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IU Northwest Weekend MBA students travel to Thailand for lessons in international business

Trip abroad is highlight of AACSB-accredited program; past cohorts have been to Chile, Israel

Wednesday May 22, 2013

When working professionals go out into the business world and tout the skills they’ve acquired in their MBA program, how many can say their curriculum actually had them standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the leaders of international businesses, across the globe, discussing business models, human resources issues and the like?

Indiana University Northwest’s Weekend MBA for Professionals Program gives that experience and more to its students each year. It is one of the hallmarks of the intensive 18-month program and one of the reasons IU Northwest’s School of Business and Economics is recognized as an AASCB-accredited business school, among only 5 percent in the country to hold this distinction.

This past spring, the latest cohort of 11 students visited Thailand. In previous years, they have visited Chile and Israel. Next year, the students will likely visit Brazil, India or China. The experience is included in the program’s tuition and serves as the final requirement for the curriculum’s International Business course.

During their visit, the students -- now all graduates of the Class of 2013 -- had their days jam packed with learning experiences arranged by International Business Instructor Ranjan Kini, Ph.D., Professor of Business Education at IU Northwest.

The trip began with a day of learning about Thai culture and history, complete with trips to iconic temples, the Royal Palace and a riverboat tour. Learning how to navigate in a non-Western culture, often with a language barrier, proved to be an education in itself for the students.

In the days that followed, the group visited businesses that represented a broad array of the economy. From tourism and agriculture exporters to government and an apparel factory, the students toured facilities, discussed business models and met with business leaders focused on building their economies in a developing country.

The students shared American ways of doing things and in return, they gained valuable insight that can help them expand their international business savvy -- and marketability -- in the business world.

Kini, who once taught at Bangkok University, called upon his former graduate student, currently a Member of Parliament (MP), Kokaew Pikulthong, to arrange a rare opportunity for the students. MP Pikulthong invited the students to the Parliament of Thailand, where they witnessed international government in action. Deputy Speaker of the Parliament Charoen Chankomon spent an hour and a half answering the students’ questions before returning to the work at hand – the passing of a bill aimed at helping private and public universities to better collaborate.

“The day we spent at the Thailand Parliament proved to be an invaluable lesson for the students,” Kini said. “Not only did they learn about how international government works, but they witnessed an actual bill being discussed, voted on and passed. This experience provided a crucial piece of their education in international business.”

John Gibson, director of Graduate Programs for IU Northwest’s School of Business and Economics, said that the international experience gives students a competitive edge in their careers.

“They have a deeper insight of how to develop relationships with people from other countries,” he explained. “They understand that there are certain ways you have to work within certain cultural aspects of countries to do business. It is an edge they will have over a lot of other managers or people who have received their MBAs at other institutions.”

In visiting with the Thai employers, for instance, the students saw in action the very “lean manufacturing” principles they learned about in class. The minimum wage has recently increased by 40 percent in Thailand, leaving employers there grappling with how to remain profitable in the face of the new mandates.

“Our students got to see a huge multinational company at a plant in Bangkok, trying to incorporate the theories of lean manufacturing,” Gibson said. “For students to see that, on the ground, in another country, something they had studied in their previous course, was pretty cool. They were able to see how it works and the challenges they are facing in an entirely different culture.”

While touring the Hanes manufacturer in Thailand, the students learned about how employers approach Human Resources challenges like retention. They also visited Parliament, spoke to a high ranking government official, and witnessed a vote in action.

A highlight of the trip was a visit to an International Business class at Bangkok University, where MBA students on the opposite end of the globe traded conversation with the IU Northwest students. In comparing their programs, the students learned their curriculums are actually very similar.

“The session could have gone on all night,” Gibson said. “They were so interested in learning from each other.”

Kate DeMik is a supply chain analyst for NiSource and graduated with her MBA in May. While she doesn’t plan on leaving her current position for some time, she did say that largely because of the trip to Thailand, “I am thinking about going overseas.”

“What was valuable was going to a developing country and seeing how their lifestyle is different and how they are growing and expanding,” DeMik said.

The lessons she appreciated most were all geared toward companies that were growing. She enjoyed learning about what companies in Thailand were doing to improve their employee retention.

IU Northwest Media Production Manager Aaron Pigors, also a traditional MBA student, attended the trip as a film producer. He plans to produce a documentary about the benefits and uniqueness of IU Northwest’s international experience.

He said the trip was valuable both for his media career and his business education.

“It is a global economy,” he said. “This century, Asia is really going to come into modern world. Thailand is a developing country with an aggressive plan for keeping up with China and launching themselves into the future with infrastructure.

“Thailand 10 years ago is completely different than Thailand today. And, Thailand 10 years from now will be completely unlike it is now.”

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