Trip out to Agra

January 13th, 2010 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

This morning we drove out to a stretch of highway outside Delhi that dozens of large multinational companies call home.  We met with several members of Avery Dennison’s India operations.

Avery Dennison has hosted Smith students for the past three years and this year they did not disappoint.  They rolled out the red carpet….literally.  When we showed up we were greeted by the senior management team and shown into an outdoor tent they had set up for our morning meetings.

Avery Dennison is a company that doesn’t necessarily have the name recognition of a Proctor and Gamble or Anheuser Busch, but If you ever wondered where major brands purchase their product labeling you would find that Avery Dennison is responsible for providing a wide array of label options to dozens of consumer goods companies.  They make everything from the plastic label around your water bottle to those crazy ads covering entire city buses.

We met with the head of India operations who took us through some of the challenges he faced getting Avery Dennison up and running after the opening up of the Indian economy in the early 90’s.  I came to appreciate the “roll with it” spirit and patience that so many managers had to have in order to succeed in India following drastic economic changes.

I was equally impressed by the operational efficiency inside the actual plant.  Avery Dennison currently utilizes Lean Six Sigma quality management strategies to manage processes and control costs in a low margin industry.  Walking through their facility it was obvious that these strategies have been successfully implemented across the entire facility.  I’ve toured my share of manufacturing plants and even worked in one myself.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more organized facility in my life.

After the meeting we hopped back on the bus and hit the road for Agra.  The group is driving out to Agra to see the Taj Mahal before returning to Delhi for a few more meetings.  Our guide said the trip should take 4.5 hours.  The operative word is “should.” The trip Justin and I took to Jaipur took five hours out and nine hours back.  I braced for the worse case scenario.

Passing the time in traffic can be rough. The job of tour guide on an Indian road trip requires you to have a finger on the pulse of your group and sometimes that means stopping the bus to pick up a couple cases of Carlsberg and Royal Challenge beer (affectionately renamed “Royal Drainage”).  Couple 22s and a group male roadside bathroom break later and I felt people were really starting to get to know each other.

The next morning when I finally saw the Taj Mahal up close I was speechless.  I feel like I can only describe 50% of this trip so far with pictures.  I have previously seen amazing sites in Delhi, Jaipur and Agra  in books and magazines, but there is something about touching the inlayed semi-precious stones that adorn the entrance of the Taj and seeing firsthand the painstaking craftsmanship that went into each delicately inscribed section and understanding the experience in a way that cannot be captured in a still photograph.  Awesome time, definitely a bucket list experience.

The Taj is 360 years old, my teeth are 32 years old...someone buy me some whitestrips!

The Taj is 360 years old, my teeth are 32 years old...someone buy me some whitestrips!

As far as I’m concerned there is only one way to follow up a cultural experience like your first trip to the Taj Mahal and it’s a trip to an Indian McDonalds.

“Yeah, I’ll have the Chicken Maharaja Mac.”

Where's the beef?

Where's the beef?

After lunch we got on the bus and headed back to Delhi. Every year our professor takes the class to a big Lohri festival in Delhi.  We arrived just in time to take in a couple musical acts before heading outside for the biggest Indian buffet I have ever seen.  The Lohri festival is a huge event in North India.  It’s a celebration of fire and the earth’s movement closer to the sun.  Outside they had placed one enormous bonfire surrounded by smaller versions throughout the festivities.  Great food, live tunes and Budweiser….does it get better?  I submit that it does not.

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