Half a World Away
The MBA Global Course in Vietnam offers a peek at an emerging market
Photos courtesy of Blair Sanford
In the heart of the city, amidst traffic jams and trendy coffee shops, MBA students from the Wisconsin School of Business didn’t feel entirely out of their element when they traveled in January 2017.
Yet to learn about economic growth, marketing challenges, and the relationship between business and government in Vietnam, the students’ Global Course made it clear they were far from home in ways well beyond miles.
“We talk about the globalization of businesses a lot, and I was aware of it before I came to WSB,” says Katerina Herder (MBA ’17). “After this trip it’s more tangible and real.”
For 10 years, full-time MBAs have been taking one-week global trips. The experience has evolved into a two-credit course with consulting projects embedded in the experience.
“Our goal is to give students an applied learning experience they wouldn’t get in their own travels,” says Mark Matosian (B.S. ’83, Ph.D. ’99), director of student services for the WSB’s Full-Time MBA Program. “These countries have something going on in their economy that we find compelling, and students are able to be there to learn more about that firsthand. These markets most likely will play a big role in their future career.”
Vietnam was an intriguing destination because the country’s GDP has more than doubled in a decade. It has a young population, a growing urban middle class, and a burgeoning entrepreneurship culture. Vietnam is also a target for foreign investment and has unique business challenges because of its Communist government.
Students visited a variety of companies, including WSB corporate partners General Electric, Prudential, PwC, and SC Johnson. They also visited a craft brewery to learn how U.S. beer makers such as those in Wisconsin might be able to tap into the emerging Vietnamese market.
“The visits to the U.S. Consulate and a variety of industries helps us to understand what a state-owned government means to all these different entities,” says Blair Sanford, assistant dean of the Full-Time MBA Program at WSB. “We made the most of every corporate or cultural visit by listening, asking questions, and soaking up information.”
International travel is a strong component to the MBA experience.
In the global course MBA students across all specialties participate in the trip, which creates a collaborative experience.
“Students work on projects that might not be their specialization,” says Nicole Jennings, associate dean for academic affairs and administration at WSB. “It’s a good opportunity to work together and broaden their learning.”
That was a big benefit of the experience for Azucena Flores (MBA ’17), whose specialization is risk management and insurance.
“You learn what each person from the different specializations can bring to the project,” she says. “We all have different ideas of what we should look at, so that diversity of knowledge was so valuable.”
The trip also puts the Badger network to work. Alumni helped make connections that allowed students to tour the companies. At the U.S. Consulate they met Timothy Liston (B.A. ’93), deputy consul general at the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City.
There were also opportunities to learn about Vietnam’s history and culture. The group took a boat tour of the Mekong Delta, and visited a museum that told the story of the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese perspective.
After returning for the second semester, students completed their consulting projects and wrote a paper about the course and how it impacted them.
“Some took away a greater understanding of the historical influence of China and the effects of the war on the country,” Sanford says. “For others it was astonishment at how fast Vietnam is becoming a player in Southeast Asia.”
Sometimes a simple moment stood out most. One day Herder sat down to eat lunch on her own and a Vietnamese woman joined her at the table where they ate together in silence.
When Herder got the bill, she had no clue what it said and no idea how much money she owed. The server repeating it louder and louder did not help, but her dining companion did.
“She looked at me and held up her fingers to tell me how much it was,” Herder says. “That was my first day there and I thought, ‘This is going to be a good trip.’”