Rachel Norton is studying part-time for an MBA at the University of Salford. She wrote about her experience visiting Colombia as part of her course. 

When we were told that as part of our Executive MBA studies we’d be travelling to Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, I wasn’t really sure what to think. My whole knowledge of Colombia, like most people I spoke to, came from watching Narcos, the television series focusing on the rise and fall of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, and to be honest I hadn’t even seen that to the end. Conversations with family and friends bounced between cocaine smuggling and kidnap. By the time we boarded that 13-hour flight I was pretty nervous. I’d be safe right?

That was my first of many misconceptions about Colombia, and over a week, I did a complete U-turn. Colombia is a beautiful country of real diversity and charm, with a thriving and innovative business community and warm and welcoming people.

Image: Group of MBA students

Our schedule was packed full, this was no holiday! We were here to squeeze the most out of the short time we had and as a group, we embraced that with gusto. Each of our days included at least two business visits, and time to soak up that Colombian culture…it wasn’t for the faint-hearted, but so worth it.

Our hosts for the week were Jose Alberto Duenas, a professor from the Universidad de Bogotá Jorge Tadeo Lozano, a true Colombian gentleman and an amazing dancer, and Anne Marie Graham from Vela Tours, our gregarious and brilliant guide and translator. Both were passionate about Colombia and what it has to offer and were keen that we experienced as much as we could in our short time with them.

Image: Rachel Norton in Colombia

Our trip began with a warm welcome from colleagues from the Universidad de Bogotá Jorge Tadeo Lozano (UTADEO). The University of Salford has a long standing relationship with UTADEO which stems from the friendship between Dr Jonathan Swift from the Salford Business School and Jose Alberto Duenas (Alberto). Alberto was Jonathan’s student a long time ago, and it was great to see that relationship still working for the good of both universities. Jonathan could do with learning a few of Alberto’s dance moves, but maybe that is for the next trip!

Our business visits were varied and interesting. We visited large, nationally owned businesses such as Ecopetrol, Acueducto and ETB, large manufacturing companies, Bimbo, Corona and Juan Valdez, alongside smaller start-ups including Arte y Pasión Café and the Bogotá Beer Company which began its life as student project…that one got us all thinking!

What all these companies had in common, was a desire and need for ongoing strategic and cultural change. At Ecopetrol, a large oil and gas company, they really summed it up in the strapline “Transformation – Always On”. They were all about continuous improvement; staff were supported to engender change, to be innovative, to share knowledge and to create value. This really resonated with me. As a member of staff at the University of Salford working on a significant strategic change project, this was an area where I could compare and contrast Salford’s changing strategy and culture and learn from others. It certainly left me with lots of food for thought.

All of the representatives from companies we met with were passionate about their respective areas of business, they were warm and welcoming, and gave honest and frank answers to some pretty challenging questions that we threw at them. There was a clear focus on social responsibility and bettering the lives of every day Colombians.

A wonderful example of this was the Arte y Pasión Café. Antonio Romero, the owner and a world-class barista, set up the café and the accompanying Barista School to provide opportunities for young people and to support the growing café culture in Bogotá. The trainee baristas provided us with a fantastic demonstration of the different ways to prepare and brew coffee. Their knowledge and skill was impressive and the results were just delicious. Seriously, experience this, and you’ll never touch instant coffee again!

Outside of our busy business visit schedule, we had time to explore what Bogotá really had to offer. We ate Colombian style, we drank Colombian style and we danced….British style.

I had a heavy heart, and a heavy head, when we set off for the long trip home on the Saturday. As we took off from El Dorado airport, I felt genuinely sad to be leaving. Our trip to Colombia was such a fantastic experience, what Colombia has to offer, for business, for study, for fun outweighs any concern I had before I left the UK. The only risk truly is wanting to stay.

Thanks to Rachel for sharing her story of what sounds like an amazing trip. Find out more about your options for studying for an MBA at Salford.