Written by: Menanteau Moolman, Whitner Chase, James Hake, and Scott Ario

First Day in Lucerne, Switzerland

Our first day consisted of introductions and interviews with the C-suite in the Pilatus Conference Room, named after Mount Pilatus, which towers over Lucerne with snow-lined peaks at nearly 7,000 feet. Through our introductory chats, we learned about the history, mission, and future aspirations of GWF. It was refreshing to hear the passion with which the executive team speaks about GWF’s mission to build and distribute high-quality products that will aid in better measuring and managing water use. As a 120-year-old family-owned business, they aren’t held captive by the same short-term profitability pressures of many public companies and have the ability to prioritize long-term planning. Many staff members described their roles in a forward-looking way and spoke eagerly about the future. For lunch, we went to a nearby traditional Swiss restaurant.

Over the weekend, Whitner hiked up and ran down Mount Pilatus to train for his upcoming marathon. Meanwhile, the others had a relaxing day with spritzes and charcuterie on a terrace in town.

Days Two and Three in Kaufbeuren, Germany

After our first day in the office, we hopped in a company car and drove four hours through Liechtenstein and Austria on our way to Kaufbueuren, located in Bavaria (Southern Germany). We spent two days in Kaufbeuren interviewing the technical staff that manages the specific product line for our project. The chief technologist has worked his whole career in this industry and had a wealth of experience and anecdotes to share from all around the world like Egypt, India, and Kazakhstan.

In the evening, we went to a restaurant and brewery located in a former monastery dating back to the 900s. We bought some beer from the gift shop to take back to Lucerne and drank it at a beautiful vista with Mount Pilatus in the distance.  On the drive back to Lucerne, we stopped at the Neuschwanstein Castle, which was constructed in the 1800s for the King of Bavaria and is rumored to have inspired the Disney Castle.

Cheese Factory in the Mountains

On the eve of our final presentation, the client took us to a cheese restaurant and factory located a town over from Lucerne at the top of a mountain. The drive up was very steep and, in spite of the clouds, was stunningly beautiful. The famous cheese for this region is called Sbrinz, which is a hard cheese used for grating, similar to Parmesan cheese. Most of the dishes that we ordered for dinner contained this delicious cheese. Halfway through dinner, Whitner had to pop outside for an internship interview. Afterward, we took a tour of the factory. Most surprisingly to us, this Sbrinz cheese ages for 2 years and cures in brine water that is over 40 years old. And it tasted great!

Last Day in Lucerne / Final Presentation

Our final day in Switzerland started with our final presentation and a Q&A session with Florian Strasser (CEO and Haas alum) and other members of the executive team. The presentation synthesized semester-long market research and customer interviews with internal learnings from our two weeks in-country. The photo above was posted to LinkedIn by GWF with Florian (center) and 2 other executive staff members we worked closely with.

At the end of the day, Florian took us out to celebrate the end of our project and semester at the Montana Hotel. The evening included spritzes on a terrace overlooking the city, a 6-course tasting dinner with wine pairings, and a nightcap with cigars and whiskey-tasting in a piano lounge. We had the opportunity to share our experiences at Haas and discuss his career path, working at McKinsey in Switzerland and San Francisco and then transitioning to CEO of GWF. He highlighted how Haas’s four defining leadership principles (DLPs) still influence his leadership style today. An emphasis on sustainability would be his fifth DLP if he had to choose another. We’re incredibly grateful to Florian and his team at GWF for the opportunity to learn from them about how to run a successful business that’s keenly planning for the future. While the International Business Development course helped us understand what running a business based outside of the U.S. is like, our most important takeaways were more general. We ended the experience with a better understanding of how to become stronger business leaders, whether we’re based in the U.S or anywhere else.

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