March 19,1998

International Women's Day

EMBA students take a whirl through South-East Asia

by Deborah Morrison

The 29 students in their second and final year of the Executive Master's of Business Administration (EMBA) have just returned from a study trip to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

The students were led by Professor Louis Hébert. The objective of the trip was to examine not only business opportunities, but also business and management practices in the region.

The EMBA program has an active network of alumni around the world. Linda Eunson, class of 1987, works for Digital Equipment Corp., Asia/Pacific, and she helped with one of the sessions in Singapore. Class president Deborah Morrison, who works as coordinator of the CRB Foundation Heritage Project, wrote some of her impressions for The EMBAssador, the program's alumni newsletter.

There were so many aspects of the trip that were eye-openers, sometimes I felt like I had just fallen off a turnip truck! I thought I was going to one place, South-East Asia, but once there, I realized that I was exploring three very different places. One overriding element, however, is the entrepreneurial spirit that pervades the region. Even in Indonesia, where the financial crisis is hardest felt, the people leave you excited about the opportunities for growth.

For many of us, the trip opened our eyes to the portability of our skills, and the multitude of opportunities to apply them.

It consolidated and integrated concepts we have been studying over the past two years, in finance, strategy, entrepreneurship and emerging economies. As I listened to my classmates pose questions during meeting sessions, it was evident that the course work leading up to the trip was being applied.

We were the first year to have the trip as a mandatory part of the program, and at the outset, there was a lot of grumbling about it. However, by the time we hit Kuala Lumpur, everyone I talked to had changed his or her view about the value and the agreeability of the trip. That's quite a testament.

Indonesia: We arrived with trepidation, since all the newspapers en route kept speaking of riots breaking out and armies moving in. However, our three days there were calm. It is a beautiful country, but shows the strains of the economic crisis. Interestingly, almost everyone doing business there remains optimistic. They are in it for the long haul.

Malaysia: Upon arrival in Kuala Lumpur, I was struck by the construction. Everywhere, there is hammering and sawing - 140-storey buildings with design and elegance that only a cheap labour pool and forgiving climate permit. We were staying across the street from the famous Twin Towers (highest buildings in the world - at least for the next couple of weeks). Malaysia is much more mountainous and lush than I imagined, but its attractiveness is also economic and political.

The economic crisis is just as palpable. You get the impression of a country poised on the edge of a razor blade. But it has a stability and security that were lacking in Indonesia. Its political leadership is extraordinarily strong and well supported by business, society and laws. Its ability to spin confidence seems to be keeping investors interested. Singapore: Quite honestly, by the time we hit Singapore I thought I had overdosed on briefings about the Asian financial crisis. Singapore was, well, pretty much Toronto with different faces and more cleanliness.

We'd spent the last week or so listening to Malaysian and Indonesian interests talk about Singapore as a source of support and strength for regional recovery; yet here, all the experts would tell us was that they couldn't see how they could recover without the help of the Americans and the international community.

There's a weird sense of Big Brother about the place. Almost every presenter spoke of Singaporean life with the same mantra: "It is a true democracy. We have chosen as a society to sacrifice some of our freedoms for other freedoms like safety and security." I ran every morning we were in Singapore before the sun rose, and it's true, it is perhaps the most safe and affirming city on earth, but it simply doesn't have the heart, the personality, the excitement of the other places we had been. Besides, the prices were exorbitant.

Copyright 1998 Thursday Report
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