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Written by Santiago Fajardo '12
This August, I had the opportunity to participate in the Thunderbird Alumni Consulting Laboratory in Bogotá, Colombia, led by Thunderbird Professor Tom Hunsaker. Through a local entrepreneur accelerator, Fundacion Bolivar Davivienda, four Thunderbird teams were paired with dynamic local SMEs (small and medium size enterprises). I had the pleasure of working with an SME called País Emprendedor, a family-owned cheese production company, led by a passionate father and daughter team, Don Jaime and Catalina Velasquez. Their cheeses had a particular taste due to the rich protein content found in the cattle from which they produced their cheese. The company was socially visionary and had big market opportunities in front of it. My Alumni Consulting partner, Malorie Jones ’14, and I were tasked with analyzing the company’s operations and providing recommendations to better leverage company resources (i.e., personnel, machinery) to increase margins and improve product quality while serving more customers.
País Emprendedor had field operations in the Caquetá department of southern Colombia, a region historically plagued by conflict. Don Jaime had more than just business growth on his mind. As a visionary—his brand logo and name came to him in a dream—he wanted to make an impact on the community and pioneer a dairy industry ecosystem in Colombia. Part of Don Jaime’s legacy was to contribute to the historic peace in the country by converting former coca farmers to become part of the rancher community. And, due to the fluctuation in milk prices and the instability imposed on farmers, his vision included creating a coop where members of the cattle and dairy industry could work together to create fair wages and stable employment for all.
On the market side, País Emprendedor had recently signed a contract with the Colombian government to provide their protein rich cheese to school children throughout Bogotá. This was a major win for Don Jaime as País Emprendedor began to focus on child nutrition. This new contract would bring País Emprendedor’s string cheese to all public schools in Bogotá.
Throughout the week, Malorie and I mapped the entire production process – from milk production at the cattle ranches to delivery of the final product to customers – and provided recommendations on how to improve the process. We also researched coops modeled after those in the US and provided best practices for a coop in Colombia.
Although Don Jaime and Catalina were forward thinking, they needed to have their processes mapped out and learn about best practices before moving on to their next aspiration. Don Jaime was warm with his gratitude: “Thank you (Professor Hunsaker) and team for the incredibly valuable contribution to our business and your warm friendship and generosity. We are already realizing positive impact from your insights.”
The Alumni Consulting Lab Experience
Post graduation, it is easy to become lost in your career and the corporate world. Personally, I wanted to get back to why I chose to attend Thunderbird in the first place: to help create economic development and trade among nations while giving back to the community. This international experience was just the opportunity. Not only was it a personal mission as a Colombian, but I felt my previous experience and education from Thunderbird would be best applied in such a project. This opportunity brought me back to my passion for global growth and has helped me both personally and professionally.
Working in the same role day in and day out it is easy to forget about our creative abilities and visionary mindset. After working with one of the most visionary entrepreneurs I have known, it reminded me to always have a visionary outlook about goals and truly think about what the final outcome could be. Through this experience I remembered to challenge myself for creative solutions and progress.
Having the chance to work with such talented alumni and a like-minded globally focused team was an amazing opportunity; it brought a sense of nostalgia from my time at Thunderbird. I was able to learn from people across differing career paths, each with their own expertise and passion for economic development. As an alumni group, we were able to draw from each other’s expertise if it was needed for our client.
If presented with the opportunity, I encourage participating in an Alumni Consulting Lab. The experience in helping entrepreneurs grow, making an impact, and immersing in a local culture is something we can all relate to as T-birds. This is what differentiates us as global citizens.
Ready to combine adventure and impact?