Sunday, June 29, 2014

Our final days in Prague

It was great to have a day completely free to explore Prague! Teri and I took our time in the morning and headed out to explore the city about 10:45 a.m. We had an amazing day! We started walking and came across the concert hall. We went in briefly and then spotted a shopping mall across the street. We walked through it but didn't spend much time since we can shop pretty much anywhere! There were too many things we wanted to see in Prague! 

We took the metro across town and got off to go see the Dancing House. It was neat, but didn't take us too long to take a few pictures and move on. Since the Charles Bridge is always so crowded, we decided to go across a different bridge which offered great views of the city but with very few people on it. We took some shots of one another with the castle in the background and then even found a nice family to take our picture. After that, we walked toward Petrin Tower and found a cute little local place to grab some lunch. We took our time at lunch and then continued our walk to Petrin tower. By this time we were a little tired so we opted to see about taking the tram up to the tower and then walk down. Unfortunately, the line was so long, we didn't get to go up! We continued walking along the river to spoke up possible dinner options. We got back to the hotel about 6:00 p.m. and caught up on a few emails, made our phone calls, etc. 

Since we ate a late lunch, we weren't ready for dinner until closer to 9. Eating later meant we were able to eat down by the Charles Bridge. This would've been perfect except it started to rain. The rain didn't damper our spirits, it just meant we didn't get the sunset pictures we hoped for. That was it for our Saturday. The day flew by for us! 

Some of the students went back to the John Lennon Peace Wall, others explored the gardens and Parliament building, and some rented a paddle boat for an hour. I think everyone enjoyed the down time and freedom to do whatever they wanted for the day!

Sunday morning we got up fairly early and headed out to do some souvenir shopping. We walked for a few hours to see more of Prague and then headed back to meet the group and head to the Prague Castle. The Castle was awesome! What wonderful views of the city from the top! Our guide Petr did a nice job of pointing out the history of the cathedral as well as many other historical facts. 

After the Castle we all came back to change and get ready for our farewell dinner. It seems unreal that the trip is coming to an end! Dinner was at an upscale restaurant. We had a great time, reminisced on some great memories, laughed, and cheered to a great trip! On the subway ride home, we decided to have a little fun and take crazy group photos. Everyone has been such a great sport with our numerous group photos so it was fun to let loose and take a few crazy shots of the group!

We leave the hotel at 3:00 a.m. so writing this blog is helping me to pass the time before we embark on our adventure back to the states. What a great two weeks with a wonderful group of students and my good friend Teri! This truly is a trip I will never forget! I think the students had an amazing time and I know they learned more than they even imagine!

Thanks to all of you for following along! 


Saturday, June 28, 2014

A fun Friday in Prague!

Friday marked the last of our business visits in Prague. We began the morning by heading to HP. HP is located in a very modern building which resembles what we typically see in a US city. The company occupies 6 different floors in the building. Housed nearby are Microsoft, Vodafone, etc. 

We were welcomed by Marta from Talent Acquisition. Marta spoke excellent English and didn't miss a beat in the presentation. We later asked her about her English and she told us that her older sister teaches English and Marta began speaking English at 6 years old. Marta geared the presentation towards HP's recruiting process and offerings for new graduates. I think the students really enjoyed this! She asked the students some tough questions and went on to say that she is a recruiter and interviews often so she asks a lot of questions and tough ones, too. This kept the presentation lively and the students engaged. HP has offices in 170 countries, 324,000 total employees, and ended the 2013FY with $120 billion in total revenue.  Within the CZ, HP employs 1,300 employees and she mentioned they are always hiring and looking for positions in this area.

A few key takeaways from this presentation included:

  • HP is beginning reverse mentoring where new employees mentor senior managers/leaders to provide insight into generational differences in communication, style, etc. She gave one great example of how enlightening it was for senior leaders to realize how creative the younger generation is and how differently they do things.
  • At HP corporate culture is very important. She went on to say that culture in the CZ is different than in the US, but bottom line is that employees like one another, help one another out, and trust one another, and are on a first name basis.
  • HP CZ has its own development program which she feels will be implemented throughout HP. The program is done one time per year and is for those who have worked for HP for 6 months to 16 months. The program focuses on networking, work on interesting projects, the opportunity to gather experience in other areas of the company, and opens door to new opportunities in HP. 
  • Each employee is given 4 hours for charity/volunteer work each month. Marta mentioned many departments save these hours so they can go 1-2 straight days and give back to the community which is used as a team building activity, too.
Following some great Q/A, Marta took us to the roof of the building where we took a group picture with her. 

Following a quick lunch break, we headed to Prague College. The visit was different than what we expected, but it ended up being a meaningful and a good learning experience. Prague College awards Bachelor's and Master's degrees through a partnership program in the UK. This is important since the UK degree is valued more than a degree from the CZ. As with most programs in Europe, a bachelor's degree is earned in 3 years. The school is housed in one building but does provide living similar to residence halls/apartments in another area of Prague. The business school is the largest of the programs and accounts for just under 300 of the 600 students. The students are from 94 different countries and enrollment continues to grow. At the end of the presentation, we heard from Tony Achmat who works with Prague College. Tony is from Australia originally, but now works in the CZ doing communication training, business coaching, etc. He spoke of his work with many different multinational companies in the region and the importance of communication f2f (face to face) and experience working in a multinational environment. While short, it was an excellent message for our students! Three faculty members from the college also split our students into groups and held some discussion. Overall, a good afternoon visit!

We ended the day with a walk around the second district which is known as a quieter area of Prague. It's beautiful though and much slower pace due to the lack of tourists in this area. We found a nice little restaurant and sat outside to enjoy Friday evening.

Tomorrow is a free day and the students have a number of different things planned. For me, I plan to go see some of the sights we've yet to see and also do a little shopping for souvenirs, etc. It should be a great day!


Friday, June 27, 2014

Two business visits and an outing to watch the USA vs. Germany World Cup game (Thursday, June 26)

Happy Thursday from Prague! We are nearing the end of our trip and I must say its flown by! This morning the students were able to sleep in a little bit. I’m sure they enjoyed the extra hour or so of sleep!

Our first presentation began at 10:00 a.m. and the presenter was Vladimir Kosek from Johnson & Johnson. He came to the meeting room at the hotel so we didn’t have to travel for this visit.  That was a nice change of pace! Mr. Kosek has been with Johnson & Johnson for the last 13 years in a variety of roles. During his presentation he discussed the healthcare industry in the Czech Republic and how it has changed over the years. In his current position, he works with medical devices and in the area of compliance. One interesting item he mentioned was that the Minister of Health changes every 15 months or so. If you are wondering why, it is because there are 7 political parties in the CZ and the doctors more or less drive who serves as the Minister of Health. In a 15-month time span, doctors will usually threaten to leave the country and move elsewhere if they aren't granted more money, better working conditions, etc. from the Minister of Health. After 15 months to 2 years, they want someone else in the position and the cycle continues from there. 

Doctors in the CZ make double the annual salary of the average employee. This comes out to about $2000-$2400 USD each month. I think this figure surprised the students! J&J has a famous credo written in the 1940's and altered slightly in the 1980's. Kosek talked about how the employees live this credo in their professional and personal life. This was an interesting section for me since we talk about this credo in my Organizational Behavior and Theory supplemental book. 

After we concluded the morning presentation, we broke for a few hours of free time. I went with five students down to the gardens that were closed on our first day in Prague. A few of them really wanted to have lunch at the John Lennon Pub so we grabbed a quick bite of lunch there before heading back to the hotel. 

Once we got back, we took about a 15 minute walk to Cisco System. Once at Cisco, we heard from a network and system engineer and the general manager of Cisco CZ. As we sat down, the Cisco employees offered us delicious pastries and water. These were the best pastries I've had in Europe! It was a great afternoon snack. At Cisco, Pavel Krizanovsky talked to us about the future of network development and how Cisco was preparing for the future. Once the General Manager took over, he talked a little more about the company, its history in the CZ, and took questions from the students. We finished our afternoon with a tour of the Cisco lab and a showcase of the Cisco virtual teleconference products. 

Group picture at Cisco with the Managing Director (his nickname was G9)
We changed quick and headed to the CZ's version of a sports bar or bar and grill. While it may seem like it's an easy task to find one of these in the CZ, it really isn't. Why you might seems like everyone here in Prague smokes. Restaurants really aren't really split with a smoking and non-smoking area. Instead....all of it is smoking! After searching for 6 hours, I found a place that served food, had TV's, and even had one floor non-smoking. The students will tell you they were most excited because every table had a beer tap in the center for CZ's famous pilsner beer. We dressed in our USA colors and enjoyed watching the USA play Germany. Despite the loss, we are proud that the USA is moving on to the next round!

cheering on the USA in the World Cup game vs. Germany
Teri and I in our USA scarves we bought for $5 at the subway station in Prague
After watching the game, a few of us headed back to the hotel and I was able to get to bed fairly early! The rest of the group headed out to explore Prague's nightlife.  Friday marks the last of our business visits. We will head to HP in the morning and then to visit Prague College in the afternoon before having a relatively free weekend to end the trip. 

Another good day has come to an end. It's been a great trip and learning experience!


Thursday, June 26, 2014

A business day in Prague...visits to T-Mobile and Avast (Wednesday, June 25)

It was a busy day and early morning for our first full day in Prague! We left the hotel to head to T-Mobile Czech Republic (CZ) just after 8:00 a.m. The weather in Prague today was a bit overcast and a few degrees colder than the weather we've been used to on this trip. We rode the underground and switched lines before arriving at T-Mobile. The building was beautiful and in what appears to be a newer area where many multinational companies are located. 

While at T-Mobile, we quickly checked in and were given our guest passes and escorted to the training room. Our first speaker was Martina, the Corporate Communications Strategist and spokesperson for T-Mobile Czech Republic. She discussed the business model, business challenges, and internal and external challenges. T-Mobile CZ is the leading telecommunications company in the CZ with nearly 3,300 employees. It's part of the larger Deutsche Telecom Group. In the CZ, T-Mobile has gone through two mergers and integration's within the last year and with all telecommunications companies, the environment is ever changing. Within the last few years, T-Mobile CZ has shifted its focus more on customer care and being the leading data provider. A common theme we've heard from all our business visits is the regulatory environment which makes it much more challenging to do business in Central/Eastern Europe. 

Next, T-Mobile CZ CEO, Milan Vasina spoke to the students on his leadership philosophies and managing in a changing environment. The presentation was excellent! Mr. Vasina started his career in Proctor & Gamble and also worked for R.G. Reynolds. He first became the CEO of a company at age 37. Now 45, Mr. Vasina talked about changing the company culture and managing through the quickly changing environment. A few key takeaways from his presentation (some of which are very similar to what US CEO's do) include:

  • At T-Mobile CZ, employees have a 3-month trial period. At the end of the 3 months, both the employee and manager decide if it is a good fit for the employee to continue on. Mr. Vasina meet with each new employee somewhere between their 4-month to one year of employment to get their feedback.
  • Vasina spends one Friday afternoon per month for open appointments where any employee can schedule 30 minutes with him. 
  • As T-Mobile acquires new companies, Vasina focuses on showing the data and being upfront from the beginning letting employees know how this impacts business, including layoffs, etc. COMMUNICATION IS KEY!
  •  Celebrate and boost confidence for success - when T-Mobile CZ hit its 3 targets, each employee was given a tablet or laptop.
  • To change the culture at the company, Vasina had each division come up with a mission. From there, employees voted to come up with the final mission statement the company uses.
  • The evaluation system has recently changed and now employees evaluate mangers in addition to managers evaluating employees. Managers at T-Mobile only stay in their position for 5 years. At that time, they are rotated to another division with hopes of making each manager more well-rounded and knowledgeable about all divisions of the company.
  • The company hosts events similar to those we see in the US - bring your kids to work, holiday gatherings, etc.
We ended our visit to T-Mobile by getting a picture with Mr. Vasina and eating the great snacks the company provided. As I've stated a few times, this group LOVES TO EAT! I think all the sandwiches, cakes, and drinks were gone quickly!

Ashley C. and I dressed in T-Mobile colors (this wasn't planned)

T-Mobile CEO Milan Vasina

group photo at T-Mobile

Following the morning visit, we had a few hours of free time. It appears the girls made the most of this time to shop! Almost all of them came back with a few bags of clothes. I grabbed some lunch and began the hunt to figure out a location to watch the USA vs. Germany World Cup game on Thursday.

About 10 minutes before we were to meet for the afternoon visit, it started raining very hard. Most of us took the underground so we weren't wet. However, a few students got stuck in line at a Starbucks and were soaked with they arrived at our meeting point.

Next, we headed to AVAST. AVAST is the world's leading anti-virus software company. This company is headquartered in Prague and was awarded the 2013 "Best Company to Work For." When we arrived, we saw a few employees playing pool and having a good time. It reminded me of my visit to Zappos a few years ago. We waiting in the conference room for Milos, our speaker. As Milos started, he talked briefly about AVAST and then asked what we had done/where we had been in Europe. Next came a great attention-getter for our students - he flashed up a picture of about 8 of the students from a nightclub in Vienna. He knew most of the students by name, including their work history, etc. just from the picture. I think this was probably quite a good learning lesson for our students about how easily things can be found once you put them online, etc. We teach this in class, but this method was very powerful! Milos was energetic, showed his personality, and was quite humorous while delivering the company history, how things are done in AVAST, and how the company makes its money, etc. I think it was very interesting for me and the students to hear that AVAST spends nearly $0 on marketing and advertising. Instead, it relies on users to tell their story online through public forums, etc. While telling the T-Mobile CEO we were headed to AVAST in the afternoon, he said, "AVAST is a model company in the CZ. It has the potential to impact the CZ economy more than any other business."  To end the visit, Milos answered our questions, posed for a picture, and told the students they needed to eat all the food...not a problem for this group!

Milos from AVAST speaking to students

group picture at AVAST

After the visit, we went back to the hotel and the rest of the evening was free for dinner and exploration. Teri and I headed out with Taylor to work on a location where all of us could watch the World Cup game. I didn’t think this would be a difficult task but boy was I wrong! We walked and walked and finally found a location we thought would be great! It even had a non-smoking floor which is a rarity in Europe and especially the CZ. We quickly found out the restaurant was full at the time we wanted to go. Teri and I called all over the place with no luck. About 11:30, I checked online at the restaurant we stopped at and found tables available through online reservation. It should be a great time!

While on our walk looking for a location, we walked through an area that was roped off for cars. As we walked, we saw trailers that said wardrobe, make up, producers, directors, etc. We asked a man directing traffic and found out that the Three Musketeers is being filmed in Prague just off the Old Town Square.

It was a great day and the students seemed to really enjoy today’s business visits. Our time in Prague seems to be flying by! Thanks for following along!


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

On the road again......last stop....PRAGUE

On the road again…just can’t wait to get on the road again….

Today is a travel day and we are headed from Vienna to Prague via the EC 172 train. We got up early and checked out of the hotel before 8:00 a.m. to head to the train station in Vienna. We took a bus from the hotel to the station, but the ride was very, very short. We got to the station VERY early and had nearly an hour to wait until the train came. Manuela accompanied us to the station and got us set up in the correct platform and section. Since we had just a few minutes to get 22 people on the train, luggage stored, etc., we figured out of seating prior to getting on the train. There are just a few members of the group who have been on an express train such as this one so it has been another neat experience for the group. The duration of our train from Vienna to Prague is just under 5 hours. The train made a few short stops along the way.

As we boarded the train, we noticed everything was wet. While some joked it was probably toilet water, we later found out it really was. We were given the ok to relocate to the two wagons ahead which also meant the students could spread out to sleep. All in all it was a smooth ride and a pleasant train experience!

After the train ride, we exited at the Prague station and were to meet our new guide, Petr. Somehow we missed Petr on the platform so we walked out of the train station. I recognized the hotel right across the street so we went in and had the front desk call him. He was a little flustered after that but he eased up on our walking tour.  Since the hotel is right near the train station, the walk with our luggage wasn’t bad at all. Hotel check-in again went smoothly and I think most are glad that we won’t have to pack our bags again until we get ready to head to the airport on Monday. The hotel is nice and much more spacious than Vienna!

After our quick orientation session where he went over tipping in the Prague, areas to avoid, how much a taxi should cost, etc. I saw the students eyes perk up when talked about how cheap beer is and that the Czech is the #1 nation for beer consumption and percentage of GDP spent on beer. If  I’ve learned one thing with this group of 20 students, it is that they are hungry and need to eat frequently. If we don’t talk about when the next meal is, it is always the first question I get! Since we didn’t eat a true meal on the train (food was available for purchase but most students took snacks, etc.), I asked Petr if we could grab a snack before the walking tour. He agreed and we stopped at a really nice super market in the train station.

 Our walking tour of Prague was AWESOME! This city is so beautiful and I know we are going to love our time here. We saw many of the famous attractions on our tour including the US Embassy, the Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, the John Lennon peace wall, etc. I can't wait to go back and spend more time in some of these locations. I really enjoyed Petr's discussion of Prague's history where he mentioned that the city is the oldest medieval city in the world. I took a ton of pictures today so it was tough to pick which to include. I've added a few of my favorites below.


After the walking tour of Prague, the evening was free for students to further explore Prague and grab some dinner. The next three days are jam packed with business visits at some great multinational companies. As I mentioned previously, I am so excited for the rest of our time in Prague! We finish the trip with a free day on Saturday and a half of Sunday free. It will be a busy first few days in Prague but plenty of time for exploration in the evenings and the weekend.

Thanks for following along! Check in tomorrow to see what the day has in store!