Sunday, April 26, 2009

Italian weekend….

Half of my MBA 2010 class visited the Agusta Westland plant near Milan for a school-sponsored field trip. The goal of the visit was to diagnose operational issues in the helicopter assembly and upstream sub-assembly manufacturing plants. Luckily for me, Agusta Westland is 90% similar to a previous client from my consulting days, so this was a lot like shooting fish in a barrel. In any event, as far as operations go, three words are all one needs to know - Lean Six Sigma. Everything else is a load of crap, outdated and ineffective. These days most PE firms swear by Lean Six Sigma.

The helicopter plant itself was near Varese, an hour away from Milan. I won't bore you with the details of how Apache and Sea King helicopters are assembled. However, I'll mention the the pizza in Varese, which was awesome – wood-fired oven, thin crust with parma ham, roquette and buffa mozzarella.

After the plant trip, a few of us rented a car and drove first to Bologna, where we had Bologna salami (baloney) and real Bolognese sauce at Osteria di Poeti, the best restaurant in Bologna (near the city center). We then drove to Florence, where we stayed in Oltrarno for the night.

The next day was spent walking around Florence (remember my admit essay on how I would spend a free day?). Of course no visit to Florence is complete without pistacchio gelato from Ponte Vecchio and a visit to the Gallerie dell'Academia to see David. And, we celebrated April 25, Italy's WWII liberation day, with a bunch of cute communist students at a demonstration below the Piazzale Michaelangelo. They treated us to cantucci, a hard almond biscuit (like biscotti) which is eaten after dipping it in vin santo (sweet wine). And they even gave us a large bottle of fantastic homemade wine, promising to let us make it up to them when they next visited London.

We spent the rest of Saturday and Sunday at a castle in Tuscany - Castello di Ripa d'Orcia, on top of a hill near the village of San Quirico d'Orcia, some 25 km from Sienna. The view from the hilltop and the traditional food from the kitchen was glorious, although the wine from the estate left something to be desired. The serenity of the Tuscan evening was broken only by the sounds of our partying late, and the music from another party in the next castle over, on another hill, a few km away. This morning we drove back to Milan, where after a long delay at Malpensa, we made it back to Gatwick, in time to read our corporate finance cases and finish our managerial accounting homework.

The Duffman cometh
Stealth photography at the Gallerie dell'Academia

The view from our castle
Ghiberti's "Gates of Paradise" - Baptistery across from the Duomo in Florence
View of the Duomo from Pizzale Michaelangelo

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