Stephanie Hamilton knew she wanted to get international experience and make global business connections when she was looking for a school to pursue her MBA. No surprise then that the globally renowned Instituto de Empresa (IE) Business School in Madrid was one of her top three choices while researching her education options. But when it came time to actually choose a school, she selected Queen’s University, which is known for its international focus and had just added IE as an exchange option, allowing students to study international business at a partner university abroad, while paying domestic tuition fees to their Canadian school. “I jumped at the opportunity to do an exchange there once I found out IE was a new partner,” she says.
The exchange paid off — and fast. While abroad last May, Hamilton was able to use the school’s faculty relationships to get interviews at all of the organizations she was interested in, which eventually led to her landing a job as senior manager of executive communications at the Bank of Nova Scotia. Beyond helping her attain specific career goals, Hamilton says the exchange had ancillary benefits, such as allowing her to travel, expanding her passion for the arts and gaining cultural insight, something she says was invaluable to her business education. “Going to Madrid also allowed me to develop personally in that capacity, and expand my scope in arts and architecture and augment my education with that as well,” she says. “If you are going to work in an international business environment, you want to be able to have that cultural insight in order to perform functionally.”
In an increasingly globalized business climate, some MBA schools are now adding international components to their programs, courses and internships. The schools are also realizing that playing up their global connections, or creating new ones, is also a way to differentiate themselves in a very competitive environment for students from domestic schools as well as those from other countries. From mandatory study tours abroad to the construction of campuses on other continents, Canadian schools have realized that their students — and the companies that hire them — want an education that has at least some international flavour.
Take the Kenneth Levene Graduate School of Business at the University of Regina. The school is recruiting full-time students for an international MBA program that will begin this September. The program is the school’s first international MBA, as well as its first full-time MBA program. James Gustafson, the director of Levene, says when the school conducted a review of its MBA program two years ago, it found the coursework and research was becoming increasingly international. So much so, that creating the MBA International program only made sense, especially since the school’s prairie location lends itself to foreign business interest. “Because we are in the middle of Saskatchewan, in the middle of the country, a lot of our companies are outwardly focused, selling products to companies around the world, and we have a lot of interest from international companies here in Saskatchewan,” Gustafson says.
Levene’s program includes courses related to globalization, international business and management in the global arena. Students will also be sent on a mandatory study tour to get a first-hand glimpse of the business climate in a particular nation. Each year, faculty will co-ordinate a trip tailored to the class with student input on the destination and sites of interest.
A compulsory study tour is also a staple of Saskatchewan’s other business school. In 2009, the University of Saskatchewan’s Edwards School of Business in Saskatoon introduced a study trip for all full-time MBA students. “The reality of business is that we live in an international world; we live in a global environment,” says Leslee Harden, Edwards’ MBA director. “Our MBA program integrates global business into its core curriculum,” she says.
Edwards’ two-week trip allows students to visit historical sites and meet senior business leaders, Harden says. The school tries to incorporate a broad range of companies and sectors to visit, including both public and private enterprises and not-for-profits. It also tries to arrange meetings with Canadian trade commissioners on the trip to create a “good dialogue about the relations between that particular country and Canadian business and opportunities in that marketplace.”
Meeting Canadian civil servants may not seem like everyone’s cup of tea, but the students seem to enjoy the experience. Edwards MBA grad Vince Bruni-Bossio went to China in May 2010 as a student and is now teaching an international business course at the school. “Without that trip, my understanding of international business would not be as deep as it is now because I can actually say that I’ve stood in those factories, I’ve met with certain CEOs of big companies that are well-known in the world,” he says.
Bruni-Bossio says the university professor leading his tour was originally from China and provided amazing acumen into the cultural aspect of Chinese business. “He was able to give us an understanding of really subtle things that we would have never have gotten.” Students also get a chance to seek out companies they want to meet while abroad, says Bruni-Bossio. Groups of four to five students decide on a company to target, research it, arrange a meeting with help from the university and then make a presentation to the class on the company before the trip.
But study tours aren’t just reserved for traditional full-time MBA programs. For example, Athabasca University’s online MBA program offers international business electives, which incorporate studying abroad as the “in-residence” component. There are three international business electives, each focusing on a different region — Europe, Asia-Pacific and South America — and they include coursework before and after the trip. Deborah Hurst, associate dean of the Faculty of Business at Athabasca in St. Albert, Alta., says the destinations are chosen because they are trading zones. “We always approach it with the idea that some of our students are ex-patriots,” she says. “We talk about what it’s like to do business there, what the barriers to entry are, just a whole host of aspects of the business environment.”
Executive programs are getting in on the trend as well. The University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business is currently accepting applications for its first-ever Global Energy Executive MBA class, which will send about 40 students, primarily senior managers from energy companies, to study in major energy centres across the world. The EMBA program is made up of two-to-three-week modules, which focus on different aspects of energy strategy and management. Students in the first cohort will start off in Calgary and Banff in September 2011, head to Houston in March 2012 and London in June 2012, followed by coursework in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and Beijing in November 2012, and then wrap up back in Alberta in April 2013.
Haskayne teamed up with IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates to create the program and some of the consulting firm’s executives have been appointed as faculty. “In addition to our own faculty, we are scouring the earth to get the best we can,” says associate dean Jim Dewald, adding that Haskayne is looking to make the executive MBA in Global Energy Management a flagship of the school.
Haskayne’s global focus also extends to its traditional EMBA program, a joint offering with the University of Alberta, which sends students on an annual 10-day international study trip. Students get to pitch and vote on destinations as part of their course.
Another new entry to the global stage is Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business in Ottawa. Last September it welcomed its first class of MBA students in a new International Development Management (IDM) stream, the only program of its kind in Canada. Sprott collaborated with Carleton’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and the School of Public Policy and Administration to create a program that gives students interested in international development the businesses skills needed to implement projects.
“Over the years students who did international development seemed to get all the theory and background they needed to do development projects,” says MBA program administrator Cindy Halden. “However, they weren’t quite given all of the tools they needed to manage these projects.”
That is where Sprott comes in to help students such as Laura Roantree. She had done an undergrad in international business at Sprott and was inspired to pursue the IDM program after taking a course in managing globalization in emerging economies. “I always thought that I was different from the other commerce students because I wasn’t as interested in finance or accounting or anything like that,” she says. “I was more interested in the global aspect.”
Roantree says she values the classes that combine business-minded students with their counterparts in international and public policy. “To be in a classroom with 50 business students four days a week, and then to be in a classroom with only a few business students and 30 students from the School of International Affairs, with a very different perspective and approach to the topic is so fascinating,” Roantree says. “I think it broadens our horizons and can give us insight that we wouldn’t necessarily take away if we were just taking courses from the school of business.”
Following the first two semesters of class, IDM students have to complete a four-month internship during the summer, before returning in the fall for the last semester of coursework. Roantree says her professors are encouraging IDM students to try to get positions outside Canada. “They are really promoting the ones abroad because you need experience on the ground,” she says.
Sometimes that on-the-ground experience can be found closer to home. Since 2003 the University of Moncton has partnered with an American and a Mexican university so that students from each country can earn a trilateral MBA. Unofficially dubbed the “NAFTA MBA,” students spend their first fall semester at Moncton, the winter semester at the University of Western Kentucky and the summer semester at the Universidad Autonóma de Querétaro in Mexico. After the three semesters, students complete an internship in any one of the three countries.
Stéphanie Roy, who graduated from the trilateral MBA program in October 2010, says studying and travelling with foreign students added a valuable cultural dimension to her education. “The coursework is probably very similar to a regular MBA, but you do have sort of a bonus because you learn about the other cultures and how to interact with your North American counterparts,” she says.
Roy says it was initially challenging to collaborate with students with different backgrounds and perspectives, but the integration paid off. “I think we all found it a little bit challenging at first to learn about the other culture and how we could work together and what everybody’s strengths were,” Roy says. “But once we did get past that, we really saw it made our work a lot better.”
While the courses often focus on North American trade, Roy says they gave her a good overview of global business.
Even closer to home, two groups of MBA students at Concordia University last fall interned at the Canadian Trade Facilitation Office, through the Montreal-based school’s Community Service Initiative (CSI). The interns helped two small businesses from developing nations prepare to break into the Canadian market. “Our work was to provide the company with a full picture of the Canadian market and, at the same time, provide them with information about how to enter the market and give them qualified leads,” says Harold Alverez, a 2011 MBA candidate.
Alverez’s group worked for Centro de Yanapasinani Bolivia, a company that represents women making mittens and scarfs using alpaca fibers. The students were able to meet with the purchasing officer at Hudson’s Bay Company, which is considering carrying the products. “It was more of a real-life experience,” Alverez says. “Usually when you do your MBA, you get a lot of theory about the way you are supposed to do stuff. But in real life, it turns out it’s not exactly like they taught you.”
A second group of interns helped Salica del Ecuador find a feasible way to export sustainable tuna to the Canada. One of those interns, Antoinette Cobham, a 2011 MBA candidate, says the report her group produced would be used by future companies from developing nations that have similar goals. “It’s good to know that you are able to help entities in developing countries that would need this help,” she says.
Cobham and Alverez were part of the first year of the TFO internship, but CSI program co-ordinator Dave McKenzie says “the bar has been set very high” and the partnership is likely to continue in the future.
Of course, it’s not just the students who are breaking into the international arena. Some Canadian business schools are running mirror campuses abroad, where students earn a Canadian degree while completing all of their studies on foreign land. For example, York University’s Schulich School of Business in April 2010 announced its intention to build a campus in Hyderabad, India. The school is expected to break ground in early 2011.
Currently, Schulich has an India MBA, where Indian students can attend Schulich courses at an Indian campus in year one and then Schulich in Toronto in year two. Indian government restrictions prevent foreign students from studying at its universities. But, eventually, Schulich wants to be able to open its Hyderabad campus to all Canadian and international students.
For now, though, Schulich offers an International MBA program where students choose a language and a region in which to study and work. Sarah Tatrallyay recently studied and worked in Luxembourg as part of the program, before doing another exchange at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangladore. She says that if she had been eligible for the India MBA, she would have applied. While studying and working in India, Tatrallyay says she picked up meaningful aspects of Indian business culture, such as its slower-paced decision-making, which have improved her skills.
“It made me reflect and see how my approach to business is actually negative when I’m dealing with certain people from different areas, because I just want to get down straight to the point and that’s not the case in India,” Tatrallyay says.
Other Canadian MBA schools with campuses abroad include the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business (Hong Kong), McGill University’s Desautels (Japan), Sprott (China and Iran) and the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business (China).
Sauder has been in China for a decade and is currently recruiting its 10th cohort of students at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Wendy Ma, assistant dean of Sauder’s master programs, says the international MBA in Shanghai is for people who are interested in working there and supplementing their work with an education. Roughly half the students are Canadian, while the others are ex-patriots working in Shanghai, she says.
In our globalized world, it would be hard to find a business degree that doesn’t touch on international business in some way. Most MBA campuses have foreign students and many offer Canadians a chance to study abroad. And while the schools generally change their curriculum as management strategies and tactics change, there likely won’t be an expiry date on this particular trend.
Article : Financial Post Magazine