I Belize I can Fly

by Robert Frisch, MBA '13 (4/4/12)

Robert Frisch, MBA '13

SGE immersion team works with small ecologically focused real estate company to develop island in Belize in an environmentally sustainable manner.

Blue HoleThe tiny islands or “cayes” off the coast of Belize sit in the middle of beautifully serene coral atolls and are surrounded by the world’s second biggest barrier reef.  Like shallow lakes in the middle of the ocean, the atolls host several UNESCO world heritage sites and some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the world.  My SGE immersion team, Nora Hansanugrum, Jamie Hunt and myself, all MBA ’13 and Glenn Garcia, an MPA student from the Cornell Institute of Public Affairs, found itself tasked with providing consulting services and business advice for the owners of one of these cayes in what turned out to be the most unique spring break of my life.

 Belize team

As part of the SGE immersion at Johnson, students are placed on teams of four and assigned a sustainability-related consulting project with an organization.  From development work in Ghana, to an entrepreneurial renewable energy technology in the USA, to a large cosmetics firm based in Asia, the projects vary widely across industries and geographic location.  Due to my interest and background in hospitality and eco-tourism, I was assigned to a small family-owned company with land holdings in Belize.

All participating client organizations flew to Ithaca early in the semester for initial meetings and socializing.  We learned the background of our respective companies, the challenges they face, their goals and growth plans, as well as their personal stories as managers.  In our case, the family has established strict eco-guidelines for chemical use and building codes in order to protect the mangrove and coral reef ecosystems in the area.  They have already sold plots of land to people interested in building vacation homes or opening small businesses on the island that are willing to meet these criteria and there is currently a bed and breakfast and scuba-diving operator on the island. 

Our client sought help with their long-term strategic vision and the development of a concrete implementation plan that aligns their current actions with their goals.  After consultation, the team determined that the focus of the project revolved around answering the question, “How can the company generate long term revenues from a finite resource while remaining in line with their eco-guidelines?”

Belize PierWith weeks of research on land development, eco-tourism, Central American business climate, and many conference calls now behind us, we have more clarity but the project is still a work in progress.  We are not only developing financial models that analyze leasing opportunities and supplemental land services, but also generating forecasts for a planned eco-lodge and restaurant.  We will also provide market data to help focus the eco-lodge, and recommendations on implementation schedules.  With only several more weeks left on the project, we are working towards a final report and presentation for our client at the end of the semester.

Having just returned from a site visit in Belize, we have gained new enthusiasm and clarity on the project.  As the owners repeatedly told us, “You just won’t get it until your feet are in the sand.”  They were right.