín, another quick lunch, short nap, and some work.  At three I walked downtown, around La Moneda, the presidential palace, then onto the Metro to Costanera Center, a brand-new shopping mall that perfectly shows Chile’s rising living standards.  Several Chileans suggested I see it – it was the largest in Latin America, beneath the still-rising skyscraper that will be the tallest on the continent.  All the global brands were there, neatly arranged.  Check and done.

Detail from one of the fine, older government buildings in central Santiago

 

Inside Costanera Center

Headed back to “my neighborhood,” to a crafts market, in search of a traditional Andean sweater for Jack (there was no way I’d find such a traditional garment in the mall!).  Found two possibilities quickly, in a small stall belonging to Carolina, a friendly young woman.  Prices were so low ($12-25) that I could not in good conscience bargain.  Snapped iPhone pictures, and told her I would return Wednesday after e-mailing them to Jack.

Then I set out on a mission.  Santiago is full of street dogs, many of which look hungry and almost all forlorn.  The need to execute the mission became clear when I saw this table outside the MBA classroom the day before, then the stenciled message earlier Tuesday:

As I did in 2011 in nearby Valparaíso, I bought three pounds of dog food.  And right outside the Unimarc supermarket on Avenida Portugal I met the first hungry friends.  They were standing next to a couple of young people who had simple wares arrayed on the sidewalk.  I think at first I surprised them, and in another Gracías, Don Miguel moment I had a nice conversation with them.  As I walked away, the young woman said in English, “You are nice people.”  Maybe just a small rebalancing of an image of the U.S. (and its people)  that is often just so awful — two days earlier a racist gunman opened fire in a Sikh temple.

 

Street dog waiting patiently to cross the Alameda

At 8:30 I met Tomás Gonzales for dinner.  It was a nice bit of serendipity – when I arrived Santiago on Sunday evening I had a Facebook message from him, asking if I was heading to Chile.  We met at Patagonia, a rustic gastropub I visit every year.  We had a great yak and a nice meal.  He was working for LAN and enjoying his first five months in the airline business.

I was back on the San Joaquín campus Wednesday morning, distributing the last of the dog food, then into an undergrad class.  Sr. Palacios was the host, but he had a conflict, so I introduced myself and launched in.  The students clearly seemed relaxed without a teacher, and the class was the liveliest of the four.  Toward the end, admiring the crucifix that is found in all UC classrooms, I announced to laughter and applause that “Jesus is my co-pilot.”  His leadership by example and lessons on strong values are things every B-school student should learn, regardless of faith.

Some images of my co-pilot, from a mural in the Department of Theology at UC

 

On the way from Wednesday class, this kid’s sweatshirt naturally caught my eye. I stopped to ask him about it. He was a high school exchange student in far northern Minnesota, and returned on a university exchange at my alma mater.

Two students walked me back to the Metro.  One hopped on and rode with me back into the center.  Marcelo told me a bit about his life.  His father was a veterinarian and they had lived in the U.S. for awhile, in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  It was a pleasant ride, punctuated by the unpleasant experience of pepper spray in the Baquedano station; Marcelo said it was a student protest.  We parted at the Tobalaba station.

I flagged a cab, and got taken for a ride; whether or not the elderly driver truly did not recognize my destination, clearly spoken in his language and shown on my iPhone, we took a looping route.  But we got there, there being the apartment of young Chilean friends Felipe and Cota Recart, and their 11-month-old son Simón.  Cota was big pregnant on my last visit, and it was great fun to see them as doting parents.  The lad was a smiling, happy baby, and I think he took a liking to Rob el Gringo, as I have long been known to Cota’s family.  We had a great lunch and good catch-up.  Felipe headed back to work on his bike, I took the Metro into the center, bought the sweater Jack chose, hopped the Metro and bus to the airport, and flew home to Texas.

Felipe and Simón Recart

 

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To Buenos Aires for the 8th South American Business Forum

Workshop, South American Business Forum, Buenos Aires, August 4, 2012

On the first day of August I drove into downtown Dallas for lunch with Christa Hinckley, an aviation lawyer and former colleague at American Airlines.  It was great to see her after more than a decade.  I then headed to the airport and south to Buenos Aires, to join, once again, the South American Business Forum (SABF), a student-run conference in which, after six years, I am deeply vested.

After clearing customs, I met up with Matías Spanier, a SABF stalwart and co-director of the 2011 program.  He was a little baggy-eyed, because he had returned just a day earlier from a long trip to New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia, and was full of great stories.  We soon found my old pal Rick Dow, arriving from Chicago.  I finally managed to convince another norteamericano to join me; and not just any gringo – Rick, with whom I worked 25 years earlier at Northwest Airlines, has had a huge career in marketing, across several brands.   A few minutes later, we collected Nora Brown, the COO of the Global Business School Network (and colleague of Guy Pfeffermann, a fellow I met at Umeå University in 2011 and invited to the SABF), and headed into town.  We had a good chat in the car (I had not met Nora before), dropped her at a fancier hotel, and headed to the Waldorf, where the conference students stay.  Happily, rooms were ready, time for a quick shower.

I volunteered to serve as Rick’s tour guide for an afternoon look-see.  The weather was poor, but we were hopeful.  First stop, lunch and a couple of beers at Bar Dorrego in San Telmo.  It was great to catch up with Rick; though I consider him a close friend, most contact is by e-mail and phone, and we’ve probably only seen each other ten times since I left Northwest in 1987.  We had a good yak across a lot of topics.  Our business and social values are aligned, and I had forgotten about his great smarts, huge articulacy, and big sense of humor.  Two hours on, it was still pelting, so we headed back to the hotel for what grandfathers often do: afternoon naps.

Rick Dow

At five, I walked a few blocks to see the new world headquarters of Streema, an Internet startup of longtime SABF organizers Martín Siniawski and Juan Trouilh (it was Juan’s informal invitation in 2005, at a similar conference in New York, which started my long association with the forum).  Streema had just moved into larger quarters, big enough for at least one of the fixtures of high-tech firms, a ping pong table.  After introducing me to the team (now about eight young ‘net wizards), Juan suggested a game of ping pong.  I had not played in about a decade, but quickly got into the groove – hand-eye coordination was decent, but pivoting on my gimpy knees was a little tough.  Still, I managed to sort of hold my own in both singles and doubles.

Argentina showed its wealth in the early 20th century through solid commercial buildings like this one; the city is a trove of great old architecture.

Juan Trouilh and Martin Siniawski, formidale table tennis opponents

Eighty years later, Peron lives on, to the detriment of genuine development

Headed back to the hotel, and at 6:15 introduced Rick to Martín and Juan, and we headed around the corner to Dadá, an agreeable and totally local bar and restaurant.  Martín’s girlfriend Valeria joined us and we had a wonderful dinner; I never eat industrial, corn-fed steaks at home, but grass-fed Argentine beef is outstanding, and the ojo de bife was superb, as was a great bottle of Malbec.  The last task of the day happened at 10:15, a sort-of surprise visit to the SABF volunteer team, set up in a small conference room in the hotel.  Pep talk, thanks, high-fives, and it was off to bed.

With friends from Ghana, Greece, and Argentina

The conference kicked off on Friday morning, and Rick and I immediately plunged into the crowd, introducing ourselves to Gabriela and Guadalupe from Paraguay, Bhekimpilo from Zimbabwe, Christabel from Ghana, and many more, as well as hugs and kisses to old and new SABF organizers.  The plenary session began; high point was a wonderful talk by a French economist, Guy Sorman, whose explanation of economic development – and its preconditions – were as concise and clear as I’ve ever heard.

There was a wonderful small-world moment at lunch.  Next to me was Roxana Víquez, a conference speaker from Costa Rica.  I mentioned I was from Minnesota, and she said she had worked for H.B. Fuller, a St. Paul-based adhesives manufacturer with a strong presence in Costa Rica.  I mentioned that we once knew an executive, Lars Carlson; she smiled and replied, “He was my boss.”

The afternoon was at once long and short, some great speakers, with concluding remarks from Diego Luzuriaga, another longtime friend of SABF.  Off to dinner, more great chatter.  I moderated a workshop on Saturday morning.  Mid-morning, the students headed off to visit some offices, and Rick and I jumped in a taxi and headed to La Boca, the touristy but fun (and colorful) old quarter west of downtown.  We ambled around, grabbed a coffee, and headed back in time for lunch.   Across from me was Julia from the South Tyrol, a semi-autonomous region in northeastern Italy, and she provided a great introduction to a region I had long admired but never visited.  Her pride in place was remarkable, but she said most people from there feel the same way.  In addition to a good geography lesson, it was a joy to exchange personal information, to learn about her parents and my children and grandchildren, and, of course, our dogs.  iPhones were handed back and forth!

Fancy shutters . . .

And simple ones

Frieze, Luna Park auditorium

A couple more sessions Saturday afternoon.  I headed back to the hotel to work on my remarks for the next day, returning to the small campus of ITBA, the host institution, in time for a homemade pizza dinner.  At nine, we all walked back to the hotel.  The students were headed out to party, but Rick and I zipped across the street and sat at the bar of a traditional restaurant for a couple of drinks and lots of laughs (he’s got a lot of great slang, for example, introducing me to “land manatees,” a nice phrase for tubby people).

Sunday morning was given over to a noisy team-building exercise, then lunch, then it was my turn.  Stand and deliver.  Like 2011, the organizers asked me to provide concluding remarks and moderate a question period.  I wanted to let the students do most of the talking, but I also tried to impart some life lessons about the importance of values, the need to lead by example, and the power of serving others.  And just like that, zip, the 2012 SABF was over.  Unlike the previous year, I had to leave quickly, and I was sorry to do that, but managed to give a few last hugs, and, especially, to meet several sets of parents of conference organizers, lauding their kids and saluting their service.  They all beamed with pride.

Josué Gil, a young former SABFer, drove Rick and I back to the airport.  We said goodbye, abrazos, and I was alone.  I’m used to that, but after four days of intense interaction it felt a bit odd.  I recalled some wisdom from Rick a few days earlier: he counseled solitude as a way to make our interactions more effective.

So as I jumped through the customary predeparture hoops and onto LAN 418 to Santiago, I thought about what I had seen and learned at the SABF.  A lot, but here are three things.  First, each time I help out, I feel closer and more tied to the conference, the host ITBA, and the committed young Argentines who make it a success.  They have become like family.  Second, the forum always yields introductions to some memorable youngsters, some, like Bhekimpilo from Zimbabwe, with accounts of struggle that make my life seem so easy.  Third, I got to glimpse into the future.  I likely won’t be above ground in 30 years, but the students I met will be, and I feel good about their ability to take on and solve problems that we have handed them.

>> For more photos from the 8th SABF, visit the South American Business Forum pages on Facebook

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Running Water, 1972 and 2012

Regular readers know that I celebrate milestones and keep track of anniversaries of various kinds.  It’s one of the afflictions of clear long-term memory (though like lots of people north of 60, short-term recall occasionally wobbles).  So it was that on Sunday, August 5, I noted the 40th anniversary of a moment seemingly commnplace, mundane.  On August 5, 1972 — it was a Saturday, late afternoon — I walked into a small public bathroom in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and washed my face.  The faucet issued little more than a trickle, but it was enough to clean, and I hadn’t washed my face for 60 hours, since leaving the YMCA in Nairobi.  The joy of clean hands and face!  And for 40 years, I have thought of that moment often, giving thanks for clean water, to wash, to drink.  “Never take anything for granted” is a guiding principle.

And it’s good to think of water as precious.  So it was on Monday, August 6, in the lovely apartment the university provided me in Santiago, Chile, when I used a glass mug to rinse my razor, because the sink had no stopper.   I’m not trying to be pious, nor a scold, but another guiding idea is that we can use less and still live well.

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