How to Compete in a Global Market
by Stig Lanesskog, Associate Dean, Illinois MBA

In 2011, the Illinois MBA made a strategic move to better prepare our students to compete for jobs in a global market. No matter where you live and work, it is vital as a business leader to have awareness of the opportunities and challenges of conducting business globally. Of course, there is general awareness of some of the locations throughout the world where business is growing – India and China foremost among them. But simply knowing that opportunities exist is not enough. Reading about it in a textbook or hearing a professor lecture about it can’t prepare you for the complexities of cultural values, social behaviors, and legal challenges of conducting successful business in a foreign country.

Global ConsultantsIllinois MBA students served as consultants for xp investimentos in Brazil through the Global Consulting Program (GCP).

For years, MBA programs have taken the approach of providing study abroad experiences for their students, and most business schools still offer these opportunities in one form or another. At Illinois, we have completely done away with the traditional study abroad experience. We have decided that as a benchmark experience, our MBA students will have the chance to work on a real-world project for an actual client that is based in countries with emerging markets and ever-increasing business opportunities. We refer to this student experience as the “Global Consulting Program”, and through this program, we are now sending teams of MBA students to work on client projects in some of the world’s foremost emerging markets – India, China, Brazil, and South Africa.

You might ask “Why?”, and so I’ve decided to address your likely questions in this post.

  •  Why have you moved away from the traditional study abroad experience?

Very simply, the traditional experience wasn’t enough to prepare students for the challenges of doing business in foreign climates. These study abroad experiences are usually 5-10 days. There is little to prepare ahead of time. Generally, students show up and passively listen to a foreign professor and local business leaders talk about the opportunities and challenges of doing business in their home country. There may be a team project or examination to complete, but the experience is completely limited by the classroom dynamic. Little was asked of students to truly interact in business culture while they were there.

  •  Why do you view the project experience as an improvement over the study abroad experience?

The “Global Consulting Program” is an improvement for several reasons.

  1.  Students have significant responsibility. While the length of the trip is about the same as the study abroad trips (7-10 days), students are assigned a real-life team project months before they actually visit that country. Students dedicate time over several months, meeting with the client by video- or teleconferencing, managing a real-life project from start to finish. This level of commitment means that students are more vested in having a tremendous learning experience once they do visit the client in person.
  2. It’s a resume-builder. The goal of every MBA student is to find a great job after they graduate. This experience is something they can reference in a job interview, whether from the angle of being a successful project manager or from the angle of having a true awareness of how to successfully conduct business across international borders.
  3. It builds greater camaraderie. This experience is something that builds relationships. Students truly depend on each other to deliver a great product to their client. It’s difficult to explain, but when you are presenting to a Board of Directors in unfamiliar territory, you learn to trust your teammates in a way that you’ve never had to before. After returning from these trips, our students always say that they will never forget the experience.

To learn more about this unique opportunity, you can view the following video presentation of our students’ experience in Brazil last spring: http://vimeo.com/47665264.

To learn more details about the program, you can then visit our website at: http://www.mba.illinois.edu/experience/experiential-learning/global-consulting.aspx. I think you will see that what we are offering is unparalleled by other MBA programs throughout the U.S. and the world.

In addition to serving as consultants for companies in foreign countries, MBA students have the opportunity for new cultural experiences. Here a group of students shows their Illini pride while touring the Forbidden City.