Monday, March 4, 2013
International trips offer valuable lessons in global marketplace
Oakland University special instructor Frank Cardimen has a powerful tool he uses when preparing students for today’s competitive business environment: his passport.
Since 1999, Cardimen has been helping master’s students get a leg up on their business education through the overseas trips he leads for graduate students in his International Management class (MGT 681).
The trips, to Europe and China, build global understanding, one of the pillars of the SBA’s “excellence through integration” philosophy. It’s a necessary lesson in this age of mergers and acquisitions, with one American job in six tied to international trade, according to NAFSA, an association of international educators.
The International Management class is a seven-week course in which the students begin homework months before the class even begins. Cardimen hosts several meetings to share information with interested students and survey them about their professional interests.
With that information, once the students are registered, Cardimen customizes the experience. He calls companies abroad and arranges meetings with high-ranking executives, who explain how they conduct their businesses. He also introduces the graduate students to economists, politicians and U.S. Embassy personnel.
“Business is done differently in other countries, and the understanding of those differences is essential to being successful,” he says.
For five weeks, the students study the organizations on their itinerary as well as the cultures of those countries. The final two weeks of the course is the travel.
“I always take students to the European Union (EU) in the Czech Republic,” Cardimen says. “With both the EU and euro under strain, we set out to understand the effect the difficulties are having on the U.S. dollar and business.”
That stop was one of the most memorable for Bryan Hargreaves, MIS (Finance) ’05, who remembers meeting the Czech minister of finance in 2005.
He and 17 other Oakland University graduate students visited 11 companies, including Bosch, Mercedes and DHL; toured Pilsner Urquell beer company; and learned about international laws, a fitting lesson that supports his current position at Plexus Corp., where’s he’s a manager of customs and trade. The company makes electronics for various industries and has locations in seven countries, so Hargreaves’ global perspective is vital to his job.
“Books can only tell you so much. Imagine how much more you learn by getting to speak to the minister of finance himself?’ Hargreaves says. “These are lessons you never forget.”
An impromptu stop at a jewelry store in Paris provided another lesson.
“I went in to pick out a piece of jewelry for my wife, but I got something even more valuable. Instead of a simple conversation with the worker, I discovered the complexities of the France labor laws,” he says. “I learned how the worker was limited to 32 hours a week, and how, when you have kids, you can take three years off. Businesses have a more difficult time competing on a global scale with such limitations and expenses because of these labor laws. So you can see how important these abroad trips are.”
Avoiding culture clashes
The job interview process magnified the importance of international exposure for Kacey Muccino, Marketing ’11. “Understanding different cultures and dealing with global companies is pertinent for today’s workforce,” she says.
“Potential employers brought up all my study abroad experience,” adds Muccino, who traveled to Europe with Cardimen in 2010 and to Australia as a Michigan State University undergrad.
Muccino finds the cultural exposure she received in her travels makes it easier for her to do her job as supervisor of consumer insights at Carat USA in Detroit. She notes that her global knowledge makes her better able to structure meetings with workers in other countries and communicate with them via email.
“You wouldn’t think writing an email is any different, but it is,” she adds. “You want to represent your company professionally with every communication.”
In 2008, tough economic times resulted in canceling the trip. In 2009, recognizing the importance of obtaining global understanding, a handful of donors stepped forward to provide six students with $1,000 scholarships each that year. This led to creating an endowment to provide ongoing support to students each year.
“So many students wanted to come but couldn’t find the funding,” says Derek Smith, International Business ’11, who traveled to China in 2010 and Europe in 2011.
“Everyone appreciates the support. It provides students with partial support that allows them to seriously consider taking part in the trip,” notes Cardimen. “Certainly, if more financial support was available, more students would be able to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Today, SBA students have even more opportunities to expand their global understanding as other faculty members, including Xiaodong Deng (MIS), Joy Jiang (Management) and Janell Townsend (Marketing), have led trips to China and Brazil in recent years.
Smith adds, “It really is a good investment in the future of American business.”
By Rene Wisely