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Friday, November 12, 2010 - Graduate students gain global marketing education in the renewable energy sector

Expert instruction is melding with hands-on experiences in the SBA to give students a strong foundation for success in today’s global marketplace.

That approach was evident in Professor John Henke Jr.’s Strategic Marketing Class (MKT 608) last winter, a course that brought together the three pillars of the SBA vision: integrative thinking, experiential learning and global understanding.


Participating graduate students conducted an extensive research project for Oakland County in cooperation with graduate students from the T.A. Pai Management Institute in India.


The class was the next step following Marketing Professor Ravi Parameswaran’s Fall 2009 International Marketing class (MKT 650) where students explored avenues to help Oakland County globally market itself in the renewable energy sector.


Students in Henke’s class zeroed in on solar energy and wind power and what it would take to attract businesses from these industries. Students took an in-depth look at the resources in Oakland County asking such as “Where are suppliers located? What kind of facilities do we offer?”


Henke’s four-student team also explored what neighboring states are doing to attract the wind and solar energy industries and the marketing techniques other Michigan counties use.


“The team considered how Oakland County can compete, but also how the county can work with other governmental agencies to get alternative energy companies to come to Michigan,” Henke says. “Over the semester, the students did incredible analyses.”


Armed with their research, Henke’s students analyzed Oakland County's existing marketing strategies and identified their strengths and weaknesses.


The SBA students integrated the international perspective into their research by meeting with and gathering input from students at India's T.A. Pai Management Institute via videoconference in Elliott Hall. By responding to the SBA's students' data with feedback and research of their own, the Institute students provided insight into how to attract India-based companies to Oakland County.


“They worked as a sounding board for us, as well as a resource,” Henke says.


Alternative energy is a growing industry in India. Last year the country announced a $19 billion (US dollars) plan to produce 20 GW of solar power by 2020. Already, fiscal incentives to solar cell and photovoltaic manufacturers, combined with increasing global demand for renewable energy sources, has led several companies to locate in India including Moser Baer, U.S.-based Signet Solar and Solar Semiconductor.


Interacting with the students from India was a fascinating experience, says John Kast, who is pursuing an MBA with a concentration in finance. "It was beneficial to gain a different perspective in terms of what criteria India-based and global alternative energy companies may be looking for when it comes time for relocation and expansion,” he says.

Not only did the students in India address factors that would impact energy providers’ bottom line, Kast notes, they recommended a marketing plan that showcases day-to-day living in Oakland County. “They wanted to be in an area where they could practice their religion, and they wanted shopping malls.”


At the semester’s conclusion, Henke’s students presented their findings to members of Oakland County’s Economic Development Department.


“The team quantified some of our efforts, and they were able to separate our successes and prioritize them based on the market and outcome,” says Irene Spanos, an Oakland County senior business development representative.


“We were very impressed. We incorporated parts of it into our strategy.”


All in all, Henke says, the class was a win-win situation for the students – both in Michigan and in India – as well as for Oakland County. “The students gained exposure to students in another culture,” he says. “It was exciting to work with students who were learning the same things in a different way. It was a brand new experience.”


By Flori Meeks