Barbados Trek: Mixing Business, Fun & Daiquiris in a Tropical Paradise

An HBS business conference in the middle of January in the sunny, beautiful islands of the Caribbean? Barbados Trek participants endured a daily dilemma: swimsuit or business suit? On any Caribbean Business Club trek both are required. Each year, approximately 50 Wharton and HBS students and alumni convene in the Caribbean to explore business, investment and career opportunities in the region. Last year the group visited the twin-island republic of Trinidad & Tobago. This year the group ventured to the Caribbean’s eastern-most island and one of the region’s best-kept secrets: Barbados. From pin-striped suits to Brazilian bikinis, participants lived the duality that exists in the Caribbean and came tantalizingly close to achieving the proverbial, yet elusive, work/life balance.

The Caribbean Trek has a unique structure as it is co-organized by the Caribbean Clubs of Wharton and HBS, and a business conference takes place in the middle of typical trek activities. A conference in the Caribbean is not exactly like one at Spangler; imagine a Hilton where every room has a view of the Caribbean Sea. Within this environment, old-school rivalries are replaced with Caribbean bonding, which occurs naturally over discussions of BGIE topics such as regionalization or on the dance floor inspired by contagious soca and reggae rhythms pulsating though the air.

Barbados, like many of the islands, is a melting pot of cultures, drawing from its African and British heritages. Trek participants are as diverse as the Caribbean: a French HBS alumnus who owns a successful automotive distributorship serving the region domiciled in Martinique, and another who is now a senior consultant in New York wanting to explore career opportunities in the Caribbean region.

During the business conference, participants were immersed in lively conversations on the region’s most pressing issues: trade liberalization; possible Caribbean monetary union; the impact of the Cricket World Cup 2007 championship to be hosted in the region; the advent of regionalization and the development of a culture industry. Outside of the business conference, participants sipped on exotic drinks, savored spicy cuisine, explored the island on Jeep safaris and enjoyed moonlit walks on the beach.

Caribbean Trek 2007 anyone? Which island? No one knows, but chances are it’ll be a bit warmer than Boston in January.

The Barbados Trek was an experience of a lifetime. ÿFrom an American perspective, I had no idea of the entrepreneurial opportunities within the Caribbean.ÿ During the trek, we heard from political leaders, as well as business leaders who talked about their operations and successes within the Caribbean.ÿ We were also able to tour several companies and talk with their C-level management team.ÿ I even met a fellow Section F’er from HBS Class of 1997 during one dinner.ÿ I must say the HBS Caribbean Business Club members truly planned a magnificent conference.

In addition to the enormous business opportunity within the Caribbean, the overall quality of life blew me away. When we stepped foot onto Bajan soil, I exhaled AAHHHH!!!ÿ What a beautiful place this was, 83 degrees , no humidity, clear and sunny skies, and plenty of lush greenery.

The Barbados Trek was a phenomenal experience. It was extremely well organized. The truly unique aspect about this trek is that it offers the opportunity for both fun in the sun, and high-level exposure to the Caribbean business community. Caribbean businessÿis still a pretty well-kept secret but little by little the word is getting out. For entrepreneurial spirits, the Caribbean offers the unprecedented opportunity to take on huge levels responsibility and to define the future of business in the region. For those whoÿrefuse to just run with the pack, theÿCaribbeanÿopportunity is not to be overlooked.ÿ