Ed Conlon, management professor and associate dean of the Mendoza College, recently accompanied a team of MBA students to Lebanon as part of an innovative course, Business on the Frontlines. The purpose of the course is for students to study how war-torn countries restart their economies after a conflict. Following are some of Conlon's reflections of the trip.
Lebanon, and particularly the Beirut area, is probably one of the more unique places in the world. It is a city of great contrasts in a land that has adopted to its context.
Much like California, it is naturally positioned for tourism with a long Mediterranean coast line and a high coastal mountain range. It has a substantial, educated population and a good sense of patriotic identity. It is also a land of sects and deep religious and political differences. It has neighbors (Syria and Israel, and once removed, Iran) with particular interests that involve Lebanon, and these neighbors meddle deeply in Lebanese politics and have a strong role in shaping the experience of the Lebanese people.
In the midst of all of this, Lebanon is very successful at some things such as banking and tourism, and not so successful at others, such as electricity generation and national defense.
The students traveling to Lebanon with me were Joe Boone, Jeff Hsu, Colin Kresse, Patrick Mulvehill, Omar Shaban and Xavier Navarro. Before we departed on this trip, I hoped that the students would do a deep-dive into Lebanon, learning as much as they could in advance. Then using the time in the country, and the opportunities to meet a rich cross-section of people, I wanted them to dig even deeper. Their questions, while centered on the role and experiences of economic business in Lebanon, needed to be well-informed by the context and the culture as well.
I think this plan worked beautifully. In just a week or so, the students have been able to ask very nuanced and well-informed questions of bankers, business people and political leaders. The answers enabled them to see both the opportunities and challenges faced by business in Lebanon and, indeed, the country as a whole.
They have truly developed specific expertise in the analysis of this country of great contrasts. Perhaps most importantly, they deeply understand the complexity of the region and the very difficult challenges faced by those leaders in Lebanon who thirst for progress.