An update from Elizabeth, MBA and Master’s of Arts Management ’12, who traveled to India with the Cox Global Leadership Program:

After our epic day yesterday, I think no one was worried about trouble sleeping. Some levels of exhaustion transcend time zones and jetlag. A few folks didn’t sleep straight through, a few took sleeping pills and didn’t know the difference, and most of us dropped off after a final surge of adrenaline (“We’re in INDIA!”) and woke up to the wake-up call.

Breakfast at the hotel is awesome, and a mix of all sorts of ethnic foods: American (eggs, bacon & sausage, cereal), Indian (dhosas, idli, curries), Asian (wontons, sauces, some weird but delicious pastry-thingies) and European (cold cuts, an entire table of cheeses) along with freshly squeezed juices from fruits I’ve never heard of. We sit outside at the pool to eat, and it’s lovely – worth getting up a bit early to make sure to have time to enjoy it.

Our first visit was to Essilor, a lens manufacturer and sales company. We heard from the CFO to begin, who gave us an overview of the company’s history and strategy – they are aggressive in acquisitions worldwide, though Esslior India often acts as its own agent (its parent company is Essilor International, in Paris). The HQ for Essilor US is in Dallas – and four of our classmates will be interning with them this summer!

Next we heard from two of the sharpest Marketing gals you can imagine. The challenges of marketing in India seem nearly insurmountable: there are 18 official languages, but hundreds of other formal languages (including a written aspect), not to mention dialects. Then, geographically the country is so diverse, and the division of religions, though India is about 80 percent Hindu, is still significant. So how does a company sell lenses to all these different people? Especially as Essilor is not the retailer – they sell to opticians and opthamalogists in eyecare shops, mostly family-run. You might know who designed your frames, but think of the last time you realized who made your lenses – and now imagine trying to gain market share in India!

IMG_0374.jpg Next we heard about an impressive initiative the company has taken in rural marketing. Once they realized that the reason many rural residents didn’t buy eyeglasses wasn’t money but time (a day taken off from working the fields = a day without pay), they created a mobile lens van that travels around, testing, prescribing and finishing eyeglasses in a couple hours for residents of each village. It’s a unique idea and so interesting.

We finished with a tour of the lab and the customer service center, then raced over to grab lunch as we were running behind. The walk from the offices to the restaurant was the first time we’ve truly taken our lives in our hands.

Next we headed to MeritTrac, a skills assessment company started by three guys at a coffeeshop. The founder and CEO spoke to us (as we fought post-lunch food comas in the stuffy conference room) and the story of his company Publish Post’s growth is really interesting. It’s a great study in entrepreneurship.

Soon we had the a/c working again, some cookies and coffee, and we were having a terrific discussion with him about some upcoming ventures the company is beginning. He asked for our opinions and we were all so excited to offer suggestions and engage in such a productive afternoon!

He also showed us a video about his social enterprise, Head Held High, which takes village students who cannot speak or read English, works with them, and within a year, the students are employable in Bangalore and the world. We even got to meet three graduates, who, after finding work with other companies, decided recently to break loose and start their own group, freelancing – and are currently fulfilling a contract with MeritTrac. The CEO’s dedication not only to his company, but to furthering and standardizing education in India is inspiring.

Then we tumbled onto the bus for the ride home, and more evening adventures.