Innovation and Impact in Portugal

Guest Post By: Niall Curley, Evening MBA 2025

A day trip to the palaces at Sintra

Traveling in Portugal was the trip of a lifetime, not just because of the beautiful country, people, architecture, and food, but due to the experience facilitated by the UW Foster Global Business Center. Everything from the professor (Andy Hafenbrack is quite possibly the most fun and interesting professor I’ve ever met), the businesses, the tour guide (Fabio always had an interesting fact anytime we went anywhere), and most importantly, the other students. At one point we all found ourselves discussing how applicants were “vetted” so well, as we feel that everyone in the group was fun and got along quite well. I can honestly say I made some lifelong friends from the Full-time MBA program that I never would have met otherwise, and as a result I came out of this trip happy beyond measure. My expectations were surpassed beyond what I even thought possible.

Foster MBAs visit Ramirez & Sons Fish Cannery

I learned that businesses in Portugal operate differently than they do in the U.S. With most of the companies we visited, I felt a sense of community and support that I’ve not seen in as impactful a way in American companies. The oldest operating cannery in the world, Ramirez & Sons based in Porto, has a daycare for staff to take their children, and some of the staff working there remember growing up in the daycare and are now employees. Companies in Portugal also try to make an impact beyond simply increasing profits. Amorim Cork gave us a tour of their production facility and explained how any leftovers from unused cork tree bark would be ground up to produce cork board for walls or other uses, and they have started a recycling program where they collect used corks from wineries or grocery stores and similarly repurpose them instead of throwing them away. Each business we visited had an innovative way to set themselves apart and I found it fascinating that they were concerned with how they can be an impactful business while also serving their customers.

The group at Quinta da Pacheca, a winery opened in 1738

Many of the businesses we visited commented on how diverse our group of students was: we had about half women and half men, and many people came from different countries and cultures. I absolutely loved learning from my fellow classmates about where they came from, why they’re in the program, what they hope to do in the future, and how they were enjoying the trip. Every restaurant we went to felt like a unique experience, with the ambiance, the food, and the drinks. I discovered I quite like port wine, and that it pairs so well with a dessert. In fact, I never knew there could be so many different dessert options. I found it hard to believe that almost every day I was able to try a new and unique pastry or dessert option. And I never would have guessed that basil gelato is in fact the best ice cream/gelato flavor in the world. 

Foster MBAs meeting with the Mayor of Lisbon, Carlos Moedas

This trip taught me the importance of listening and the importance of diversity. With every business visit people had amazing questions that I never would have thought to ask. When discussing amongst ourselves later, folks had insightful comments and thoughts on the businesses we visited, things that I never considered myself. I quickly learned firsthand that for a team to be truly successful, diversity is important and will allow the team to approach a problem from every angle and work together to achieve a goal in a unique way. Someday I hope to return to Portugal, but I’ll always cherish the memories I made there with people I’ll never forget.

The group enjoying the Douro Valley

Niall Curley is a double Dawg who has been involved in the research field since starting his undergraduate degree at UW, majoring in psychology before transitioning to his current clinical research team in the UW Division of Hematology almost 6 years ago. He’s managed all aspects of clinical research, from patient care and clinical trial oversight, to study startup implementation, budget oversight, and negotiations with drug companies. He started in the Foster Evening MBA program in Fall 2022, and continues to work full time while taking evening MBA classes. While he’d like to transition into a different role once he graduates, he plans to remain in the healthcare/biotech space. Niall is a Global Business Center Study Abroad Scholarship Recipient.

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