Each year the planes touched down in Bangalore, Copenhagen and Shanghai. Most carried holiday makers eager to escape the unforgiving climates of North America. But the rest delivered troops of MBA students, eager to immerse themselves in new cultures.
Business schools regularly fly MBAs off to exchange programs on other sides of the world. There are many partnerships among the elite programs, swapping students throughout the year. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
Few are mandatory. But a global perspective is essential for today’s MBAs. The Sauder School of Business is one of a growing number of business schools giving their students a real taste of foreign business.
In an environment dominated by globalisation, coming up with a plan to prepare the next generation is fast becoming the norm. There is only so much you can learn through academia.
“It is hard for MBAs to have a global perspective. Often you’re in a classroom and reading case studies,” says Janelle Goulard, an MBA student at Sauder who spent weeks in India as part of the school’s Global Immersion program.
“Until you actually arrive in a culture, and experience it and see your own reaction first-hand, it’s hard for people to understand what it’s like to work in a global environment.”
Janelle previously spent five years working as a consultant at GE Healthcare, the subsidiary of the multinational conglomerate. She began an MBA at Sauder, part of the University of British Columbia, because of the school’s entrepreneurship and innovation program – and the Global Immersion.
“There’s definitely an advantage to Sauder from that perspective. Being in India and seeing some of the challenges, and being able to effect change, gives me an advantage over other schools,” says Janelle, who worked with NGOs and for-profit companies during the immersion.
She also worked with Winkworth, the real estate giant, and helped develop a strategy to enter the market in India. The MBA student was able to see her solutions put into practice immediately.
“The world is changing and, more so than ever, we’re being globalised. These experiences will only become richer. We’ll all have to have the ability to work in an international context,” says Janelle.
Scores of MBAs learn a great deal from their cohort and business schools strive to attract international students to diversify their classes. Often, what you learn from your peers is as important as lessons taken from professors.
And as globalization continues to dominate business proceedings, MBAs need to be ready to work in a global context. “I think it is vital. Business is global – unless you’re planning on staying in your back yard,” says Juan Delgado, a Sauder MBA student who opted to complete his mandatory immersion in Shanghai.
“A global perspective is important. If you want to be a business leader, you should have a sense of what’s happening in the world. It’s critical.” Juan was a casting director for Six Degrees Music & Productions, a music and sound production company that specializes in commercial production, before beginning his MBA in Canada.
He wanted a business education to reach the higher echelons of the entertainment industry. His goal is to work for a big brand in the sector, such as a film studio like Pixar, and help develop new streams of revenue.
Juan says that his decision to visit Shanghai was strategic. Although he is not actively pursuing roles overseas, he would take one “in a heartbeat”.
He got to study at Shanghai Jiaotong University and says that the first two days of the program’s lectures, which outlined China’s economics and various challenges, gave him a “strategic advantage”.
“Moving forward, I’m going to have a real strategic advantage if ever I head up a project in China, because we’re able to get insightful information about how they are doing business and the challenges they face,” he says.
Immersing yourself overseas gives you an advantage, agrees Karl Krochmal. “Definitely. The experience was very challenging. We had a chance to work with different organizations, interact with senior managers, and it definitely gave me a great perspective of how different business models can be introduced into a complicated environment,” says Karl, who spent his Sauder immersion in India.
He co-founded a start-up business, Spicy Elephant, before beginning his MBA at the Vancouver-based school. The company offers traveling opportunities in the Indian Himalayas, including motorcycle trips. He has lived in Singapore, Germany, the UK and the U.S – but doesn’t rule out a move to other emerging markets.
“Let’s face it, the world is not as it used to be and no single business can operate in a silo in their own city,” says Karl. “As MBAs, we really need to understand that and we have to live this model. It’s not whether we want to.”
Susan Dong, a Sauder MBA student who spent her immersion in Denmark, was inspired to switch career paths. She previously worked as a Talent Acquisition Coordinator at 20th Century Fox Film, among other roles in different companies – but after visiting Copenhagen, she wants to enter social ventures in Canada when she graduates.
“I have been exploring it more since my trip. In Vancouver, we are a small business hub and I can see it growing in the future. The trip was good to get me kick-started,” says Susan, who is applying for a summer internship with Fresh Roots, a local urban farm society. “It will allow me to use my MBA framework and background within a social venture.”
Completing an MBA will always give your career prospects a kick, but practical experience in new countries will set you apart from the rest.
“It was a great learning opportunity, a great advantage and it showed us that there are things we may not comprehend,” says Karl. “There is a world outside of purely academic education.”