Crisis Management

Today we finished a day and a half of training in crisis management. We began with a simulation. In each group we were given very little information about our company, told that we were in charge, and then BAM, the crisis started. We began receiving telephone calls from employees about chemical leakage from our plant. Before we could get a handle on that, news reporters burst into our offices asking accusatory questions to which we really had no ability to respond intelligently.

We spent the next several hours trying to gather information from our employees, the media, the townspeople, and the authorities. All the while the phone was ringing off the hook, the reporters were beating down our doors, and we were trying to figure out what to do given our limited understanding of the situation. By the end of the exercise we had a full-blown environmental catastrophe on our hands and our share price had fallen 50%. Our attempts to communicate via the media were amateurish at best and may only have exacerbated the situation. What a failure!

What a learning experience as well. We spent the next day analyzing what happened during the crisis and how best to prepare for/execute crisis management. This included a significant amount of time focusing on how best to give interviews, hold press conferences, and deal with the media. Our practice interviews were taped, replayed, and analyzed, which helped us understand what we need to work on--especially in situations featuring high anxiety and low information. This was a very good, eye-opening exercise.

In between the crises, we have had a few chances to catch up with one another about our vacations. It's kind of funny; all the girls are showing off new clothes purchased over the break. All the guys look pretty much the same. Three of the guys were married in July. One of the guys had a baby--wild and crazy times!

Our next day will be spent on career strategy/search, followed by two and a half days of negotiation training. Welcome back to school!


Back in Lausanne

After three glorious days in San Menaio, a small town on Italy's Adriatic coast, I am back in Lausanne. San Menaio was wonderful, as it always is: no Internet, no work, just peaceful beach life with my Italian cousins.

The Italian side of my family is always incredibly welcoming and accommodating in their little beach house. We spend the mornings and evenings at the beach, separated by lunch and a siesta. Then, after dinner, we travel to nearby towns at night to "fare la passagiata," just walk around a bit. The food is always prepared fresh from little carts that travel by the house in the morning selling fish, fruit, vegetables, etc. Life is good in San Menaio.

I read some of the first Harry Potter book in Italian while I was there. It was slow going because my vocabulary of magic-related words is pretty deficient. By the end of the trip, though, I was reading much more quickly than at the beginning. Now that I'm about to recommence the torrent of IMD activities, we'll see if I can finish the book by year's end.

It's great to be back but there is much to do before we begin a mini-course on Crisis Management tomorrow. I wouldn't mind another week of vacation!

I have updated and finalized my facebook albums for this vacation:




Today was a simple day in Piemonte. We woke up late, had a huge breakfast at the villa, then went hiking around vineyard trails in Monta', not too far off. We had gelato for lunch (still too stuffed from breakfast for anything more) and pizza for dinner. The evening is cool and the sky is clear for stargazing. I will miss Piemonte.

Tomorrow we leave for Puglia to meet the Italian side of my family at their house by the sea and I will be cut off from the Internet for a few days. The next time you hear from me I will be well fed and incredibly relaxed. Ciao, a dopo!

Pictures are in my facebook album.



Today was full of Bacchanalian goodness. We began in Barbaresco at Bruno Rocca. We were pleased to be greeted by Luisa Rocca, Bruno's daughter, who led us into the tasting room to begin. No tour, just right down to business--we didn't object! We learned about the vineyards that Bruno Rocca owns throughout the region and all of the different wines that are produced. Then we tasted three of them: Bruno Rocca Dolcetto d'Alba Vigna Trifole' 2007 (unrated), Bruno Rocca Barbaresco Coparossa 2004 (93), and Bruno Rocca Barbaresco Rabaja' 2005 (unrated). The Dolcetto was a wonderfully balanced value wine and the Barbarescos were divine. The day had started off right.

We then made our way into the little town of Barbaresco itself for lunch. We ate at a little trattoria in the shadow of the town's main tower, wandered around a bit, then headed back to Barolo for our afternoon appointment at La Spinetta. La Spinetta held special significance for me since its mascot is a rhino and only a few weeks ago I was being chased by a rhino in Kenya. We arrived early and were offered a glass of champagne while we waited--off to a good start!

We toured the Barolo Campe' winery then tasted six wines, beginning with the La Spinetta Barbera d'Alba La Gallina 2006 (unrated). We then tasted the three single-vineyard Barbarescos: La Spinetta Barbaresco Starderi 2005 (92), La Spinetta Barbaresco Valeirano 2005 (unrated), and La Spinetta Barbaresco Gallina 2005 (94). The one from the Valeirano vineyard was my favorite as it was spicier than the other two, which were lighter and showed wonderful finesse. Our final red wine was the La Spinetta Barolo Campe' 2004 (95), one of the few La Spinetta wines without a rhino label. Its label featured a lion instead, because Barolo is the king of wines. And wow, what a king this was--all hail! We wrapped up with the La Spinetta Moscato d'Asti Bricco Quaglia 2007 (unrated), which was a light, refreshing way to finish.

Finally, we met the La Spinetta guard puppy, a border collie who chases tennis balls and nibbles on low hanging fruit (i.e. helps out with the green harvest!) all day. Adorable! After a day of such great wines, we didn't even go out to dinner. We made it back to the villa early and I am heading to bed a super happy boy.

Pictures are in my facebook album.



As today is Sunday, all the wineries were closed and we were unable to book any appointments. All of the local enoteche, however, were open, so we took a leisurely drive around the Barolo valley, stopping every chance we had to taste Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, Dolcetto, and even Moscato.

Some of the views on our meandering drive were absolutely spectacular. We were particularly fond of La Morra, on the valley's northwest ridge. One of the aspects of Toscana I always loved was how its hills were a patchwork of different colors and textures. Here in Piemonte, every parcel is planted with vines so they have a more uniform color and texture. However, the color is a beautiful, rich green and the texture is a consistent, horizontal striation made by the rows of vines on steep slopes (Grapes are all harvested by hand here because machines couldn't handle the grade!), so there isn't much to complain about.

The enoteche in the castles of Barolo and Grinzane Cavour serve as the official tasting destinations for local varietals. What could be better than sipping on great wine in old castles with such beautiful vistas in all directions? La dolce vita.

We stopped in the city of Asti for dinner, settling on a restaurant with many local specialties on the menu, a nice wine list, and no English speaking staff. We weren't disappointed. Our waitress offered to select antipasti for us then we just chose first courses, thinking we would have a light meal. But oh were we wrong. The waitress brought plate after plate of antipasti so delicious would couldn't help but finish it. By the time my risotto with hazelnuts in a moscato cream sauce arrived, I could barely touch it. If that's the worst problem I have, though, life is good.

Pictures are in my facebook album.


In Italia!

After a long, beautiful drive along the Mediterranean coast, we arrived tonight at our B&B just outside of Asti in Piemonte. Our home for the next few days is Villa Sampaguita, a charming estate owned and operated by two ex-pats. They served us a multi-course dinner upon our arrival. Everything in it was grown and made here at the villa--including the several vintages of Barbera d'Asti that we drank. Our hosts are gracious, the grounds are beautiful, and we are prepared to take on the wines and castles of Piemonte . . . after a good night's sleep.


Last Day in France

Today was a travel day. We began with a poolside breakfast then toured Chateau Figeac in the St. Emilion AOC. We were part of a larger group here, but our guide was excellent. We finished with a tasting of the Chateau Figeac St. Emilion 1988 (84), which was still as youthful as the day it was bottled--very impressive!

We then spent the rest of the day on the road en route to Marseille. About half of this time was spent in traffic once we had already entered the city! For dinner we returned to Le Miramar, where Cox and I had dined two weeks before. Once again we all had the Bouillabaise and once again we were not disappointed.

All though the FIVB beach volley world series is going on here right now, we won't have a chance to stop in for a match before we depart for Italy. Oh well, maybe next time!

Pictures are in my facebook album.



Today we departed from the usual Bordeaux tasting plan by spending the day in Sauternes. We began at first-growth Chateau Guiraud, where our private tour was an excellent introduction to the Sauternes-making process. In contrast with most Medoc tours, this one was much more informal and it was clear that the chateau wasn't really set up for guests. This was A-OK with us as we were able to poke around all we wanted and have all of our questions answered.

We finished the tour with a six-vintage vertical tasting of the Chateau Guiraud Sauternes: 1996 (unrated), 1998 (89), 2000 (90), 2001 (96), 2002 (89), and 2003 (95)--what a way to start the day! The complexities and differences between each vintage were astounding. Guiraud uses exclusively the natural yeast on the berries which, when combined with the varying levels of sugar each year, makes for radically different fermentation durations each year. They also vary the proportion of semillion to sauvignon blanc depending on the quality of each varietal each season. Accordingly, the differences in style, taste, nose, and body between many of the vintages were tremendous. I was also amazed by how rich and dark Sauternes become as they age. The 1996, with the same varietal composition as the 2003, would not have been recognizable as the same wine.

After six glasses of wine and no breakfast, we really needed some lunch to sober up! We found a little restaurant near the town center and sat out on a terrace overlooking the vineyards. The food was wonderful and we took a nap in the car afterward. Refreshed and ready to go, we then made our way to the legendary Chateau d'Yquem, the only Bordeaux winery to receive the Premier Cru Superieur designation in the classification of 1855.

The Yquem tour was in French and was shared with three other small groups so I acted as translator for the rest of our motley crew. Unfortunately our guide really, really loved the sound of his voice and went on and and on, motivating us to zone out and discuss on our own.

Apparently Yquem uses exactly the same vinification process as Guiraud (and all the other first growths), so the question was raised, "What distinguishes Yquem to make it 'Superieur?'" The answer was typically French: terroir. It was not just the quality of the terroir, though, which is shared by the other first growths. Yquem is the largest land owner in Sauternes by far and their parcels are spread throughout the region. This gives them significant soil variety, enabling them to choose the best grapes from different vineyards each year. So, if the year is hot and dry, they can favor grapes from vineyards that do better in hot, dry weather. If the year is cool and moist, they can favor grapes that thrive in such an environment.

The proof is in the pudding, or rather in the Sauternes. We tasted the Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes 2004 (97) and it was delicious. It was clearly very young but showed layer after layer of balanced complexity. Given the bottles of Yquem from the early 1800s lying around (and I thought 1996 was dark!), which are apparently still very drinkable, these wines are seriously built to last.

So, although the tour was much longer than it needed to be, the estate and the wine were beautiful. We then wound our way through Bordeaux to St. Emilion, where we would stay the night. Our B&B was a gorgeous chateau just outside of the city. It sat on a large property that included several windmills, one of which could be climbed for breathtaking views of the area. After some walking around the local vineyards, a refreshing dip in the chateau's pool, and dinner in St. Emilion, we slept very, very well.

Pictures are in my facebook album.



Ron wasn't feeling too well this morning so we skipped our first appointment at Chateau Palmer. We did manage to make our afternoon appointment at Chateau Margaux, though, and I am certainly glad that we did. The estate was beautiful and, again, our guide was very knowledgeable. This time we shared the visit with a group of four Germans and tasted the 2004 vintage of their first label (93) at the end. It was young and tight, but you could tell that there was a world of complexity waiting to come out over the next decades.

For dinner we met the John/Natalye clan and many of their friends in the architecture community at a restaurant in Saintes. Dinner was delicious and was followed by a tour of Charlotte's (another Houston friend of ours through John and Natalye) new house in Saintes. To be accurate, it wasn't a "new" house per se, rather the renovation of four adjoining houses into a single one. It was beautiful and we celebrated with cognac from 1964. We also had some Richard Hennessy cognac, Hennessy's ultra premium brand, which was soft, smooth, and spicy. It was a wonderful way to wrap up our last night in/around Cognac.

Pictures are in my facebook album.



It took us a little longer than anticipated to make our way into Bordeaux this morning, but that was OK since Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou (in St. Julien), where we had our first appointment, had decided to cancel all of its tastings this week. This left us with plenty of time to meander around Pauillac and have a leisurely lunch on the banks of the river Gironde before our afternoon appointment at Chateau Lynch-Bages.

The Lynch-Bages tour was very nice; it was just for us and the guide was very knowledgeable. The estate has saved its original winemaking equipment in a sort of museum, which made comparisons with its modern equipment very easy. Lynch-Bages produces 500k bottles each year--I had no idea they were that large--and we tasted the 2004 vintage of its first (rated 89 by the Wine Spectator) and second (unrated) labels.

Dinner was lovely. John and Natalye had us over to their house, also in St. Sauvent, and cooked us some fresh, local fare. They bought an old farmhouse 20 years ago and restored it to habitability. As with the hotel, I really love the juxtaposition of antiquity and modernity. I'll have to keep these ideas in mind for when I have my castle some day! Good food, good wine, and good company in the French countryside--this was exactly the kind of vacation I needed!

Pictures are in my facebook album.


Arrival in Cognac

Today was mostly spent traveling. We had an EARLY train (4:30 AM) to the Geneva airport, a flight to Bordeaux, a bus to the Bordeaux train station, a train to Saintes, and a taxi to St. Sauvent, just outside of Cognac. Saintes was really charming and sleepy, so sleepy that the taxi stand at the train station didn't have any taxis, just a list of the cell phone numbers of the five taxi drivers in town.

We didn't really know what to expect at our hotel as we had never seen it before, but we were very pleased upon arrival. The hotel is called the Design Hotel Francs-Garcons and is a very cool juxtaposition of modernity and history. A local architect and his restauranteur wife restored a crumbling, decrepit building and transformed it into a luxurious boutique hotel. They enlisted the numerous ex-pat architects who have houses in the area to help. Each architect took ownership of a room (There are only seven.) and lent it his/her particular style. Our friends from Rice, John Casbarian (Class of '69 and Associate Dean of Architecture) and Natalye Appel (Class of '80), former masters of Lovett College, recommended the hotel to us and were two of the architects who participated. Natalye designed the bar and John did one of the rooms--the very room where we stayed. Suffice to say that the hotel was beautiful and I would enthusiastically recommend it to anyone looking for a few days of getaway in the French countryside.

We asked Florence, the proprieter, for a lunch recommendation. Given how many restaurants were closed for Bastille Day, we were told we would have to head back into Saintes if we wanted any "chic" cuisine. However, there was a restaurant down the road with "simple" food, which sounded A-OK to us. We wandered down the farm roads in the beautiful weather and popped into the restaurant, where the cuisine was anything but simple! It was fresh, delicious, and innovative--I can't wait to see what constitutes "chic" cuisine!

After our late lunch, our travel companions, Ron and Kathleen Moore, arrived. I know Ron through the Wine Committee of the Petroleum Club of Houston and we were excited to share this trip with them. We walked around the 12th-century church just outside our hotel window, wandered around farms and vineyards, and finally returned to the hotel for dinner. Florence offered to prepare dinner for us as well as for John, Natalye, Claudia (elder daughter), Dana (elder daughter's friend), and Julia (younger daughter) since everything was closed for Bastille Day. That turned out to be fortunate for us because Florence's cooking was incredible. Muscles, oysters, fresh tomatoes, fish, pizzas, beef, homemade ice cream, great local wines . . . not a bad opening dinner!

The best part was catching up with the John and Natalye family. Claudia, who was 10 when she moved into Lovett (my senior year), is now headed to Rice herself. Julia, who was only 2, is now a young lady. Time flies!

At Rice the master of each college announces the names of graduating seniors at Commencement. At Lovett we traditionally announce the college president's name first and then the rest of the seniors in alphabetical order. As I had been the previous year's president at Lovett, my name was to be announced first in 2001. As John had never been a college master before, these were to be the first graduating names he had ever announced. Hence, I was to be the first name he ever announced at Commencement. He took this task seriously and consulted with me about the exact pronunciation of my name, rehearsing for a full week before the ceremony. When the time finally came, "Bryan. Guido. Hassin. President of Lovett College," came off his tongue as if he had known me for years. He showed all of the other graduates the same courtesy. As I had most of my family in town, I really appreciated that. When I finished my master's degree, the woman announcing graduates butchered my name horribly--just not quite the same!

So it was wonderful catching up with Ron and Kathleen and the John/Natalye clan. As we're so close to Cognac, we finished the evening with some fine XO while the Bastille Day fireworks were going off. Now that it is finally dark (which only happened about 11 PM), we are turning in to rest up before a big day of wine tasting!

Pictures are in my facebook album.


Living in Lausanne

I haven't posted in awhile. This is not because I have been under major deadline pressure, my traditional reason for latent posts. Rather it is because I spent the last week just living a normal life in Lausanne. There hasn't been anything too extraordinary to report, the weather has been beautiful, and just poking around Lausanne has been blissful. This is really a nice place to live--even if it took me six months to discover it!

Although I've been meeting friends/classmates for drinks in the evenings (How novel!) I have been working throughout the days on my career strategy. With the academic portion of IMD behind us, it is now time to turn our attentions toward life after IMD. As we approach such weighty decisions, we are encouraged to call upon the skills we have developed in the business world. This means viewing ourselves as products and each conducting a thorough product specification, market analysis, and targeted market campaign.

I am taking it a step further and running my search like a business. I am the CEO of the business and thus I call upon a board of directors for help. My board consists of one VC, one pilot, two consultants, two entrepreneurs, three CXOs, a banker, a doctor, and a lawyer spread around the US and Australia. The role of this board is to help me bounce around career ideas, audit my strategy, and hold me accountable to my objectives and process. I will keep my readers updated on my career strategy as it develops and will hope to have good news to report by the end of the year!



My musical odyssey has now entered the new millenium as I just wrapped up 2000. The late 90's didn't have much to recommend them. Good thing they're mostly a blur of engineering problem sets and sleepless nights anyway; I'd hate to think I had missed something!

The power of musical association remains strong. Listening to the top songs of 2000 was like heading back in time to the summer of my first entreprenerial endeavor: cofounding a software company with two other Rice computer science majors. The decision to leave my comfort zone at UUNET, where I had worked since my junior year in high school, was difficult. The decision to turn down job offers from the likes of Microsoft to start up a company with no certainty was even harder.

What an experience, though! That summer in Austin was amazing, living with my best friend in a new city and learning about entrepreneurship the hard way by starting up a tech company in the middle of the tech crash! I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world and that decision is largely responsible for where I am now.

I also lived in Florence for half of 2000. As such I was pretty removed from the American pop charts. While I was there, though, I did discover the British trip hop group, Morcheeba, which I still adore. They've never made it onto the American charts so that just goes to show how narrow and incomplete this musical journey is.

On the subject of music, though, Buddy Guy and Robert Cray, two of my favorite blues artists (again, neither of whom have made the American pop charts), are playing just down the way at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Anyone want to go? I also have two tickets to Jimmy Buffett's September 19th show in Paris--who wants to join me? I don't know if the Parisians know how to tailgate for Buffett but, if not, I'm going to teach them!


Back in Switzerland

After an excellent weekend in the south of France (capped off with an exquisite multi-hour bouillabaise dinner) I am back in Lausanne. It's good to be home and I look forward to a week of career-oriented (but deadline-free!) productivity.

Pictures from Marseille are in my facebook album.


Proud To Be An American

I think this was my first Independence Day away from the US. There were no fireworks, grilling out, or singing; I guess the French just aren't quite as excited about it as I am! I am in Marseille with my buddy Mike from Houston. We spent the day driving around Châteauneuf-du-Pape, touring wineries (Château de Beaucastel and Domaine de la Mordoree), and tasting tens of grenache-, syrah-, and mourvedre-based wines.

We then made our way to the beach (the reason we are staying in Marseille instead of in wine country) and played volleyball until way after sunset--which occurs around 10 PM here. They play really weird volleyball here; the main game is 3-on-3 (on a doubles court) and most of the points are scored not on spikes but instead on cheesy, intentional oversets and open-handed dinks. It's not as fun for me (or for Mike, I think), but hey, when in Rome. Or when in Rhône, as it were!

It was great fun to play with Mike, who has been my volleyball partner in Houston for the past couple of years. He's been taking some time off due to an ankle injury but he is still able to smack the ball down with the best of them--and despite my bad sets! We met a cool Brazilian named Rosh who promised to help us find some doubles games tomorrow--can't wait!

After we made our way back to the hotel and cleaned up, it was midnight and we were just a little late for our 10 PM dinner reservation! We were still able to find some food, though, and now, full and exhausted, I think we're going to sleep for a long, long time.

Happy Independence Day to all of you Americans out there. For all of her faults, the US is still the land of the free and the home of the brave!


Back in the Developed World

Wow. I’m back. I am most definitely in a different world. We arrived this morning to shining sun and the smells of wonderful cuisine emanating from the outdoor cafes by the train station. Never before has Lausanne felt so European to me. This is how I remember my time in bella Firenze.

Several of us seized the opportunity to head to Plage de Bellerive, the lake beach across the street from IMD, for swimming and beach volleyball. School must be out for the summer because there were myriad white teens around lying out in the sun and gabbing on cell phones—I can’t think of a starker contrast with where I was two days ago.

I’m so glad to be back. My shower is hot and has great water pressure. My tap water is clean. My toilet paper has aloe in it. I feel so safe and comfortable. But I’m not sure I can ever feel as comfortable as I did before our trip to Kenya. I have known that there are great challenges facing us as a society; increasing my ability to help address those challenges was a major reason I chose to attend IMD. Now I have seen some of those challenges first-hand and assigned faces to them, something I don’t think I will ever forget.

I don’t expect this to change my lifestyle dramatically. I will still work out, still eat a lot, still enjoy fine wines and arts. But whenever I search for meaning in what I do or wonder if I can really make a difference, I will forever have in my memory faces that tell me I have no choice but to give it all I’ve got.