surprising argentina

surprising argentina

As we become increasingly aware of our short time on this planet, priorities for life, including travel, are often discussed. Little did we imagine that Argentina would take priority in our own travel plans. Encouraged by one daughter, we enjoyed an amazing two weeks in Buenos Aries and north-west Argentina. The appetite has been whetted for more, in a fascinating country with 5000km of coastline from tropical to sub Antarctic environments.  

 Rich with Inca heritage and battles with European invaders, and of politics over the past 60 years that have swayed between military rule and Peronist power (past and present), Argentina seems poised to regain lost prosperity. There are stark contrasts between regional poverty – almost third world poverty – and some of the well to do in Buenos Aries. Another contrast is old world sophistication and the vibrant energy of the young. Gauchos, tango dancers and i phones happily coexist, and yet it’s easy to sense substantial change ahead in this highly urbanised, exciting country of 42 million people. Low taxation and high inflation are current challenges for this resurgent, resource rich nation.

 From a tourism perspective, Argentina has seemingly untapped potential. Before the direct Qantas flight home from Buenos Aries (which shifts to Santiago in April 2012), I talked with Geoff McGeary, the founder and owner of APT, who has just established a business in Argentina. The adventure business is booming and he can’t keep up with demand from Australia alone. The country is accessible and interesting, with key points of differentiation in a tourism world that is increasingly homogeneous.

 Argentinians love football, siestas, and have a strong sense of community. The European influence – not only from Spain but from Italy as well – permeates local life, with bidets to be found even in hostels. This is an accommodating country, one which is tolerant and welcoming. It also possesses an energy brooding beneath the siesta – an energy that will make Argentina economically more powerful and accessible to the world. There is a pervasive sense of hope and justice in Argentina, just nine years after the dramas of police shooting protestors in the streets.

 Argentina served up surprises everywhere:

  •  Argentina is a food bowl. We enjoyed the quality of the produce available on the domestic market – much of it reflecting no middle men in the supply chain, although supermarkets are starting to put pressure on small local shop keepers as they have done in every other part of the developing world. Some food was exceptional – like freshly squeezed orange juice; organically grown and dried peaches; fresh shelled walnuts; raisins; tomatoes that tasted as if they came from the back garden; succulent corn; ripe and cheap avocadoes; abundant and tender fresh asparagus and of course the meat – fillet steak was AUD 8.00 a kg in most retails outlets
  • The insidious influence of western diet is having an impact on the local population with obesity apparent and possibly aligned with an overwhelming consumption of soft drink, confectionary and very sweet and fatty bakery items. What a shame given the corn and other foodstuffs that formed the base diet for Argentinians in the past
  • The behaviour of children and young adults is as we knew it forty years ago – respectful, controlled and cheerful. We were amused by the habit of very young students wearing lab coats – like young engineers. Bizarre but cute!
  • Old cars are abundant, particularly in regional Argentina  – Ford 100’s, Ford Falcons, old Peugot 504’s and Renault 12’s, Fiats and the ubiquitous Volkswagens and  Toyotas
  • Beverage consumption varies from the comfort of flasks of mate tea to fizzy drinks to the hip wine bars of Palermo serving craft beer on tap and wine by the glass. Red wine is improving and represents a real global opportunity for the industry – blessed with cheap labour and proven terroir. Quaffing wine is very cheap and good wines excellent value. AUD10 will deliver a seriously good Cabernet or Malbec.
  • Whatever happened to the African slaves who were abundant in the 19th Century? Little is written about this subject. Did they leave due to the prejudices of the military; did they become subsumed into the population; or did they perish?
  • Although Argentina has seen a large influx of Spanish, Italian, Syrian and Lebanese immigrants, there is almost no Asian or Muslim presence in the country
organisational authenticity and meaning

organisational authenticity and meaning

Business bookshelves are groaning under the weight of single ideas padded out to 250 pages, recycled and repackaged messages and occasionally, some ground breaking insights. I recently read a book that falls into the last category – “ Meaning Inc. – the Blueprint for Business Success in the 21st century” by Gurnek Bains. Bains is founder and CEO of YSC, a corporate psychology consultancy with global offices.

This is not another “In Search of Excellence” or “Built to Last” – books that looked in the rear view mirror and reverse engineered the precursors of success. Many of their successful companies floundered. Bains, using the widespread research of YSC, has delivered a concept that is enduring and creates meaning for employees, customers and stakeholders. His premise is that bringing meaning into the workplace is the best way to motivate staff and achieve sustainable high performance, and uses a number of corporate examples on the journey.

Bains argues that the following attributes are present in companies who create meaning:

  • An invigorating sense of purpose that goes beyond business success and which makes people feel that they are changing society as opposed to servicing needs
  • The courage to set extremely challenging goals and to be ground breaking in the pursuit of the core purpose
  • An innovative approach to benefits and the treatment of people which makes them feel special
  • A culture that allows people to be themselves and to feel that they are personally making a difference and utilizing their distinct talents
  • A rigorous and at times almost aggressive approach to evaluating performance and contribution
  • Clear and authentically grounded values which are lived through thick and thin
  • A concern for the sider and particularly, the environmental and societal impacts of business activities
  • Through all the above, an excellent reputation with consumers and other political and social stakeholders
  • Excellent long term performance coupled with a preparedness to sacrifice short term gains if their achievement conflicts with the core purpose and values.

I must say that from recent experience, particularly working with people under 35, this series of prerequisites really resonates. It is all about being authentic. I have now shared this book with four CEO’s who all claim it has impacted significantly on their approach to their leadership and buy in from staff.

A clear sense of purpose and the leadership vision to set a course based on the Bains approach, depends on the CEO and her executive team. Once established, it has a much better chance of success if reinforced through measurement, something which will, in its own right, make a significant contribution to productivity and performance.

vietnam - it's all about people and food

vietnam – it’s all about people and food

August 13, 2010  |  travel tips and tales, uncategorized  |  No Comments

Vietnam has become a fashionable and accessible destination for Australians. If you’re thinking of going, do it soon as this country is becoming westernised by the day. A recent trip from the Mekong Delta in the south to Sapa on the Chinese border in the north, spanned the delights of Vietnam for 23 days. There were plenty of tantalising travel stories from Halong Bay, Hanoi, Hoi An, Hue, Da Nang , Sapa and Ho Chi Minh City. This record focuses on the food and the people – good reasons to experience Vietnam at any location.

Vietnamese food is fantastic! Forget the jokes about dogs and possums – although we did see dog looking strangely like Peking duck at Sapa. In a general sense the food is light, clean, flavoursome and different. Vietnam is a food bowl of fertile river plains, deltas and terraced hills. The variety and presentation of produce in the wet markets would put Woolworths and Coles to shame. All organically grown, the quality and flavour of fruit and vegetables is second to none.

Pho (rice noodles, pronounced fer) is the breakfast food of a nation. We ate a lot of pho tai – rare beef with rice noodles, some chilli, lime, bean shoots and Vietnamese mint. Com (rice) is the staple food and can be made into wrappers, noodles and sweets. Vietnamese spring rolls (nem) are excellent, as are the range of salads. Green papaya and green mango salads were brilliant. Use of various herbs and spices add special flavour to most meals. And we can’t forget that wonderful legacy from the French – fresh baguettes available everywhere.

Most of our meals were taken in restaurants that ranged from authentic local shops such as the one in Hue where we had special egg pancakes, to the more upmarket restaurants such as Au Lac in Hanoi. We even had some meals on the street and strongly support this bold approach (although the street stalls are rapidly disappearing)

Two thirds of Vietnam’s 84 million people are under thirty. These people respect their heritage but are in touch with the globe through mobile phones, i pods and the internet. The Vietnamese are proud, determined and shrewd. In history they have seen off the Chinese, the French and the Americans. There is a strong work ethic and loyalty to family, together with a strong instinct to do business and to deal. We thought that people in the north were softer and more subtle than their countrymen in Saigon. Melbourne is to Hanoi, as Saigon is to Sydney.

On the religious front, most of the population have adopted the triple religion – where Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism have fused with popular Chinese beliefs and ancient Vietnamese animism.

Be warned – Vietnam is addictive and now rates as one of my top two repeat destinations.

hilltops region and another beauty from barwang

August 9, 2010  |  uncategorized, wine review  |  No Comments

The Hilltops Wine Region is one of New South Wales’ most exciting wine regions. Situated around the towns of Young, Boorowa and Harden, the Hilltops is fast gaining recognition as a consistent producer of ultra-premium wine.  Croatian immigrants planted the first vines in this region in the 1860’s. These vines were planted especially for refreshments for the diggers working in the near-by gold fields. The more recent vineyards contributing to today’s viticulture industry were established from the 1970′s. The Southcorp viticulturalists used to say that anywhere you can grow cherries is a good area for quality red wine grapes

Barwang is a part of the McWilliams stable. McWilliams is renowned for presenting wines of great value. This is no exception. I paid $14 in Vintage Cellars at a case rate, but I have noticed it for $13 on line.

Barwang Hlltops Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

My tasting notes follow:

“Bright brick red, vibrant colour. Attractive black currant and blackberry nose with some lifted floral overtones. Powerful berry fruit with licorice and chocolate combined with lovely mocha oak that opens up in the glass. Tongue coating, rich savoury tannins – still a little aggressive – but will rapidly soften with a little more ageing. Lingering mouth full of flavour. 14.0% alcohol. Great wine of outstanding value. 93/100”

life advice from the pointy end

life advice from the pointy end

 When I used to fly up the pointy end of the plane, there was nothing like a glass of Krug and freedom from electronic invasion, to stimulate the brain. I did some of my most creative work in the air. The following list of “life advice” given to my daughters in 2001, flowed from the beautiful bead at ten thousand metres……

  • Learn Spanish and visit as many places where it is spoken that you can
  • Take risks but be sharp when you do
  • Find a partner who will cherish you and who has soul, depth, passion and strength
  • Drink less and better
  • Share stunning experiences with your parents as they grow older
  • Be slow to judge, quick to relate and balanced in your conclusion
  • Respect, reputation and credibility are hard earned and easily lost – value these attributes
  • Mostly travel off the beaten track
  • Let passion and positivity reign over cynicism and mediocrity
  • Develop self-esteem to match your talent and most barriers to fulfilment will be removed
  • Be humble because we are lucky to be who and where we are
  • Place your trust in others wisely – they are not all like you
  • Have fun but understand when to knuckle down – hard work generally precedes success
  • Lust after knowledge
  • Understand the power of subtlety in todays “in your face” world
  • Those who respect you for being strong and independent will be your best friends
  • Be either switched on or switched off – never be caught half way
  • Embrace dancing for fitness, romance and fun
  • Do what you can to save the earth – we are losing the battle
  • Mentor/sponsor/support someone younger
  • Ask of yourself what you ask of others
  • See how much more you hear when you listen without judgement
  • When something goes wrong, seek to learn, not to blame
  • Understand and appreciate music – the international language
  • Look at the big picture – love is always there
  • Extensively use the best stress beaters – laughter and exercise
  • Allow the high of life to transcend over artificially induced highs
  • Whatever you pay attention to will grow stronger in your life.
  • Show empathy most to those who annoy you most
  • Ask questions instead of making statements

It’s easy to give advice – particularly when sipping Krug – and much harder to accept it or do anything about it, even if it hits the target. I was chuffed to discover recently that these beautiful women still carry a copy.