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Monday, August 16, 2010 - Trips give SBA students firsthand international business experience

When it comes to learning about international business, classroom learning and lectures -- no matter how engrossing -- can only take a student so far. To truly understand global culture, business and people, the best education comes from living it, which usually means studying abroad. .


"This spring, two groups of SBA students traveled to the Far East to learn firsthand about business in China and Taiwan by collaborating with Chinese students on a business project and meeting with business leaders of international companies.


"In business today, the markets are worldwide, not just between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans of America," says Frank Cardimen, special lecturer, management and marketing, who has spearheaded study abroad trips since 1999. "Business is done differently in other countries and the understanding of those differences is essential to being successful."


"To advance their careers, students need to understand these differences, says Cardimen. These trips provided students with the opportunity of a lifetime."



Learning firsthand from business leaders

Graduate students in Cardimen's Globalization Impact -- China (MGT 681) course met with business leaders from China and Taiwan to learn about the political, social, history and economic conditions.


"Our goals included providing greater sensitivity to differences in how language, culture and history play a major role in shaping business decision making in China and Taiwan," says Cardimen. "We did this by providing exposure to top executives in different industries discussing a variety of business issues such as strategy, marketing, personnel and finance."


He also made sure students were aware of new market research opportunities, issues of the U.S. dollar versus the Yuan and the benefits of exporting versus importing.


Upon arriving in China, the students were welcomed by Bill Chamberlain, CEO, JSC International who hosted a dinner with a number of top business executive speakers, and then shared "The real truth about China business and culture” the following day to prepare the students for the two weeks ahead.


Graduate students met with a representative from YUM!, the parent company of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and a Chinese cuisine fast food chain. Here they discovered how YUM! came to dominate the fast food industry and now has three times as many KFC’s than McDonald’s in China. In addition, students also learned directly from other US-based companies that are successfully competing in the China marketplace, such as Johnson Controls, General Electric, Hewlett Packard and others.


A bridge from the classroom to the boardroom


Francesca Vitale (MBA '08) gained so much when she first took the course as an MBA student that she jumped at the chance to take it again as a continuing education class. As an MBA student she visited western Europe. Now, as an engineer at General Motors she works on a global program in which a couple of her suppliers are based in China, so the trip with Cardimen offered an immediate benefit.


"It was a wonderful experience, absolutely priceless and eye-opening," says Vitale, who earned a bachelor's and master’s degree from University of Michigan. "I tell everyone that OU is very hands-on. As a student I've been to Europe, India, China and Taiwan. I don't think many schools give you the ability to do that."

While on the trip, Vitale met some of her China suppliers in person. "In China, it's all about networking, building relationships and mutual respect. You show respect and an interest in them by going to China and in turn they begin to develop respect for you; it builds camaraderie, and your peers overseas want to help you more because you are not just a voice on the phone … you are a person who shares a common goal."


It was the first trip to China for Lisa Moussiaux, a current MBA student. "I never imagined I would learn so much," she says. "I thought I knew a lot, based on the preparation in class, but what we learned in class couldn't compare to actually experiencing the concepts we discussed. The class exceeded all expectations. We saw how they interact, their culture, their appreciation for Americans, and how they don't want to show each other up or see anyone lose face."


Face-to-face and virtual collaboration


As part of the SBA's Global Scholars program, SBA undergraduate students traveled to China to collaborate with students at the Beijing Jiaotong University (BJTU) to begin a project studying the differences of automobile dealerships in the U.S. and China. The OU students also met with students from the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade.


The group visited Buick and KIA service and sales operations in China, reviewing the similarities and differences in facilities, amenities, showroom and lot, repair, technology and sustainability. They compared their findings with Buick and Cadillac dealerships in Michigan.

Ryan Fox, accounting senior and ATiB minor, embarked on the trip to gain international business experience to reach his goal of working on an international account when he graduates.


"Considering it is an emerging market, it was very well organized and they provide excellent customer service," he notes. "They focus more on the purchase as a luxury experience. I wouldn't have expected it would have been as developed as it was.".


"Overall, Fox was impressed with the Chinese dealership.

Sophia Leskie, marketing major, agrees, noting the Buick facilities in China were far more modern than she expected. In her follow up report, she observes that the Buick operations in both countries catered to same high-end audience and offered additional services. For example, in Michigan customers waiting on repairs had access an espresso bar, video games and an on-site salon. In China, the customers could take advantage of on-site exercise equipment and massage chairs. The KIA facility offered only coffee and television.


"Other similarities between all three include the interest in recycling and disposing of hazardous waste, notes Leskie.


Back home, the students continued working together in a virtual capacity thanks to the SBA's Global Interaction Room in Elliott Hall.



Making the trip possible

Recognizing the importance of the international experience, many SBA supporters stepped up to provide financial assistance, including long-time OU and SBA supporter George Seifert, Craig Stinson, SBA '84, Chairman, Norma Group GmbH  and Tim Healy, former president and chief operating officer of TK Holdings Inc., a subsidiary of automotive safety device manufacturer Takata Corp. Students also received scholarships awards from the Office of the Provost and the Catherine Tyler Memorial International Fund (see story).


"I wouldn't have been able to fund it on my own," says Fox, who benefitted from SBA support. "We received support for visits to the historic sites, lodging, and some of our food and travel expenses."


Fox also appreciates that the trip didn't require a semester-long commitment. "We were able to take a language class there, as well as learn about the business side of things," he says. "I'm hoping now that I have international experience, it will help me get assigned to an international client and work overseas."


Vitale, Moussiaux and Fox agree the most important part of the trip was learning about Chinese culture.

"Frank Cardimen taught us that 'It's not right, it's not wrong, it's just different,'" says Vitale. "Being able to travel throughout the world and learn first-hand about different cultures and ways of doing business gives you an edge -- the upper hand -- that differentiates you in a competitive marketplace."

By Dawn Pauli