MBAs get down to business in MexicoIn April, the entire first-year MBA class traveled to Monterrey, Mexico, for the first of three international trips in conjunction with the new Global Leadership module.
When the Freeman School redesigned its MBA curriculum in 2006, one of the most exciting new features was the Global Leadership module, which provides every student with a comprehensive overview of international business, and one of the most exciting features of that module was its travel component, a series of three class trips to major business regions of the world.
“The courses are designed to introduce students to the global markets of the world and what they mean for competition and business opportunities,” explains John Trapani, director of the Goldring Institute of International Business. “The trips allow students to be on the ground in three major business regions of the world––Latin America, Europe and Asia––to have an introduction to the business and political cultures of the regions.”
The Freeman School took a giant step toward realizing the potential of the new curriculum in April with the first class trip organized in conjunction with the module. The entire first-year MBA class traveled to Monterrey, Mexico, for a two-day professional visit as part of the course Global Leadership II, which covers international operations management with Latin America as its focus.
“It’s not the same for me to tell you what’s happening in Latin America as it is for you to go there and ask questions to the people who live and work there,” says Mauricio Gonzalez, visiting professor of management and instructor in the course. “You learn a lot more and of course you have the chance to interact informally with people in the hallways or on the street. It’s not enough to learn everything there is to know about the country, but it’s enough to give you a taste of the culture.”
Monterrey, the third largest city in Mexico and a major center of commerce and industry, has been ranked as the best city in Mexico to do business in. Boasting historic architecture and an educated, skilled labor force, Monterrey combines the charm of a Spanish colonial city with modern amenities including museums, parks, art galleries, trendy restaurants, high-end boutiques and shopping malls.
The trip was hosted by the prestigious Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM), one of the Freeman School’s longstanding partner institutions, and featured company visits, executive speakers, a seminar on the political and business climate of Latin America, and a closing dinner reception at the National History Museum.
Among the distinguished business executives with whom the class met was Jose Antonio Fernandez, chairman and CEO of FEMSA Group. With 97,000 employees and revenues of $11.7 billion in 2006, FEMSA is the largest integrated beverage company in Latin America. The company produces Sol, Dos Equis and Tecate beer and is the largest Coca-Cola bottler in Latin America and the second largest in the world. The class met with Fernandez for wide-ranging session that included an overview of the company’s operations and a question and answer period.
“He took an hour out of his day to talk with us,” marvels Nikkya Williams (MBA ’08). “To have a $14 billion market cap company and the CEO is willing to talk to you as a business student? I thought that was phenomenal.”
The class also met with Hector Medina, executive vice president of planning and finance with CEMEX, the world’s third-largest manufacturer of cement and the world’s leading supplier of ready-mix concrete. Founded in 1906, the company is headquartered in Monterrey and has operations extending around the world, including production facilities in 50 countries in North America, the Caribbean, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. The class had read a case involving CEMEX prior to the trip, so the meeting with Medina enabled students to question him directly about the company’s strategy and its approach to international expansion.
“You read cases all the time, but here we actually went to the city and met with the people who the case was about,” says Patrick English (MBA ’08). “We got to talk to them not only about how they saw what they were doing but also about what we thought their best solution would be and we got to hear their response to us. Everyone in business school does cases studies, but we had the chance to interact with the people behind the case.”
While Gonzalez was pleased with the trip, he says he hopes to provide students on future trips with even more valuable international experience. Next year, he plans to have the class work collaboratively with students from ITESM or other Latin American institutions on projects involving real multinational companies.
“The process of doing the final paper would be more realistic, like they’re going to a city and teaming with local advisors to analyze an industry,” Gonzalez says. “But overall I think this course met its objective of teaching students how to analyze business environments, go through market selection and detect business opportunities in a global environment while at the same time giving them an orientation to Mexico and Latin America. It was very successful, and I think the upcoming trips to Europe and Asia will be even more successful.”
Williams doesn’t need any convincing. The value of the international travel component, she says, is obvious. “If you’re up for a job against somebody who went to Harvard Business School, you can say you spent 10 days in China working extensively with a company on a project and all they can say is they got an A,” she says. “In the real world, experience is the thing that’s going to put you over the top, and experience is what we’re getting at Freeman.”