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ETP in Milan

December 24, 2007

After Paris (11/19-11/29) we had a couple of days “shore leave” before we embarked again on the etp vessel that is going to carry us around in Europe and which will bring us to Japan and Korea by march 2008. We met in Milan on the morning of December 7th at the SDA Bocconi School of Management in via Bocconi. Here we were expected to learn more about the essentials of economy, financial systems, distribution, marketing and human resource in Japan and South Korea. Then we had to wrap up all that we had learned into some business plan presentations based on the case studies of Tesco in Korea and the market re-entry of IKEA in Japan.

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I stayed outside Milan in Monza at my very old friend Pierre’s place, the Villa Francesca. More than twenty years ago I was his apprentice and assistant for fashion photography. We were traveling to the U.S., Portugal, Switzerland, Germany and to the prêt-à-porter shows in London and Paris. But our biggest adventures were our trips to Barcelona in 1985 and 1986 where we drove with his old Renault Fourgonette. This place was very different what you know today. Barcelona before the Olympic Games of 1992 was as far away and as wild as Africa.

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Villa Francesca in Monza

Notwithstanding the beauty of the place and the kindness of my hosts I was not lucky for two reasons. I was sick during all those days at Bocconi because I did not recover from a flue that I had caught a weak earlier in Berlin. The second reason was my daily commuting on the neolithic public transportation system of Milan. Every morning I had to leave my place at 7.10. From then on I was squeezed for 90 minutes in overheated buses, trains and trams, each of them carrying clear signs that they were already operating in the 1960s. I was surprised to see the indifference of Italian people who have to suffer this misery every morning.

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Porta Romana

Apart from that Milan was as vibrant and energetic as ever. We had also excellent food in all places that we went to. I loved this atmosphere of radiant activity in the 1980. In Paris I felt easily tired, in Milan never. One day I really didn’t want to go by train and bus any more and I went downtown to Bocconi on a Vespa motorbike. That was a thrill! Computer games are just nothing, just ridiculous. The real thing of driving by Vespa in a big Italian city like Milan pumps you up with adrenaline and endorphine.

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Good morning Milan!

The Bocconi School of Management has a similar reputation to Sciences Po in France. The teaching of economics and management at Bocconi is famous also beyond the Italian borders, the MBA courses being some of the best in Europe. Of course the students of Bocconi are said to be arrogant and stupid. But that doesn’t mean anything in a country that has such a rich culture of envy.

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The truth is that students and teachers at Bocconi are much more open minded, liberal and critical than Italians believe, just same as at Sciences Po. The culture at these elite institutes has apparently changed a lot and the prejudices against them are only reminiscences of former times when they were indeed quite nationalist and inspired by a naive belief of social superiority. These days Italy is running into big trouble and at Bocconi everybody knows that. Generally speaking, even many average Italians have become aware of the flaws in their social, economic and political systems. Corruption, inefficiency, theft, bribery, violence and nepotism at all levels had made them become more conscious, critical and even cynical. The living symbol of this awakening of popular dissatisfaction is the famous comedian Beppe Grillo. He is challenging the whole political class with activities like his Vaffanculo Day [Fuck Off Day]. He is the most important blogger in Italy. Here is his English and his Japanese blog. Yes, Japanese! Beppe Grillo seems to think that this has also a lot to do with Japan…

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We were all happy that there was not as much pressure and intensity as in Paris at Sciences Po. Everybody was somehow more relaxed. But still we haven’t had a single hour for working together, we had to cut this out of lunchtime, evening or weekend where many of us had other plans with friends and families. The biggest difference to the classes at Sciences Po was practical relevance. In Paris we had a – necessarily – more academic curriculum. At Bocconi we got at some points down to the nuts and bolts of business. For example the excellent lectures on marketing and consumer behavior by Dominique Turpin, Dentsu professor at IMD, actually the best MBA school in the world. His presentations were spiced with dozens of witty, funny and useful hints, tips and tricks. He provided us with what Julien from the Japan group asked for: more of a Machiavellian perspective how to win the economic war and how to beat the enemies instead of politically correct and folkloric images of Japan.

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Cafeteria at Bocconi

The only topic of general complaint was the fact that most examples and case studies where taken from the business of big international corporations. Most of the etp student come from SME small and medium sized enterprises and they were expecting an economic and business discourse more on their own level. All the more that Italy is a country with an economy mostly based on SME. We were more interested in stories that we could link to our own experience and corporate size. But this is maybe a problem of teaching economy, management and business that you will find everywhere in Europe. The stories of startups and small & medium companies don’t find their way easily into the textbooks.

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Lecture Hall at Bocconi

At the end of the classes at Bocconi we had to develop our business plans in group presentations. Having seen hundreds of really bad presentations I was amazed how well the etp people performed. Given that they all had just a few hours time for preparation it was impressive how well they put themselves into the positions of the respective management team for Tesco and IKEA. They were even acting. There it was, the difference between experienced executives and unexperienced students.

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After this final effort some of us went to Il cavalante in via Muratori, a wonderful place for “aperitivo” that Edith Gallon showed us. Aperitivo in Milan means that you pay for your drink and you get some decent food with it from a buffet that is usually displayed on the bar. Il cavalante has a huge collection of wines and Martin Orliac, a real wine grower, was our most professional guide through ten bottles of excellent European wines.

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Niklas (Swedish) at Il cavalante

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Degustation / Tasting

Please find as usual the pictures on flickr. This time there are some 133 pics for Milan that you can find here.

To my etp fellows: Merry Christmas, Happy New Year & CU in London!

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