Monday, May 08, 2006

Thursday, May 4 - Back Home at UC Davis

I am just back hardly having had time to absorb three weeks of traveling. I don't yet know what it all means, or what it can lead to.

I do know that business is a powerful institutional force globally. It organizes interests and dreams, whether in Italy or Iran, and assists or thwarts their realization depending on the social and political structures in place.

"Peace Through Commerce" is an initiative of the AACSB-International--the business school accreditation organization--and, perhaps, trade and exchange can play a role in stabilizing global relations.

I also know that personal commitment makes the difference, not polemics.

I have been moved by the generosity and tenacity of Reza Abbaszadeh a Sacramento businessman whose vision has made our trip possible. He has put in his time, contacts and money in hopes of giving Iranian and U.S. students the opportunity to learn from each other.

At the least, on this trip I have made a new and valued friend whose example will inspire me to do more and better.

Wednesday, May 3 - Coming Home

Reza and I leave for the airport at 1:00 a.m. for a 4:00 a.m. flight on Emirates Airlines. We fly through the night to Dubai, where we have a layover before heading for Paris. Reza will go to London before heading home, and I will return to California.

The consulate official has asked us to stop by on our way through. We have a several hour layover and this is possible. To avoid the lengthy security check she meets us in the cafeteria--only one level of security--and we sit at a table for four.

She has had a meeting with a young American academic and administrator at the American University of Sharja in Dubai. He is an economist iand teaches in their MBA program and she thought we might enjoy meeting each other.

Peter is animated and speaks about the Dubai economy as exciting. It is a boomtown under construction--25 percent of the world's construction cranes are in Dubai now. The world's tallest building is under construction. It is the largest transhipment point for cars moving west to east.

Money is everywhere but it is not all oil money. He surprises us by saying that manufacturing is the largest industry here, and that the Dubai economy runs on cheap labor, not oil. Laborers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere make U.S.$200 a month plus food and housing.

The UAE government has been cracking down on labor conditions which have been awful in some instances. Still, the workers come and the economy prospers. Dubai is a magnet for people with a variety of skills, from headhunting and finance to operations management and web design.

Peter says Dubai is a good place to raise his children and the expat community is interesting and diverse. On weekends his family travels widely in the region thanks to low airfares.
He expects to return to the U.S., but for now this is an exciting time to be in Dubai.

He expects that in 15 years Dubai will have established itself as the financial and educational center of the Middle East. He is building a part of the academic infrastructure and having a good time doing it. Always on the lookout for partnerships, he wonders what we might do together.

I wonder if UC Davis MBA students would like to do a study tour of the region.

Our visit with the consular official is cordial and helpful. She gives us some tips. Reza and I leave optimistic.

Friday, May 05, 2006

May 3 - Touring Tehran

My last day in Tehran included sightseeing and an official dinner. I started out after an early breakfast of a feta-type cheese, flat bread, small cucumbers that Iranians eat like fruit, and assorted melons. I try carrot jelly, which is surprisingly good.

My tour guides today are Payam, Elham and Azin. Payam Pardis is in his mid-twenties and graduated with a degree in biomedical engineering. After working at a medical technology firm in Tehran, he joined Reza's dental insurance company. Payam does a wide variety of management tasks and is frequently in India acting for Reza in his BPO—business process organization—where they do support work for the dental insurance company. His English is first rate and he has an easy, charming way about him. Reza would like him to work in the Sacramento office also, but his visa has not come through.

Azin Arya is a quiet young woman just finishing her degree at Sharif. She will be heading to Paris to enter a telecommunications Ph.D. program. Azin is nervous about the language and the cultural change, although she has an uncle there who will provide a temporary home.

Elham Moore—no, she is not Irish, it is pronounced like moor—is finishing her engineering degree also. She will be applying to architecture school because she wants to do interior design. Elham is fashionable and fluent and points out the trends and cool neighborhoods.

These two young women are intellectually gifted, having both finished in the top 40 of the konkours exam taken by more than a million peers. They will be successful wherever they end up.

We take off for northern Tehran which abuts a snow-covered mountain range. It reminds me of Snowmass, Colorado, where the village hugs the base. Only here it is a city of 12 million flowing south from the slopes. The sight is marred only by the substantial smog.

The areas closest to the mountains are most fashionable and have the best air quality. It includes leafy shopping districts with some foreign goods. I am surprised at the strapless gowns and revealing fashions, but Elham says that one can wear what one likes at home or at private parties. Iranians of affluence party well, she assures me.

We head to a bazaar area where I ask for a spice shop. I am able to purchase saffron, a curry blend, a citrusy spice I have just encountered and a few other treats to bring home. I hope that the agricultural inspector at customs will approve. It is a fun experience being crowded into a small, fragrant shop with Iranian housewives.

We take off for the Shah's palace. It occupies several acres of parkland. It is white and simple, but large. I am surprised that it is poorly maintained and I wonder if that is a reflection of the feelings toward his regime, or just a budget decision.

Iran is blessed with mineral resources such as oil and gas, but also with marble. The interior of the palace has beautiful marble floors and steps throughout in many colors and patterns. The most magnificent furnishings are the Persian rugs which are of a size and quality I have never before seen. I see the dining room where President Carter had dinner.

Payam, Aziz, Elham and I have lunch on a terraced restaurant hanging on the mountain. It is a perfect day for eating outdoors and I enjoy their easy companionship and youthful energy. They laugh, overhearing the group of women office workers at the table next to us, who are all poking fun at their in-laws.

We head back to the Azadi Grand Hotel and I wish them well. They have all the tools for happiness and prosperity, and I hope that politics do not get in their way.

My co-traveler Reza and I spend the evening with the president of Sharif University and his top administrative team of deans and vice presidents. The occasion has a ritual air. We agree on the importance of continued contacts and discuss possible future trips. We are all hopeful that the door will open to our proposed student exchange, a small effort but perhaps a doable one given the current political situation.

I am determined to try.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Tuesday, May 2 - Tehran's Sharif University of Technology

Each year some 1.3 million Iranian students take the college entrance examination and their scores dictate their future learning opportunities. About 200,000 will go on to college. The top 800—a very elite few—will have the choice to go to Sharif University of Technology.

Sharif is sometimes called the MIT or Cal Tech of Iran but it may more accurately be described as the UC of Iran. The President has a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley and most of the several department chairs that I met have degrees from UC Davis, UC San Diego or have done sabbatical at a UC campus. I’am truly awed by the global reach of the University of California.

Reza Abbaszadeh and I are here to meet prospective students for a quarter-long exchange at the UC Davis Graduate School of Managment. UC Davis is held in high esteem here and there is general excitement about this possibility should the U.S. visa approvals come through.

We spent a long day meeting 12 candidates: four women and eight men who are completing their first MBA year. They are uniformly bright and I am surprised at the high level of English competence of the majority. Most have not been out of Iran or have only had brief trips to Europe but they speak English colloquially and with American, not British accents. The quality of language education must be high in Iran.

Like our MBA students, they have work experience. All have technical backgrounds and they have been working as industrial engineers, doing operations and construction project management and pursuing other careers that take advantage of their technology training. They have worked in both large and small firms. One is a passionate pianist and cello player. Another has played on the national basketball team. They express their frustration with the level of management skill at their places of work and often cite that as their reasons for getting an MBA.

Sharif University is based on the American model of higher education. It is organized into semesters, the faculty members are largely U.S.-trained, they use the top U.S. textbooks and cases, and all instruction is in English. It is perhaps not surprising that they want to experience the sources of their educational experience directly.

They use the language of modern business and talk about SWOT diagrams, CRM, supply chains and performance appraisal systems.

Some have nearly memorized the Graduate School of Management’s Web site and speak about specific professors and student clubs.

I am so moved by this yearning to experience, even briefly, what is our daily life. I wonder what will happen when the words in our texts and the pictures on Voice of America television become real in a new way. Will they be disappointed in us? Inspired to make changes in Iran? Or perhaps overwhelmed by the gulf between our economies? I hope we find out.

May 1 – Tehran Time Machine

Flying from ultramodern Dubai to Tehran is like flying in a time machine—backwards. The city of 12 million reminded me of Istanbul in the 1960s when I had been an exchange student there (but is now a much more modern place). Tehran seems to have stopped the clock with the revolution and rejection of Western ways and global connections.

Reza and I had rooms in the former Tehran Grand Hyatt, now the Azadi Grand, and it is a museum of 1970s decor. It has the same wallpaper, furnishings, fixtures it had then—and this is the best hotel in the city. The Azadi Grand is owned by a foundation that has state control and support. This is how much of business activity in Iran is organized. About 80 percent of GDP is directly or indirectly state controlled.

No one seems to think that this control is ideological—as under socialism—but its rather a matter of politics and political control. The city is very much alive with traffic and crowds of shoppers, but the goods are largely local. Even cars with European names are shipped as kits and assembled in Iran. The food is local and wonderful. There are beautiful mounds of fava beans and fruits, of fresh fish and flat breads nicely displayed.

Iran has the world’s second largest reserves of natural gas and fifth largest of crude oil, but the money is not showing up obviously in the streets of the capital. The kinds of infrastructure one would expect with oil wealth are not being spent on public goods. The contrast with Dubai is striking.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

April 30 – Touch Down in Tehran

I must admit a heightened sense of awareness—not concern or anxiety—as we landed in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Despite the political tensions between the U.S. and Iran, I had no worry that my stay at Sharif University of Technology would be anything but cordial and interesting.

As a Western woman I was more concerned about observing the gender norms of this Islamic society, particularly with respect to dress and social relations.

Women must observe hejab or modest dress. This means covering the head with a scarf or shawl, and wearing a loose fitting outfit that covers the body. An Iranian friend who had been in Tehran less than a year ago told me to wear pants, socks, a raincoat, any scarf I liked—and no makeup.

Apparently, things have changed in the past few months. The fashionable women deplaning from shopping in Dubai wore sandals and high heels—no socks—and colorful scarves. They wore light coats or manteau (French for coat but really here a knee-length dress worn over pants) and they were not particularly loose. Some were wearing capri pants and showing a bit of leg. They wore makeup.

It was clear that my raincoat while correct would not cut it. I thought that it would do when I was out in public. I would wear it but at Sharif I could wear business clothes. But school is public space and I could not take off my coat. I would die of heatstroke if another solution were not found.

A quick trip to a clothing store and I was outfitted with a black manteau that would be comfortable and unobtrusive. Only one more mistake: while I could shake hands with women my preferred hand was correctly refused by the first man I encountered in a public setting. On the other hand, if it were a private space, men would shake my hand cordially as in the West. I am learning.

Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, men have not typically worn ties as they have a Western association and open collared shirts are the norm even with business suits.

Women and girls over the age of nine wore all sorts of head covering. While fashionable women in Tehran wore designer scarves, the everyday choice for most is a solid covered headpiece that stays in place on the head and covers the shoulders. I soon realized why this was popular as I was frequently adjusting my scarves so that they didn't slip and slide.

Women interpret hejab in numerous ways. Religious women wear cape-like swaths of billowing black but do not cover their faces. Young women wear faded jeans with sandals or athletic shoes and manteau in different colors. In some instances, the manteau are tight indeed. These are the public dress habits, but strapless gowns and tank tops in the windows reveal that there is another side to life when in private.

How did I feel about wearing a head covering? I can answer that in different ways. Certainly, my personal values chafe when any class of people is mandated toward rules they do not participate in making. As a sociologist, however, I realize that I can participate best in a social setting when I blend in as much as possible, when my dress and manners do not call attention to themselves.

My visit to Tehran is about making connections with Iranian colleagues and trying to create a linkage that would bring young MBA students from Sharif to UC Davis. My dress is an incidental consideration when I think of the value of introducing my students to the Sharif students at an unstable moment in both nations' history.

April 29 – Dubai: Paving the Way for Student Exchange

The day started with the sort of hotel breakfast buffet that one sees in business hotels—a choice of hot and cold cereal, eggs and breads. But I knew I was not in Sacramento when I was offered a choice of camel milk. Reza and I gave camel's milk rice pudding a try. Not bad.

Reza Abbaszadeh and I had flown six hours from the beautiful old European capital of Paris with its historic buildings and associations to Dubai, a city in the United Arab Emirates that had barely existed 25 years ago. It is the visionary risk management project of an emeritate hedging against the day when oil will run out. When that happens, Dubai—a combination trading-financing-entertainment-shopping city—will be firmly in place providing an income to generations of Emirati, as locals are called.

We had several hours before our appointment at the U.S. Consulate, so we went to see a bit of this newly constructed entrepôt in the desert. We started with the much-discussed Emirates Mall. It is three stories tall and filled with every sort of luxury brand you can think of—Gucci, Piaget, Prada—as well as Carrefour, a French grocery and household goods store. One could outfit a house or buy a cruise. Most surprisingly, one could ski!

There is a long slope with groomed, man-made snow and ice sculptures for good measure. People were sledding, snowboarding and otherwise disregarding the fact that they live in the desert. One had the sense, after visiting the mall that money could defy nature, at least for awhile. Indeed, drinking water is produced by desalinization plants.

Dubai has a Knowledge Village where companies like Cisco, Intel and Samsung are clustered. There is a Health Care City with modern hospital, dental, physiotherapy and related services. Under development is an academic territory where local, European and American institutions of higher education are setting up partnerships and outposts. They are betting that Dubai will become a learning center for the Middle East. The consulate told us that Harvard was considering a site.

Reza and I were on time for our consulate appointment, but there were layers of security to negotiate. Our cab had to run a slalom course designed to slow down vehicles. Three different security stops checked our identification and screened us. It took 15 minutes to make it up to the consulate offices.

We had a meeting with the economic and political consul, the officer in charge of visas, and a young woman who advises students seeking to study in the U.S. The three of them were cordial and asked about the exchange we were hoping to achieve. Who were the students? Why did they want to come to the U.S.? Who would pay their expenses? Would they receive a degree? They were concerned that the students have an incentive to return to Iran.

They told us how the approval process works. First, UC Davis has to get a license from the U.S. Treasury Department. The Treasury Department?

Trade with Iran is strictly limited to medical supplies, agricultural goods, rugs and a few other items. Information exchange is permitted and the Iranian students we hope to educate will be "importing" information back that an American scholarship has paid for. Hence the need for a license to trade to make sure that the "goods" are legal. I am sure there is logic to this but it was not immediately obvious to me.

They were, I think, persuaded that this program holds no harm to U.S. foreign policy and spent two hours with us. But they were clear about their need to enforce the law. When young students from countries with high unemployment rates want to come to the U.S. they exercise great scrutiny over their applications.

It struck me as ironic that Canada is creating incentives for talented people and those with financial resources to emigrate there while the U.S. creates obstacles as a matter of policy.

Monday, May 01, 2006

April 29 – Dubai: A Glittering City in the Desert

I met Reza Abbaszadeh as planned at the Emirates Airline counter in Paris and we proceeded through security to our plane to Dubai. It was a comfortable six-hour flight and we arrived after midnight very early Saturday morning. The walk from the gate to baggage claim was amazingly long, and even more amazing was the sense that we had landed in a shopping mall. The shops were absolutely bustling with people of all sorts in every imaginable dress, from shorts to saris to flowing Saudi robes. I guess this evening was the equivalent of our Sunday night before going to work on Monday. In the UAE, (United Arab Emirates) Thursday and Friday are the weekend and Saturday is a work day.

Arriving at night, it was hard to get more than a sense of a city with many skyscrapers all lit up. It reminded me of Singapore at night especially as the two cities are compact, on the water and have tanker ports. In fact, Dubai is positioning itself to be like Singapore and Hong Kong, places where people meet, and deals are made and financed for global companies.

By day Dubai looks like Las Vegas, a glittering city in the desert, very modern and obviously constructed in a very short period. There is no layering of new and old. There is a Health Care City district, a Knowledge Village area where high-tech firms such as Cisco, Samsung and H-P congregate, and a developing academic district with domestic and international colleges. Everything seems to have its place in a much larger scheme.

Much of Dubai is under construction. It is growing in every direction including up. What is most amazing is that only 15 percent of the population is "Emirati" or locals. The economy is run by foreigners, with many Indians, Phillipinos, Chinese, Europeans and Africans visible.

I have never been to a more international city. If the buildings under construction now are full in five years this will be something of a miracle in the desert. I would love to come back and see how it all works out. People are coming from everywhere to be part of the action, which is why universities are setting up shop here just as they have in China.

I wonder if UC should consider a presence in this part of the world.

Friday, April 28 – Plugging in in Paris

Tomorrow I will meet Reza Abbaszadeh and together we will head off to Dubai to keep an appointment with the U.S. Consulate before our final destination -- Tehran. Today I reorganized after two weeks of traveling.

I decided to recharge all of my electronic gadgets and had my Blackberry, iPod and laptop juiced. But what about my digital camera? Where was the cord? Each of these gadgets demands a different way to spoon in the electrons and I didn't have the Kodak spoon the day before heading to Dubai.

I set off to find a camera store and found two large ones not too far away. They looked something like Circuit City and had everything electric from hair dryers and microwaves to home stereos and digital cameras. Many, many cords, but not the right one.

I thought about how many standards and conventions we have in the marketplace, from electric cords and plugs to operating systems for computers. The standards divide and organize the market at first, competing with each other and eventually perhaps co-existing or with one dominating.

Travel always makes one aware of standards and conventions as I bring along transformers and adaptors. In the U.K., I have to remember to look left or get run over because cars drive on the "other" side of the road. I learned about another convention at dinner with Bini and Bettina Segal. Bini, an Israeli citizen, had recently given up his accounting position at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management to assume a post at INSEAD, a good school outside Paris, in order to be closer to his family in Israel.

I asked them about finding an apartment in Paris, buying a car and insurance and the whole process of entering France as a resident. It was bureaucratic as expected, they said, but the biggest surprise was that in France an unfurnished apartment comes without light fixtures -- bare wires hang from the ceilings -- and there may be no cabinet knobs.

Another French convention is apparent watching traffic: probably 80 percent of cars are some shade of grey. Apparently grey is the standard color and anything else costs more!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

April 25 – “The Power to Know” – And the Courage to Act

The "big" speaker today at the AACSB International conference here in Paris was Jim Goodnight, the CEO of SAS Institute, a $1.6 billion global software company that is headquartered in North Carolina. Its products allow its customers to gather and analyze information technology-based transaction data of all sorts. Every time a business executes a process such as buying, hiring, selling, or making, some SAS activity-based management software can model, analyze and graph these data to improve management decision making. SAS sells web analytics, risk management, customer relationship management, warranty analysis and many other types of business solutions software to 96 of the Fortune 100 companies and to major universities, too. SAS employs mathematicians, IT professionals, actuaries and consultants.

I was expecting to hear about the importance of teaching business students data-driven decision making and teaching such skills as data mining. I was not disappointed and I was impressed by the ways that SAS products assist in pouring through massive amounts of data in drug discovery and marketing research, for example.

But Goodnight spoke about this as the necessary basics of business, not the end point. He described other levels of understanding such as integration of data across spheres of knowledge seeking insights, using insight to predict, and even more importantly to innovate. But there is an even higher and more important level, according to Goodnight, and that is to combine knowing (the SAS tagline is "The Power to Know") with the courage – yes, courage -- to act on that knowledge.

Goodnight, who was Ernst & Young’s 2005 “Entrepreneur of the Year” in the technology category, argued for education that combines science and experience in the world. "All science and no art is dangerous," he said. I thought of Kurt Vonnegut's book, “Player Piano,” where the world was efficient but without soul. Goodnight believes that we must teach our students imagination and conviction and the courage to act on that conviction. I am actually feeling pretty good because the UC Davis Graduate School of Management is already doing this. We offer rigorous technical training and multiple opportunities for engaging students in the community and the world. Our students have many opportunities to develop their humanity as well as to practice their skills.

Goodnight took questions and he really lit up when speaking of how he did this personally. In 1996, he and his wife co-founded a high-tech private day school, called the Cary Academy, in the belief that current education practices for elementary and high school students are rooted in the industrial era. Students drop out because they are bored, he said citing statistics. They go home and play online games with kids around the world, are stimulated and interactive, and then we put them in teacher centered classroom, and give them pencils. The Cary Academy has more computers than students.

April 24 – Meeting Challenges: B-Schools Get Creative

Here in Paris, this international business school dean’s conference is organized around all-member events such as speeches by important persons, tracks focused on key issues and lots of networking time. Business school deans understand the power of networking and AACSB has included lots of valuable time for coffee and chatting.

I've met a lot of people this way and realize the diversity of situations that business schools around the world find themselves.

I am amazed at the creativity of some of them. One woman, dean at an urban school in Detroit that educates working professionals, many from underprivileged minorities and less than affluent backgrounds, has struggled to find money to internationalize the curriculum something we all believe critical to our students' educations. Her students cannot take time off to do international study trips, much less go abroad for a semester. There is no money for scholarships. So she has created an "international" trip in Detroit by lining up local companies and subsidiaries that are globally connected. By "traveling" locally the students get a very real dose of what it means to be part of an international supply chain, the impact of currency fluctuations on profits and the other challenges facing global corporations.

I also met the dean of the University of Missouri-Kansas City who is actively trying to position his school as the innovation-entrepreneurship center of the region. He has hired three eminent professors from top schools to create programs that link the regional economy to the university. How could he afford such high-priced talent? The business community of Kansas City has donated $42 million over the past three years to make this happen. I am stunned by the largesse of a Midwestern city that I do not associate with innovation and entrepreneurship.

The woman in Detroit is making do with literally nothing, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City dean is investing millions in his region's future. I am inspired by both of them.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

April 23: Business School Deans' Summit in Paris

More than 1,400 deans, directors and other business school leaders from around the world congregated at the Palais des Congress (Convention Palace) in Paris to consider the challenges facing global management and the role of management education. At this AACSB International summit, about half of us are from North America, a quarter from Europe, and smatterings from Asia, Africa and elsewhere. It is truly an international grouping.

It actually feels something like a diplomatic gathering and maybe in some ways that is exactly what it is. There was much discussion about the role that civil society, and business in particular, must play to stabilize global relations. There was a sense among the people I spoke with that internationalizing our curricula and creating exchange opportunities is a moral as well as economic and educational good given the state of political affairs.

The first speaker was to have been French Prime Minister Dominique Villepin but he is having political difficulties following protests against his proposed loosened labor policies for the young which resulted in massive protests last month. Instead, we heard the Education Minister, a former banker and long- term political official. He spoke eloquently about the role of education in society and discussed attempts to integrate less privileged youth into France's elite education system. It was a polished speech.

During the Q&A an elegant woman stood up to ask a question. She was the president of L'Oreal Luxury Brands (Lancome, Ralph Lauren perfume, Diesel, etc) and our luncheon speaker. My understanding of French is not perfect, and she spoke to him in their native tongue, but her pique was unmistakable. She wanted to know where the women were in French business and government Why just talk about minorities? There was some interesting public apology and sputtering from him -- remember this was a large international crowd. I don't know enough about French politics to understand the exchange but it must have been an embarrassing moment. He ended up paraphrasing French literary giant Andre Malraux, "From a distance, women seem to be the best of humanity because they do not cause wars." It seemed a strange rejoinder but it must lose something in the translation linguistically and culturally.