THE VALUE OF A GLOBAL MBA - Global Trade Magazine
  June 6th, 2016 | Written by


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Sean Scott is the director of strategic business at Celadon in Indianapolis. He might just be the poster child for the value of a global MBA.

“There’s been a lot of stuff that I learned in the classroom,” says the current executive MBA student at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. “Fortunately, I’m already in a position high enough in my organization to truly apply those in a day-to-day work environment where I can suggest something to my boss, who will then take it up the ladder to their boss until it reaches a level where we could try to implement a process. I can learn something in the classroom on a Tuesday and be at work on a Wednesday morning trying to figure out how we can leverage it to become more effective at what we do.”

Ultimately, that’s the point of an executive going back to school: Take what you learn today and turn it into business improvements on the job tomorrow. And if those lessons can be applied globally as well as domestically, it’s an even smarter bet.

An expert in supply chain management and international business at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, Jay Swaminathan is the GlaxoSmithKline Distinguished Professor of Operations and Associate Dean of the OneMBA and UNC-Tsinghua EMBA Programs. How enmeshed is he in training global MBAs? We had to catch up with him while he was leading a group of executive students in Warsaw, Poland.

“The OneMBA program started in 2002,” he says. “It’s a program based on collaboration with four other schools around the world—one in China, one in Netherlands, one in Brazil, one in Mexico. Five schools, four continents. It is for executives that already have between 10 and 15 years of experience. The audience for the program is executives who have risen up the ranks in their organizations, been successful in their functional roles, and are now either looking to expand their perspective around global or are moving into leadership roles where they need to be focused on the global economy.”

OneMBA students complete residencies around the globe, working with the partner schools as well as regional business executives. “They take classes, go through the curriculum, and do their assignments,” Swaminathan explains. “At the end of each of the three study modules, they have residencies.”

The OneMBA program is all about developing global leaders who can understand different cultures, making it unique in its perspective. Student executives work in teams to double up their multicultural capabilities. They learn from global faculty in a coordinated manner and have immersive experiences to learn on the ground in different countries.

While daytime MBA students who attend classes on campus at UNC/Chapel Hill get a U.S.-centric perspective around business education, OneMBA students see extremely different models. “Poland was part of the Soviet bloc for a long time in Eastern Europe,” Swaminathan notes. “Now it’s trying to come up and adopt some of the Western capitalistic models. And they are having their challenges. In November, our students will go to Brazil, which is going through a rough period of its own right now in terms of the economy.”

Jose Touzon had worked in operations for a long time when he decided the best way to light a fire under his career was to sign up for the global MBA program at UNC. “It was—I won’t lie—one of the most difficult things that I’ve done in my life, but one of the most rewarding,” he says. Literally and figuratively, it changed his life, first while continuing his career at Menlo, the 3PL arm of Conway, and then giving him the opportunity to take on even bigger challenges at Genco, which recently become a FedEx company.

At Menlo, his global MBA training gave Touzon the wherewithal to successfully take on a huge assignment in guiding company operations in Mexico. That allowed him to grow his professional network from domestic to global as the Mexican assignment took him next to Brazil and on to China, where he led teams that further expanded Menlo’s reach.

“You have to have knowledge of the culture of how the people work, how they think, how they behave, and you have to be able to adapt to that to be able to get the results that we got,” Touzon says. “I attribute a lot of that knowledge to the global MBA. It will give you the confidence to be able to say to your leaders, ‘I want to do this, and here’s why I think I can do this.’ The companies will take notice that you’re pursuing your MBA and everything that entails.”

Four years ago, UNC launched a second global MBA program, this one offering a dual degree program with Tsinghua University in China. Participants earn a master’s in Engineering Management from Tsinghua and an MBA from the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC.

“It’s specifically geared toward developing future leaders of global supply chains,” according to Swaminathan. “If you think about the global economy today, U.S. and Chinese companies—and the collaborations between them—play a big role in supply chain. Whether it’s electronic or non-electronic, fashion, apparel, industrial—it doesn’t matter because the interaction between Chinese providers and Western providers is critical to the overall success of the supply chain. This program focuses on developing the future leaders of global supply chains.

“In addition to that, we also have residencies in other parts of the world,” Swaminathan continues. “For example, we have residencies in Dubai, Europe, Japan and Korea. Students get to pick and choose which of these residencies they want to attend. We don’t have regular classes, but we do have company visits and industry presentations.”

At the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the business school offers a joint global MBA program in partnership with a school in Cologne, Germany. “It came together through a German grant,” says Paul Ambrose, associate dean, College of Business and Economics, UW-Whitewater. “When they run this class, students do a cross-border project. We put our students and the German students together, and they interact online to solve a problem in a 16-week capstone class. Students get the experience of having to deal with another culture, and another way of doing things. That is for anyone who goes through international business here.”

A global MBA can be rocket fuel for a career, but it’s not easily earned. For the ambitious executive, however, it could be just the thing to take the next step—both personally and for one’s company.

“Critical thinking is something that we focused on,” Scott says. “It is imperative to improving business. Continuous improvement is about always looking for ways to improve. Never rest on your laurels.”