Half a World Away

The MBA Global Course in Vietnam offers a peek at an emerging market

By Jane Burns

Photos courtesy of Blair Sanford

Wisconsin Full-Time MBA students and faculty instructors who were part of the MBA Global Course to Vietnam in January 2017 pose outside Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City. This was the 10th year Full-Time MBA students made an international trip.
Wisconsin Full-Time MBA students and faculty instructors who were part of the MBA Global Course to Vietnam in January 2017 pose outside Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City. This was the 10th year Full-Time MBA students made an international trip.

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.

Rushi Patel (MBA ’18), Carl Biggers (MBA ’18), and Andrew Leeman (MBA ’18) enjoy the tour of Maersk Line shipping company in Ho Chi Minh City.
At the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City, the group made a Wisconsin connection with alumnus Timothy Liston (B.A. ’93), deputy consul general.

(From left) Rushi Patel (MBA ’18), Carl Biggers (MBA ’18), and Andrew Leeman (MBA ’18) enjoy the tour of Maersk Line shipping company in Ho Chi Minh City. At the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City, the group made a Wisconsin connection with alumnus Timothy Liston (B.A. ’93), deputy consul general.

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.

Nicole Kite (MBA ’17) tries her hand at weaving with reeds during the Global Course class’s visit to a business that makes mats, rugs, and other items crafted with reeds. The group visited a number of local entrepreneurs in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam.

Nicole Kite (MBA ’17) tries her hand at weaving with reeds during the Global Course class’s visit to a business that makes mats, rugs, and other items crafted with reeds. The group visited a number of local entrepreneurs in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam.

“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.’”

Catch up on fellow Wisconsin School of Business alumni. View Now »

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Frank McGehee (MBA ’99) and Marie McGehee (MBA ’99)

work in the NYC area. Frank is the head of Global CRM for the music streaming company TIDAL and Marie is director of corporate communications for Verizon. In November Frank was elected to a three-year term on the five-person Maplewood, New Jersey Township Committee. Their daughter, Madison, is an aspiring actress performing in several off-Broadway shows and showcases. More Class Notes »

Jonathan Horne<br>(MBA/JD ’13)

launched a new venture capital fund, The Idea Fund of La Crosse, in February. The fund is actively seeking pre-revenue companies in Wisconsin for investment. Prior to the Idea Fund, he worked in the investment banking division of JP Morgan in New York. More Class Notes »

Cara Lombardo<br />(BBA ’10, MAcc ’11)

left her job as an auditor at PwC to become a journalist. Her accounting training has proved useful in her reporting. She and accounting classmate Matthew Brody (MAcc ’11) are planning a 2018 wedding in Madison. More Class Notes »