(Crain’s Chicago Business, 24 March 2008)
Schlepping to class on nights and weekends used to be enough travel for executives earning their MBAs while working full time. Not anymore.
Although studying abroad is optional at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, 89% of eligible students in its executive MBA program went overseas in 2007. Ten years ago, 15% did. Twenty years ago, it wasn’t even an option.
During her two years at Kellogg, Asha Banthia, chief financial officer for GE Money’s partnership marketing group in Schaumburg, spent 10 days taking classes in Vallendar, Germany. She visited a tile manufacturing plant and a securities brokerage in Bogotá, Colombia, as part of a four-day trip organized by a classmate whose company has its headquarters there. She also traveled to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong for a class research project, spending 10 days in China to identify emerging business opportunities for mobile phone entrepreneurs.
“GE is a multinational company and I had worked abroad in Europe and Asia for them before I went to Kellogg,” says Ms. Banthia, 33, who graduated in December. “But this helped me diversify my knowledge.”
For universities, providing MBA students with international experiences like these is no longer a frill, but a necessity.
“Companies are now competing in a global landscape, and education has to give them the skills to be successful in such a world,” says Julie Cisek Jones, director of Kellogg’s executive MBA program.
Administrators at other Chicago business schools agree. The University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Northern Illinois University, the University of Chicago, Loyola University and DePaul University encourage MBA students to get out of town through a variety of international tours, business courses at partner schools and overseas research projects.
To make studying abroad easier, universities are putting together condensed programs, which are cheaper than semester-long stays and fit students’ work schedules better.
The University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business, which first sent students to study at the London School of Economics in 1965, began offering two- to three-week trips to Europe in 2001. Last summer, the school ran short courses in Leipzig, Germany; Vienna, Austria; São Paulo, Brazil; Beijing, and Paris.
“Four years ago, our students only wanted to study in places that were considered financial centers — either London or Hong Kong — and it was hard to get them to look at other schools,” says Kari Nysather, the GSB’s director of international programs. “Now a lot of them are interested in emerging markets, so there’s more demand for schools in South Africa, Brazil, Chile and China.”
In the past, the only international MBA degree programs that forced students to travel were the ones geared toward bilingual American students preparing for international careers. Now schools are making exposure to the outside world mandatory.
Starting in June, full-time MBA students at Kellogg must complete a course in international business or study abroad to graduate. Northern Illinois University’s 12-month MBA program requires an international business seminar in either Europe or South America. The University of Chicago requires its executive MBA students to spend a week in Singapore and a week in London analyzing case studies with business students based there. And students in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s executive MBA program are required to complete a nine-month consulting project with companies doing business in China, then travel to Beijing to present their findings to executives there.
The consulting experience would not stretch students’ skills as much if they didn’t have to sit across the table from Chinese executives on their own turf, says Debra Krolick, director of the U of I’s executive MBA program. “A lot of what our program does is take students out of their comfort zone,” she says.
Having been at GE her entire career, Ms. Banthia found that observing other companies’ international operations was particularly instructive.
Among those she met on her travels was the ex-CEO of Wal-Mart China, who explained that the chain initially struggled there because it hadn’t immersed itself in the local culture. For example, chicken sales didn’t take off until Wal-Mart started slaughtering poultry in its stores, an important sign of freshness to Chinese consumers.
“I learned how people have to evolve global business models to fit the local ones,” she says.
©2008 by Crain Communications Inc.
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