TEM Lab: Team Romania and the Enduring Legacy of Thunderbird

By Michael Allen, Guest Writer

I am sure that any, if not most, TEM Lab teams would say this, but Team Romania sincerely feels that we were the best TEM Lab team ever, and we had the best project ever. We you think about how we came to that conclusion, it helps to know some of our history together.

TEM Lab Team (photo courtesy Fiona Teerlink)
TEM Lab Team (photo courtesy Fiona Teerlink)

All of us, Michael Allen, Dallin Kauffman, Fiona Teerlink, and Tom Yu, started at Thunderbird together back in the fall semester of 2013, candidates in the Masters of Science in Global Management program (MS-GM). As anyone who has gone through Thunderbird knows, for the first few semesters we spent most of our days together—we had the same classes and were always in group meetings together.

A year ago, on the cusp of graduation from the MS-GM program, all of us opted to matriculate into the Accelerated MBA-GM program. We would spend two more semesters at Thunderbird, have a second Masters degree, and as we later learned, be one of the final MBA classes to graduate from here.

All of this created an intense rapport between all of us, personally and professionally. Then consider the project in Stei, Romania—a commission from the Mayor and Town Council to do feasibility studies on the options to monetize geothermal water—well this was an exciting challenge we could not pass up. This project was a unique blend between local and regional politics, economic development, business practice, and cultural differentials. Normally that mix creates high levels of ambiguity, but that has never really been a problem for T-birds.

Doing research (photo courtesy Fiona Teerlink)
Doing research (photo courtesy Fiona Teerlink)

For a country like Romania, with just over 25 years as a democratic state that emerged from Communism, development doesn’t come easy. Even as a relatively new member to the European Union and the benefits that come from that association, the barriers for new growth were high, especially in rural locations. And so, for the first couple of weeks we spent in countless hours in interviews and meetings. We went into the situation with eyes wide open driving need to quickly, and comprehensively, understand everything about their situation. This eventually led us to identify five potential ideas for the use of the geothermal water: a medical spa, aquaculture (fish farming), central heating for the city, tourism based on geothermal spas, and geothermal agriculture.

Doing research (photo courtesy Fiona Teerlink)
Doing research (photo courtesy Fiona Teerlink)

When we started analyzing these options we determined feasibility outcomes based on two factors: the potential for impact, and the dependencies for success. These two factors had five components each, which allowed us to assimilate everything that we discovered into a more objective and inclusive perspective. Talking about it in retrospect makes it sound straightforward, but it took weeks to populate these models with information that allowed us to comment on the different ideas with authority and credibility.

From a macro perspective, the largest obstacles to any of the aforementioned ideas was the lack of necessary infrastructure to spur development and growth outside of core cities. The European Commission has been at play plenty to renovate city centers, invigorate industry, and attract people and jobs. However, in rural locations, the roads are terrible, and the opportunities for business are minimal, especially in Stei. What assets do exist, such as rich, fertile land, are underutilized due to the strong aversion against co-operated use of property.

In favor of all of these projects are the people. They are not defeated and they want a better future. Especially the administration that we had the privilege of working with locally. They care about the people they serve and about their children’s future.

TEM Lab team and new friends (TEM Lab Team (photo courtesy Tom Yu)
TEM Lab team and new friends (TEM Lab Team (photo courtesy Tom Yu)

The short answer at the end is we found that the medical spa is the best idea for little Stei. It is achievable, will have social impact, and is a good start to new opportunities in the area. It was interesting to note, that at the conclusion of everything, one of the things that Mayor of the city was most impressive with was us. People who came in with a passion for their work, who were diligent in seeking out answers and exhausting every resource possible, who leave their home country to pursue a project for a small town abroad. He’d never met people like that before and wanted it to be an example to others of how they could work and pursue the future.

This is what we do. Many that came before us did projects like this and are out in the world doing it everyday. The past year has introduced new territory for our institution, but that’s okay, because this TEM Lab was substantially represents the type of prosperity across the globe that we will always promote. This final project reminds us who we are and what we do, even when we leave here.

It was a humbling reminder, appropriate on the eve of our entire team’s graduation from Thunderbird, that when we leave here we represent something different. The zeal and insight we bring to our work does not have conditions based on culture or location. We are uncommon. We are passionately unique. We are global citizens.

We are Thunderbirds.

TEM Lab Team (photo courtesy Fiona Teerlink)
TEM Lab Team (photo courtesy Fiona Teerlink)

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