It is 7 o’clock in the morning, and my teammate Tong and I are getting into a street taxi in Chengdu. We are heading to the nearby city of Dujiangyan to meet with Mr. Xu. Mr. Xu is an avid runner, the first one of over 60 runners we will interview in China for this project. The plan for today is to spend some time talking to Mr. Xu about his passion for running and then join him on a shopping trip to a mall to observe how he makes purchasing decisions. We hope that insights from our time with Mr. Xu will help us understand Chinese running culture, which will help our team complete our OnSite assignment.
We are now on the highway. High-end malls that lined the streets of Chengdu have been replaced with an endless sequence of nearly identical apartment buildings. In the back of the taxi, I am making last-minute changes to the questions we’ve prepared for Mr. Xu based on our observations of Chinese runners in the field. It’s our first week in China, but we have been working on the project for quite some time. Back in Hanover, our team spent several weeks conducting desk research and developing assessment tools to evaluate the needs and shopping behaviors of Chinese runners. Our client had approached customer analysis differently in the past, so the client’s business development managers were excited to have the Tuck team come up with a unique solution to their business challenge.
Dujiangyan is still far away. I turn to Tong—he is engaged in a passionate discussion with the taxi driver. While I was tweaking the interview questions, Tong had managed to negotiate a deal on our return trip to Chengdu. Tong and Jewel are the only Chinese students on our team. They have been exceptional hosts on this trip. This was my first time in China, and Tong and Jewel took every chance to introduce me and my teammates to what makes their country special. Knowing about my passion for rare teas, Tong took me to a tea parlor where I got to taste Dao Hong Pao, a unique tea that is reserved for honored guests in China. Jewel led the team on a hike to the top of Qincheng Mountain, followed by an authentic hot pot dinner with her parents.
An hour after we left Chengdu, our taxi pulls up to Mr. Xu’s apartment building. I step out of the taxi and am immediately struck by the rich scents of Sichuan street food that fill the air. A slender man in a track suit is waving us in with enthusiasm. Tong introduces us in Chinese—“We are delighted to meet you, Mr. Xu!” I pause for a moment to take it all in. Over the next few weeks, we will interview runners, analyze field data, and share our recommendations with the client’s senior executive team. We will help our client solve a critical business challenge. We will learn to play off each other’s strengths and help each other grow through constructive feedback. We will build friendships to last us a lifetime.
Maria Milleville is a second-year student at Tuck. On campus, Maria is a Leadership Fellow and a Non-Profit Board Fellow. Prior to Tuck, she managed STEM internship programs for military veterans and undergraduates at the Human Research Engineering Research Laboratories at the University of Pittsburgh. After Tuck, Maria will be joining Danaher Corporation’s General Management Development Program.