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MBA International Study Trip | Costa Rica 2023

Jan 26, 2024

Collage of photos from MBA study trip to Costa Rica

Photo on left: MBA students at the sole coffee farm, l-r: Mariya Tsybulnyk, Ozlem Gorkan, Areeba Aziz, and Renée Hueston; Photo on right: MBA students having a meal together, l-r: Areeba Aziz, Ozlem Gorkan, Maggie Anderman, Renée Hueston, and Sophie Tong

Renée Hueston is an MBA ’24 candidate with wide-ranging interests in business and beyond. Following an undergraduate degree in biochemistry, she has worked in clinical trials management and family enterprise in print manufacturing/news media. In her various roles, she has led operational change management projects, overseen software integration and managed teams in diverse fields. In her blog below, she discusses her recent trip to Costa Rica for the Ivey MBA International Study Trip and the lessons she learned from the country’s “Pura Vida” (simple life) mindset.

When my MBA classmates and I left for Costa Rica following the culmination of our Ivey Field Projects, we were all ready for a change of pace and scenery (and temperature!). I wondered how different things might be for industry in a country I mostly associated with sun, surfing, and sloths. I was pleasantly surprised to find the business community there to be teeming with firms led by innovative, driven, and resourceful people. Below are some of the themes that emerged throughout the week.

Uniting diverse perspectives for a common goal

We had the privilege of consulting on a business challenge with a firm that had grown into a market leader at home, but was experiencing trouble expanding into the U.S. and Canadian markets. The client was presented with a remarkably diverse set of recommendations on a profitable path forward. This was made possible through a shared goal, and generated an array of proposals by focusing on regional markets, and working in small enough groups to benefit from both individual voices and collaborative effort.

Navigating the risks to reap the benefits

Risk mitigation emerged as a pivotal theme in our discussions. The firm, Grupo Purdy, is family-owned and has grown from modest beginnings to dominance in automotive sales in the country. With an eye to the future and an understanding of shifting global trends, the firm’s leaders realized the potential risk of dependence on internal combustion engine model sales. This led to recent investments to expand electric vehicle offerings and underscored the importance of understanding risks to ensure long-term success.

Sustainability through diversity and balance

At Rutas Naturbanas (a project to integrate nature within urban spaces through a planned 25-kilometre riverside pathway), a simple conversation about the removal of visually-pleasing bamboo from the riverbank was enlightening. While the bamboo is a simple solution to slope stabilization and creates a serene atmosphere, it was noted that it is the only kind of vegetation in that area – the invasive species adds acidity to the soil, creating an environment where nothing else can grow. Removing the bamboo will allow Costa Rica’s natural biodiversity to return. This was a small, but perfect demonstration of the benefits of balance and diversity in all things, which then support the growth of individuals and community.

People make the difference

One of the things that resonated with me the most was the Costa Rican Investment Promotion Agency (CINDE) and its focus on the 3Ps (People, Planet, and Prosperity). People provide talent to guarantee a commitment to sustain the Planet, and in turn, to sustain Prosperity. Being able to focus its resources on education and social supports (with no military spending) allows Costa Rica to invest in its population as its greatest resource. Vanessa Gibson, Investment Climate Director of CINDE, told us, "If there is any company in Costa Rica, it is because of the talent of the people we have to offer.” CINDE's success in diversifying and bringing focused industry to Costa Rica demonstrates how important it is for an organization to understand its goals, define its value proposition, and accordingly align its strategy. Beyond the excellent business model, CINDE reminded me that people are at the root of everything: as peers, colleagues, mentors, family, teammates, and every other role they fulfill.

What I will remember most about the study trip are my moments with people – both the people from Ivey that I had the joy of travelling with, and those who I had the privilege of meeting in Costa Rica. As I settle back into the cooler Canadian environment, I aim to embrace the Costa Rican “Pura Vida” (simple life) mindset: one that cherishes balance, values community, centres sustainability, and celebrates life.

More on the photo above (far left):

The sole coffee farm owned and operated by Starbucks, Hacienda Alsacia, is located on the slopes of the Poás Volcano, outside of San Jose. There they do sustainable farming and use industry best practices for research and development of new varieties of disease-resistant coffee trees grown from hybrid seeds.

See more photos below. 

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