Doing Business in Uncertain Environments: Salome Saliashvili (Class of 2019) Reflects on DWC to Argentina
Salome Saliashvili (on the right in photo above with a classmate) is a rising second year at Darden. She is spending her summer at Citi for an investment banking internship in the Power Group in New York City. She previously held finance roles in a tech startup and think tank in Washington D.C. Salome graduated with degrees in Finance and Spanish from University of Alabama in Huntsville. She is originally from Republic of Georgia and enjoys traveling there. This past May, Salome participated in the Darden Worldwide Course to Argentina. In her own words:
What do you know of Argentina? Hopefully Malbec comes to mind, maybe the passionate and impeccable movements of the tango, or even mate, the yerba tea so quintessentially Argentinian. Yet Malbec is originally from France, while the tango and mate share origins with neighboring Uruguay. Argentina surprised me with its constant contradictions. For the business world, that translated to resourcefulness.
The Darden Worldwide Course brought over 20 of my classmates and me to Mendoza, Argentina where we consulted with three local wineries on various marketing, finance, and strategic projects. From 8 am to 2 pm, we worked in close collaboration with the staff on the relevant challenges facing the wineries. We learned to focus on the ultimate goal of what we were trying to achieve and take initiative in deciding what would be accomplished each day.
Imagine a scenario where your revenues and costs are in different currencies, the political cycles impact daily business life, inflation is in double digits, and you need to deliver both short-term and long-term returns to your investors. The upside is that you look outside your window and see a breathtaking view of vineyards blending into the horizon of the Andes mountains.
You make do what you can with what you have. There is limited benefit to contemplating the difficulty of the situation or delaying action until better data becomes available; or in our case, better internet service. We were pleasantly surprised to see the amount of progress we could make when we set aside some formalities of the business process and focused on the goal itself.
My particular group was asked to explore development of a boutique hotel from the finance perspective. None of the team members had any real estate experience, but we had finance experience. The project was a standalone evaluation so there was minimum data we could apply from the winery. But we wanted guidance, so we spent significant time trying to clarify the number of rooms, size of the hotel, the operations of the hotel, etc. But we were losing the sight of the big picture; financial models are dynamic. In the end, we built a model with assumptions that could be updated by the finance team at the winery how they saw fit.
There are people who will help if you know how to approach them and ask the right questions. Although I found Argentinians to be exceptionally friendly and welcoming, I suspect that same holds true in most parts of the world. We spoke with local business owners as well as an investor in Virginia. By asking open-ended questions we learned what angles we had missed and we were able to build important relationships.
Argentina offered an extraordinary chance to venture far away and have incredible memories with Darden classmates. Argentineans are a relationship-first people, revealing the heavy Italian influence on the nation. They are immensely welcoming as well, inviting visitors over for one of their frequent get-togethers for an asado, or the famous Argentinean barbeque. You will also see people drinking mate, everywhere, at all times, in all situations. At the bus stop, in the car, in the park, at work, you will see thermos of hot water and elaborate mate cups. The country is larger than I had initially imagined and each region offers diverse beauty that will leave you with a sense of wonder.
Darden Worldwide Course to Argentina gave me a reason to explore part of the world which is difficult to get to – it was my first time in Southern hemisphere. The course itself gave us an opportunity to work with Darden students I had not worked with before, plus a local student from the region. Thus, we learned to contend with unpredictable local business dynamics, a new team member, and client needs. At my current internship in investment banking, that’s exactly what I’m doing on a daily basis. I am part of several small deal teams working agile to meet the client needs. It was a great transition from team “Finca Decero” in Argentina to team “banking intern” in New York City.