The Monash University International Marketing Overseas Study Tour is a program that provides students with a unique opportunity to be exposed to senior marketing professionals in some of the world’s leading organizations. After 15 years of organising the travel arrangements, Reho Travel was invited along in January 2003. I was asked to participate on the condition that I completed the same study program as the students, commencing in November 2002 with the “Learning Days” and concluding in March 2003 with our research presentations. This was always going to be an eye opener for me as despite having visited several Universities in my role as their travel agent, I had never actually been to Uni.
This tour involved a diverse mix of 24 students, 11 flights, 4 countries in 28 days, 6 time zones, 12 formal company visits and 30 coach transfers. Throw in too many late nights, early starts and the constantly changing group dynamics with relationships straining, forming and disintegrating (not necessarily in that order either). Then mix in the stress of sharing close quarters with strangers, adapting to cultural differences and being constantly out of your comfort zone, and you have the ingredients for a disaster. Then look at some of the incredibly rich opportunities that await you, visiting the world’s great cities, exchanging ideas with the thinkers from some of the world’s top companies. Then you begin to discover different cultures with your newfound friends and things start to look really interesting. Finally add some freezing cold weather and oh yeah, our research proposal and well we were in for a big adventure!
Here is a quick outline of the places and companies we visited.
Hong Kong – Cathay Pacific, Egana Goldpfeil
Manchester – Manchester United
Birmingham – Cadbury
London – BP
Champagne Region – Moet & Chandon, Piper Heidsieck
Paris – L’Oréal
New York – MTV, NYC & Company
Memphis – FedEx
San Francisco – Oracle
I joined the tour two days in, so I could spend some time with my family. Whereas the group flew on the overnight flight with Qantas I decided to fly Cathay Pacific on their day time service. It was a brand new aircraft, the crew was excellent and the entertainment selection was very good. I sat next to a Cathay pilot (who was starting with the company on the following day), I chatted with him for hours about his childhood dream of one day flying a Boeing 747 and the 20 years it took to get there. He taught me so much about the culture and induction process at Cathay, which was very impressive. It was a thrill to bump into him the next day at Cathay City on day 1 of the commencement of his dream.
The group stayed at The Park Hotel, which is a 3 star property well located in the heart of Kowloon. It was built in the 1950’s, which means although the exterior is a bit dated, it is one of the few hotels in Hong Kong with decent sized rooms. It was renovated recently and the service was excellent.
I had no time for sightseeing in Hong Kong, so other than a ride on the super efficient MTR and catching the Star Ferry to Central to meet a friend in Starbucks, I really didn’t see much. Actually one morning I did a 6am run along the promenade which was a really good way to watch the city waking up and to observe the vast array of water craft scurrying backwards and forwards across the harbour. I also had afternoon tea at The Peninsula Hotel, a must do in Hong Kong and in vast contrast to being kicked out of the same hotel 15 years earlier for “inappropriate dress”
The rest of the group spent the weekend under the guidance of George (one of the Hong Kong based students) visiting Stanley Market, Victoria Peak, lunch at the Hopewell Centre and a night of Karaoke.
Our visits kicked off with Cathay Pacific, where we spent a wonderful day learning what makes them such a unique and well respected airline. Together with marketing presentations, we enjoyed a tour around the fantastic facilities of “Cathay City”, the airline’s headquarters and training centre. We also saw one of their US$10 million pilot training simulators, mock airline cabin, emergency training facilities and finished off with a superb lunch in their top floor fine dining restaurant.
Our second visit was to a company called Egana Goldpfeil, who are one of the world’s leading leather goods, jewellery and watch distributors. An interesting company mainly due to the fact that Egana is originally a German based manufacturer that several years ago moved their entire production to China. Although not a household name in Australia, some of their brands names are world famous, like Carrera, Pierre Cardin, Cerruti 1881, Esprit and Joop. Their head office, in a dodgy side street of an equally seedy looking building, with very crowded claustrophobic offices was in complete contrast to the luxury of “Cathay City”.
Flying out of Hong Kong should have been a smooth process as Hong Kong has a wonderful new airport with excellent facilities. However, due to a system error (Qantas and Cathay computers not communicating as they should) a few of us were cancelled off the flight to Manchester via Amsterdam. After a couple of hours of frantically trying to get everyone on the flight, five of us were left behind. Cathay’s PR lady (whom we met on the previous day) kindly arranged accommodation in the luxury staff hotel at “Cathay City” and we managed to get a flight to London on the following afternoon.
Whilst the rest of group were settling into the hotel in Manchester, we arrived at Hong Kong International Airport early to make sure we were on the flight to London. Must say that it is easily the best airport in the world, the facilities are amazing and the time flew. The flight was excellent, we all had a good sleep and arrived at the chaos that is London’s Heathrow Airport refreshed and ready to cope with the drive north. Due to recent rare snowfalls, flights were delayed all over the place, the Underground and bus stations were closed due to flooding and the terminal felt like a full house at the MCG. Luckily Hertz still had some cars, so we hired a mini-van for the drive to Birmingham. Take my advice, pre-pay in Australia if you can as a one day rental cost us over £100. The cold hit us like a brick after Hong Kong, however we were all pretty excited. Seeing snow, and being “on the road” in a new country was a lot of fun, especially when every exit had a sign to a famous place like Oxford, Stratford upon Avon, Henly etc. We stayed overnight at The Novotel Birmingham Airport which was very functional and a great hotel if you ever really really want to stay……..well at Birmingham Airport!
The next morning we caught up with the group at the village of Bourneville which is home to Cadbury. Cadbury are the fourth largest supplier of chocolate and sugar confectionery worldwide, evolving from a small grocers shop in 1824 to the powerful multinational corporation of today. After a very interesting marketing presentation we had a “behind the scenes” tour of the factory, which was fascinating and presented us with countless opportunities to sample the product. The day concluded with a question and answer session over lunch where we had opportunities to view some recent award winning advertising and finally we were presented with enough samples to keep us going for the next three weeks. Although visitors can’t go behind the scenes like we did, Cadbury have a very popular theme park style visitors centre attached to the factory.
Finally we got to Manchester where the group was staying at The Manchester Thistle Hotel which was perfectly located directly on the main square. Although the rooms were small, it was very comfortable and even had a (small) swimming pool and gym. For dinner we all went down to “Curry Mile” in Rusholme and sampled one of Manchester’s famous Indian restaurants.
The next day we all boarded the coach, excited by the prospect of a visit to Manchester United. This visit was the highlight of the tour for me. The marketing presentation was excellent, combined with the reality of sitting in the stand looking down on that famous turf (at one stage in Sir Alex Ferguson’s chair) whilst listening to the Director of Marketing speaking with passion about the greatest sporting club in the world. He told us about the incredible value of the Manchester United brand through to the sacrifices and commitment that it takes to be a Premier League player. We could have listened to him for hours but the lure of the Manchester United Megastore dragged us downstairs where I must say we went crazy. Most us spent a minimum of £50 to get a team shirt with personalised names and numbers on the back, whilst many of us also bought other items including posters, t-shirts, lunch boxes or even David Beckham dolls. We then visited the museum (highlights included the trophy room and Munich air disaster display) and had lunch in the Red Café. It is possible for the general public to visit Old Trafford and do a tour of the stadium, this is very popular and attracts over 200,000 visitors a year.
On the way back to the airport we made a short stop at The Trafford Centre which was a massive yet very stylish retail complex with over 280 shops and 36 restaurants. You could easily spend half a day there, a great way to escape Manchester’s reputable gloomy weather.
A quick flight with British Airways had us back at Heathrow where our coach was waiting to take us to our hotel in South Kensington. The Kensington Close Hotel is a large hotel that caters mainly to groups, again the rooms are small, but the facilities (including a large pool and gym) are terrific. It is in a great spot right behind Kensington High St and 5 minutes walk from the easy.com Internet caf?
During our weekend in London we all did different things. Having been to London several times in the past few years, I wandered off on my own visiting a few favourite haunts. These included Oxford St, Regent St, Covent Garden and Notting Hill. I also discovered a place off the main tourist trail called Spitafields Market (in East London) which was a rare find. The market had great atmosphere, some very interesting food stalls, and was a good place for one off designer pieces, antiques, bric-a-brac etc.
My highlight of London was going to Upton Park (now famous for Australia’s first ever win over England) where we watched West Ham v Newcastle United. It was an exciting game, West Ham almost pulling off their first home win for the season before Newcastle levelled with a late goal. West Ham was also a very interesting area, a working class neighborhood in complete contrast to most parts of London we had been to. After the game a few of us went to the West End to see the musical “Grease” which was a lot of fun.
Finally the weekend was over and it was time for work again. Monday morning was spent at BP, one of the worlds largest petroleum and petrochemical groups. Their head office was in a very discreet, high security building, yet once inside their new push towards a cleaner environment and friendlier fuels was evident in the decor. The presentation was very informative and we all left with a stronger understanding of not only the incredible size of the company but of their commitment to their new strategy.
In the afternoon I managed to sneak down to Portsmouth to catch up with my relatives and see my beloved Pompey in their quest to reach the Premier League. It was an amazing experience wedged between some rather large dockyard workers right behind the goals, not understanding a word they said. (Despite English being our common language) I was soon accepted when I stood when they stood, grunted when they grunted and swore at the Sheffield United supporters. Despite my best efforts, Pompey lost their first home game of the season!
Our next destination was the Champagne region of France, a short flight from Gatwick to Paris Charles de Gaulle then a two hour coach trip to Epernay, a rather undistinguished town except for the presence of some of the leading Champagne houses. Our Hotel in Epernay, The Ibis Epernay Centre Ville was in a great location on the quaint main square but had very basic rooms with thin walls. That evening we booked out a whole restaurant for Fiona’s 21st which involved 10 courses of brilliantly presented French cuisine of the highest standard.
Our first visit in the region was to Moet & Chandon, the worlds leading champagne producer. Here we learned in detail the champagne making process, came to appreciate the 100’s of years of history behind every bottle of champagne and gained a true insight into what it takes to remain a market leader. They also treated us to a fascinating tour of some of their 28km of cellars, and hosted a stylish lunch which included a magnum of champagne on every table.
The following day led us to the town of Reims where we visited the magnificent 13th century Gothic Cathedral with its famous Chagall Window and Smiling Angel. Reims is the home to some of the best known Champagne labels including Mumm, Veueve Clicquot and our destination Piper Heidsieck.
Piper Heidsieck was amazing! The headquarters were decked out in a dark red whilst signed photo’s of famous movies stars like Marilyn Monroe and Sharon Stone adorned the walls creating a very “Hollywood” atmosphere. We learned about their alignment with cinema and festive events and their bold decision to use the colour “Red” as their distinguishing theme. A tour of the private cellars was amazing, seeing rows and rows of groups of 100,000 magnums stacked on top of each other was an awesome sight. After the tour we tasted three of their champagnes, a favourite being the new “Piper Ros? due to be released in Australia in July 2003. Their gift shop proved incredibly popular, with many of us purchasing a variety of souvenirs including glasses, candle holders, ice buckets or even a limited edition Jean Paul Gaultier red leather clad bottle.
On the way back to Epernay we drove along the Champagne route, passing many smaller Champagne houses and seeing the vineyards where some of the well-known brands purchase their grapes. We also visited the birthplace of Dom Perignon, the “Inventor” of Champagne.
After three days in the Champagne region it was off to Paris for a few days to discover another of the worlds great cities and to visit L’Oreal, the world leading cosmetic company.
Our hotel in Paris was on the right bank, just off Place de Republique, again a great location close to many restaurants and next door to a Metro Station. The Bel Air Beauborg Hotel had good comfortable rooms that had recently been renovated.
In Paris the best way to get around is by walking. On the first afternoon we walked from our hotel, through the Marais district (old Paris, many small boutiques), along Rue de Rivoli (one of the best shopping streets) to the Samaritan department store. From the rooftop of the department store you have an uninterrupted view of Paris and are able to see all the major monuments. We then walked the length of the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe and finally across to the Eiffel Tower. As dusk was approaching we climbed the 700 stairs to the 2nd level (to avoid the queues for the lifts) then caught the express elevator to the top. It was the first time I had been up the tower when there was no fog and the view was amazing. The overpriced hot chocolate at the top was worth every Euro! To beat the cold and for the sheer thrill of it we ran down all 700 steps to the bottom.
The next day was just as exciting. We spent the morning at The Louvre, covering most of the European paintings, spending a long time in front of a giant painting titled “Raft of Medusa” which Adeline (one of the students) had studied. The afternoon was spent wandering through the artists district of Montmartre, Sacre Coeur, seedy Pigalle and taking the obligatory photo outside the front of Moulin Rouge.
On the way back we managed to contrast this with a quick look at the Pompidou Centre where I bought a few modern prints.
We had all planned to shop on Sunday, not realizing that most shops were closed on a Sunday?! So instead I spent the day visiting La Defense, the modern business district on the edge of Paris, its main feature being La Grande Arche, an enormous hollow cube large enough to contain Notre Dame Cathedral. Then I wandered through the deserted streets visiting some of the lesser known areas at the back of Opera and Les Halles. One of the highlights of Paris was ice-skating at Hotel de Ville, a magnificent setting on the banks of The Seine. It was absolutely packed and I fell over a few times whilst trying to avoid the crowds on the ice.
Our nights were spent trying a range of different restaurants all over Paris, the highlight being a Moroccan bar somewhere on the Left Bank where I got to try a hubbly bubbly pipe.
Being our last day in Paris it was time to get back to work. Initially we visited the L’Oreal factory in Aulnay just on the edge of town, (It was fascinating to visit a factory that was specifically designed with the comfort of visitors and workers in mind.) we then spent time at the L’Oreal head office in Clichy. Here we were given a full understanding on the diversity of the company’s portfolio and were privy to a fascinating case study about launching a new hair colour in India. Again we were provided with a very nice lunch where we had the opportunity to talk one on one with their executives.
We all bid a reluctant farewell to Paris, but how hard can it be when you are about to visit what I consider to be the worlds most exciting city. At Charles de Gaulle we were all subject to the most stringent security checks I have ever witnessed. It took most of us over an hour to get through check-in and immigration. We were all treated differently ranging from requests to see student cards, hotel receipts, full searches of luggage including multiple questions on why we were going to USA. The American Airlines terminal was a nice modern surprise compared to the chaos at check-in. The flight was even better, American Airlines reserving their best service and newest aircraft for the Trans Atlantic route. Their “More room in Coach” campaign provided us with the best economy leg-room I have ever experienced.
“Some folks like to get away, take a holiday from the neighborhood, hop a flight to Miami Beach or to Hollywood – But I’m talking a Greyhound on the Hudson River Line, I’m in a New York state of mind”
To get everyone in the New York mood, as we were driving from Kennedy Airport into Manhattan, we sang a few New York songs such as “New York New York” over the PA in the coach. I then followed this with “New York State of Mind” but I did an appalling job of it despite being a devoted Billy Joel freak for most of my life.
We arrived in New York on a beautiful clear sunny day, belying the actual temperature which was well below zero. Having heard so much about The Gershwin Hotel, it was fantastic to finally see it for myself. A really funky three star hotel with a pop-art theme, every floor featured original art and there was even a signed Andy Warhol soup can in the lobby. All the rooms were very spacious and had a giant self portrait of Picasso on the wall – mine even had a life-size painting of Elvis outside the front door. The hotel was just around the corner from The Empire State Building therefore we made it our first visit. There were no queues so after paying our US$10 we were very soon on top of the tallest and most famous building in New York. The views were amazing but it was freezing cold so we didn’t hang around for long.
To kick off our New York experience we all had dinner at The Stage Deli, a world famous Deli with the biggest triple decker sandwiches you have ever seen. The menu is themed on famous stars so I had to go with the Jimmy Buffett Cheeseburger in Paradise, which was too big to eat! Others had the Dolly Parton and the Evander Hollyfield – both of which were even bigger again.
The next two days were free time so I used my knowledge of previous visits to New York to try and create the perfect Manhattan experience for the five members of the group that were willing to brave an early start and were prepared to walk all day in temperatures that hovered around the -10c to -15c. We started off by catching a subway to Bowling Green Station, the stopping off point for Battery Park. It was so cold down here that we ran from building to building, had a quick look at the view of the Statue of Liberty then raided a souvenir shop. Any thoughts of looking glamorous in our photographs soon evaporated as we emerged wearing a variety of tacky hats and gloves, several emblazoned with the Yankees logo. A short walk up the road was Ground Zero, former site of The World Trade Centre. It felt very eerie to be standing next to the hole where the tallest building in the world once stood. A special moment occurred when a construction worker jumped down from his bobcat, asked for one of our cameras and proceed to take some photos inside the fence and down into the hole.
This experience of meeting friendly New Yorkers would be repeated hundreds of times over by all members of the group. An amazing turnaround from my previous visits to the city – it now felt like a giant country town, never threatening and always welcoming.
This part of Manhattan is extremely compact, so we saw the New York Stock Exchange, Wall St and City Hall in a very short time. One surprise was the South St Seaport, a beautiful shopping centre built on the wharf surrounded by over a dozen original historic vessels from the 19th and 20th Century. A great place to defrost and take in the views of Brooklyn Bridge, The Lower East Side and the East River.
It was getting close to lunchtime so we then cut through Chinatown (which seems to have doubled in size in recent years) to Little Italy (which is really now just Mulberry St). Here we had an excellent Pasta lunch with terrific service. After lunch we wandered through a few shops in the ultra trendy district of SoHo, which soon turned into Greenwich Village where it was time to further the New York experience by going into a traditional barber shop for the ultimate short back and sides. As I sat down “New York State of mind” came on the radio and I knew we were in the right place. If you are ever in the Village, visit “Mr Joseph” on Greenwich Avenue – no appointment necessary. He then directed us to the best Margaritas in Manhattan, in a Mexican bar next door. They certainly warmed us up and kept us going for the long walk 30 blocks north through Chelsea and up into the Garment District where we passed Madison Square Garden which was closed to visitors as there was a big game on later in the day.
We attempted to finish the day off with a Broadway show, however the tickets for Movin Out (Based on the music of Billy Joel) were USD$70.00 as it was the number one show in town and you couldn’t get discount tickets at Times Square for the show. Instead we found a magnificent Latin restaurant on 42nd St that had even bigger and better margaritas – I can’t remember much after that except I left my gloves in a cab on the way home!
Another early start and this time we were heading Uptown! It was even colder so I had to keep pretending that there was something worth seeing on every corner – that’s why we weren’t catching a Subway. In New York, every corner holds a new surprise and 10 blocks on Park Avenue takes in some magnificent buildings including the Metlife Building (which has a road running through it), Grand Central Station and the Chrysler Building – every corner also has a Starbucks, so you are never to far from some inner warmth. We did catch a Subway up to the Guggenheim Museum on 5th Avenue and 88th St – really cool looking building, apparently great inside on the days that it’s open – not on Thursdays (I got my research wrong here!) We then cut across Central Park to Strawberry Fields to visit the John Lennon memorial, by now the wind had died down and it beautiful to just wander through Central Park as long as you kept moving. We had a funny moment when a Korean film crew interviewed me on my thoughts about the weather (as it was one of the coldest days in decades), I commented that at home at the moment it was 45c, a 60c differential. I was tempted to try my hand at Ice Skating again but there were no takers, a shame as the setting was very pretty with the buildings on Central Park South providing a perfect backdrop.
For lunch we managed to locate Soup Kitchen International (Made famous on Seinfeld) where we were treated to the surly service but great quality soup. With your US$7 soup you even receive a piece of fruit, a chocolate and a bread roll! Its purely take away so we propped ourselves in a Subway station to savour the experience without freezing on the spot – very glamorous and a nice contrast to our next visit. Two visits to New York and I had never been brave enough to even open the doors to Tiffany’s, this time however I was accompanied by experienced shoppers and it really didn’t hurt too much. I managed to survive half an hour and the six! levels and somehow even found pleasure in witnessing three purchases made by our group. Ok, so I asked if I could carry one of the bags but apparently they didn’t suit me. Well it was then off to safer ground as around the corner was the Nike Superstore, then the Sony Superstore and on and on it went all the way down 5th Avenue ending at Macys which was just near our hotel.
After a short breather in the hotel we headed back to Times Square to experience our first Broadway show, a bizarre, over the top, yet thoroughly entertaining musical written by Jim Steinman and featuring Michael Crawford called “Dance of the Vampires”. Hearing Michael Crawford singing MeatLoaf is surely a once in a lifetime experience. The day was complete when as we were walking back down 5th Avenue, just outside the front of The Empire State Building it started snowing for the first time – this also meant that finally it was warming up!
Next morning was a bit of a shock as the realisation came that this was not a holiday, we had some work to do! Our first scheduled visit was MTV, followed by NYC & Company. Unfortunately I missed the first half of the MTV visit as I was assisting Fiona in tracking down her handbag that had disappeared somewhere between getting on the train and arriving at Times Square station. Despite the best efforts of the Transit Authority and the NYPD, the bag never appeared – good thing she had Travel Insurance!
MTV was a very interesting visit as we found out that MTV is the world’s most-watched television network, reaching 384 million homes in 140 countries around the globe. We were surprised at how strongly MTV is involved in community projects aimed at using its brand power to educate, empower and cause social change in the youth market. It was also evident that most of their success was due to extensive research on their audience, even spending time living with their viewers to find out exactly what makes them tick. The real surprise for us was their flagship store right on Times Square which was uninspiring compared with some of the nearby concept stores like Hershey’s and Toys R Us.
NYC & Company is the city’s official tourism marketing organisation. This was a quick visit where they talked about the drop in tourism arrivals since September 11, 2001 and their efforts in increasing visitor arrivals to the city. Despite a small budget for a city of its size, they appear to do a great job in promoting the city and their new website is testament to this. They also showed us this brilliant ad campaign where famous New Yorkers lived their “New York Dream”
This inspired me to set up the final “New York Experience” which nearly went wrong when we almost couldn’t find a cab. Eventually an off duty cab picked us up, however I didn’t tell Caroline where we were going during the high speed cab ride through the back streets of the Meat Packing District, until we emerged out of gloom to find ourselves on the frozen banks of the Hudson River right next to the 30th St Heliport – home to Liberty Helicopters. After Caroline got over the shock of what we were about to do, we experienced an amazing helicopter flight along the edge of Manhattan Island running parallel to the most spectacular skyline in the world. Our New York visit was now complete, it was time to head west!
Whilst the group flew to Memphis, I headed to St Louis for the weekend to visit a friend. It was my turn to be shown around for a change. St Louis is gateway to the Midwest and they built a big arch in the 60’s to commemorate this. It is a pleasant yet featureless city without a lot of character, good thing for The Gateway Arch otherwise it would be very hard to distinguish from many other small American cities. The Gateway Arch is an impressive structure that is over 600 feet high. To get to the top you go in these tiny capsules that travel inside the north arm. At the top there are thin windows with amazing views over the Mississippi and the city. St Louis is also home to Budweiser, the Anheuser-Busch factory is massive and has guided tours but we got lost and missed the last tour of the day.
St Louis is also famous for The Cardinals baseball team and Nelly the rap artist. We hung out in University City, which apparently is the cool part of town and is often referred to as Nellyville. Forest Park, a massive 1300 acre park on the edge of the city is worth a visit with a zoo and many lakes. St Louis has an impressive nightclub scene at a spot near The Arch called Lacledes Landing, an old warehouse area with cobbled streets that has been tastefully converted into a large number of bars and clubs.
The rest of group covered Memphis in a couple of hours visiting Sun Studios where among others, Elvis made his early recordings, then spent most of their time trawling the bars and clubs of the Beale St entertainment district. I arrived in the middle of Super Bowl so the streets were empty, later in the night we found a Blues Club where there appeared to be more people on stage than in the club, the music was sensational though. Our Hotel, The Radisson Memphis was right in the centre of town, across from the famous Peabody Hotel and around the corner from Beale St. The rooms were huge and facilities excellent, however like most hotels in the Southern States the service was patchy.
Memphis has two major employers, FedEx and Elvis Presley Enterprises and we were going to visit both of them. Our visit to FedEx was split over two parts, we spent the morning at their impressive head office then later on in the evening we did the hub tour out at the airport.
FedEx head office was an impressive modern office park with several free standing buildings with parkland in between that gave it a “campus” feel. Our speakers were all quite excited as the FedEx ad screened during Super Bowl was voted by viewers nationwide as the best advertisement on the night (It was a take off on the Castaway theme). Their main focus on the day was on the FedEx brand, we learnt how incredibly strict the company is in application of their logo. We also discovered that FedEx is the worlds 5th largest airline and that their goal is to build the worlds most reliable company, however they felt they still had a long way to go before they reached their aim of complete cross enterprise excellence. It was an amazing visit to an impressive company and I had to do some quick re-arranging of our schedule as the visit lasted well over time, especially when they gave us free reign of their staff canteen for lunch.
Original plans were to have a formal visit of Graceland, but this never eventuated despite our best efforts. I was particularly disappointed as I had already done hours of research for the company summary in our pre-departure notes. However, visiting Graceland as a tourist was one of the highlights of the trip. They give you a headset to wear and then you are free to walk through most areas of the mansion (as long as you keep going in the same direction). It is really well done, not as tacky as we expected and you really get into the whole “Elvis” thing. As you move from room to room, the music or commentary changes on your headset and most of us ended up spending well over an hour in the grounds.
Back in town we had dinner at Elvis Presley’s Memphis, a theme restaurant on Beale Street, with an Elvis inspired menu. It was a bit disappointing as it was very quiet, lacked buzz and the music wasn’t all Elvis, at one stage even Chris de Burgh was heard to be playing, then again it was a Sunday night so what do you expect?!
Just before midnight we were back at FedEx out at Memphis International Airport where we embarked on a behind the scenes hub tour. It is an amazing lesson in logistics. Every night an army of thousands of workers descend on the airport as over 200 FedEx aircraft land one after the other, disgorging over 1 million packages onto mile after mile of interconnected conveyor belts. Several hours later these same packages are on their way back on to the aircraft having been sorted into their various destinations. It was an incredible buzz to be leaning over the conveyor belts, standing on the tarmac amongst the activity and watching the flights come in from the control tower.
Back to the airport for an early morning flight to San Francisco via Dallas. Dallas Fort Worth is a massive airport that is American Airlines home port and main hub. We learned that you must always be aware of the exact location of the gate for your connecting flight when we discovered that 10 minutes before departure our gate was about 20 minutes walk on the other side of the airport. A frantic sprint and plenty of encouragement from the AA ground staff (“Are you the Uni students? Keep running in that direction”) just got us there on time.
A mid afternoon arrival in San Francisco presented us with our first plus zero temperatures in a couple of weeks which was a welcome relief. Our hotel, The Pickwick Hotel was located right in the centre of town, just around the corner from Market St. It was a European style boutique hotel with well furnished comfortable rooms. A few of us immediately set off to walk through the centre of town, up and over Nob Hill and down to Fisherman’s Wharf where we watched the seals playing before having a traditional seafood dinner as the sun set over the harbour. It was a beautiful way to end my final night of the trip.
I started my last day of the trip by getting back into the running routine – it was the first time I could do this in the States as it was just too dangerous to go outside because of the freezing weather back east. It was a real eye opener though as I shared the streets with hundreds of homeless people emerging from doorways and bus shelters as the dawn broke.
Our final visit was in the heart of Silicon Valley and Oracle, the worlds largest enterprise software company, personally I thought this would be a fairly sober way to end the tour, however it turned out to be one of my favourite visits. An impressive headquarters in the same vein as FedEx, with five cylindrical buildings surrounding a lake. The speakers were all enthusiastic and willing to share their experience with our group. We were surprised at how aggressive Oracle is, its key focus was always looking at ways to reduce costs. Their Marketing Director was an Australian, he gave us some great insights including some real examples of the differences in doing business in Europe, USA and Australia, for me this really helped to put into context all of our previous company visits.
After the visit, I packed then headed to the airport by Super Shuttle which was really easy to organise and an economical way to get to the Airport. The rest of the group stayed on for an extra night, many taking the opportunity to visit Alcatraz the next morning. Connecting through Los Angeles is a real pain and the airport is absolute chaos at the best of times however it somehow works and finally I could relax on board my Qantas flight to Melbourne. What an improvement to last year when I flew what can only ever be described as an average airline. The 747-400 was completely refurbished and finally they had seat back videos with a brilliant choice of entertainment options, the meals were great with the new snack menu a great idea. Apparently I slept for the whole flight anyway….must have been an exhausting trip!
I expected this trip to be an incredible experience however it is only upon returning that I have come to realize just how lucky I was. I travelled with a great bunch of people and rediscovered cities through their eyes like I was there for the first time. I had access to some of the great business thinkers at the worlds top companies and will no doubt draw on their inspiration in my business in the future. Now our project is completed, I can look back and know what it feels like to be a Uni student….even if it was for a very short time.