Huntsman students use spring break to dive into intensive international study.
By Steve Eaton
People who are not in sync with Utah State University’s academic calendar are often surprised to discover an empty campus during spring break. A natural question might be, “Where in the world are all the students?”
That would have been a tough question to answer at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business during the last spring break. Nearly 90 Huntsman students were scattered across the globe as they traveled to China, England, France, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Sierra Leone, Spain and the United Arab Emirates.
In China, you would have found 13 MBA students as well as four alumni sitting in the personal office of US Ambassador Jon Huntsman. In Japan, on March 11, you would have found some 16 MBA students around TV sets as they came to grips with the fact that the gentle shaking they felt earlier in the day was a massive 9.0 earthquake some 440 miles away that wreaked havoc on Japan’s western coast. In Sierra Leone, you could have tracked down a handful of students and faculty who sat on a veranda overlooking the ocean with former President Tejan Kabbah. Some have compared President Kabbah to the United States’ own Abraham Lincoln, because Kabbah kept Sierra Leone together during a brutal civil war.
The MBA students who traveled to China felt privileged to be able to meet with Ambassador Huntsman. The students, who were at the embassy meeting with other officials, weren’t sure they would be able to meet with the ambassador, and so were pleased when they ended up spending 45 minutes with him in his office.
During the visit, the ambassador gave an overview of the global economy as it relates to China and the US, and also gave examples of the impact of China on Utah.
Kathy McConkie, assistant director of the MBA program, said she was impressed with the personal attention Ambassador Huntsman gave each of the students.
“He went around the table and had all the students introduce themselves and tell him what their names were, where they were from and what they wanted to do,” Ms. McConkie said. “He was engaging and remembered their names. He is obviously brilliant, he is astute, and he made a connection with each of the students.”
MBA student John Tall agreed.
“Meeting with Ambassador Huntsman about the Chinese-American relationship was an amazing visit,” Mr. Tall said. “He pulled us into his office and put a personal touch on the visit. It is apparent that Ambassador Huntsman loves his position and fulfills it well.”
Students traveling in Japan visited Tokyo, Toyohashi, Toyota City and Kyoto. They were in Kyoto when the earthquake hit. Joseph Banks, internship coordinator, said they didn’t realize at first how serious the earthquake had been because the epicenter was so far away. They were visiting a firm called NISSHA, a specialty printing company, when the quake hit.
“We felt a little bit of shaking, but it took me 10 seconds to realize that the shaking was from an earthquake,” Mr. Banks said.
Meanwhile, in Africa, five students were traveling in Sierra Leone with Chis Fawson, senior associate dean, Dave Herrmann, executive in residence, and Ann Norman, associate director of marketing. The group was investigating the viability of starting up a Small Enterprise Education and Development (SEED) program in Sierra Leone and was exploring the possibilities of creating an African initiative for leadership development.
While there, former President Tejan Kabbah invited them to his home where he spoke with members of the group for several minutes. Some have compared President Kabbah to our own Abraham Lincoln because he kept Sierra Leone together during a brutal civil war. The visit was set up by Ms. Norman, who co-wrote, along with Joe Alie, an autobiography of President Kabbah.
“He brought peace to the collapsed nation that many thought impossible to attain,” Ms. Norman said. “He is a great and gentle man and a humanitarian. He literally saved a nation.”
Dr. Fawson found the visit to be a highlight.
“That experience of meeting with President Kabbah was truly extraordinary,” Dr. Fawson said. “To be in the presence of somebody who’s considered a global statesman and to see his humility — there was no presumption in his demeanor. He was a very humble man…It was a tender moment more than anything.”
Several students said they were impressed with the number of high-ranking business officials who were willing to personally talk with them. The MBA groups also traveled with embedded executives.
“I think our programs are unique in a lot of ways,” Dr. Fawson said. “One of the ways we have done this is by embedding executives in these travel programs. So as students are traveling, they have access to seasoned executives who have a deep insight into how the world really works. I think that’s a unique contribution to the innovation of our international programs.”
In China the president of Hino Motors China, Ritsuo Shingo, rode on the bus with the students to talk to them.
“The most memorable quote from the entire trip for me came from Mr. Shingo,” Ms. McConkie said. “When we asked him what he thinks makes a good leader, he said, ‘You get all of these problems thrown at you when you’re a leader. When you have those things, the most important thing that you need to do, is you need to go out and you need to see what is happening. Seeing is understanding.’”
The idea that you need to go see for yourself has been a key teaching of Mr. Shingo. His father, Shigeo Shingo, is considered by many as one of the most brilliant leaders in operational excellence who ever lived. The Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence at the Huntsman School of Business was named after Shigeo Shingo.
Each group was given special treatment and extraordinary access at the companies and facilities visited. Ken Snyder, executive dean and chief administrative officer, led the MBA students who visited Japan.
“We visited several companies,” Mr. Snyder said. “We met with five different company presidents or division presidents, who were very gracious and gave their time to our students. Our students were very articulate and asked great questions. It was just a wonderful learning experience. There’s no way to replicate meeting with a company president at their company, having them talk through their strategy and some of the challenges they are facing.”
An MBA group of 14 students who visited Manchester, London and Wales in the United Kingdom, were given a four-hour tour of a nuclear plant located in Wales. Two days later the nuclear disasters in Japan were in the news. The facility the students toured was similar to the one damaged in the earthquake, according to Ron Godfrey, who teaches operations classes at the Huntsman School of Business.
“We had an acute understanding of what was going on inside the reactor in Japan based on what we learned in Wales,” Mr. Godfrey said.
Those interviewed about the trips seemed almost frustrated in how difficult it was to describe how all-encompassing their experience was.
MBA student Kyle Griffin, said he gained an “intense love” for the Japanese while he was there.
“It is becoming increasingly important for students to learn and understand more about the cultures of others,” Mr. Griffin said. “When we do not understand others, we are incapable of broadening our minds and seeing the possibilities that exist in the world.”
It’s all part of the plan, according to Dr. Fawson.
“This really immerses students into a full sensory experience where they see business, they touch business, they experience the culture — all of those things create a much more powerful learning experience than just talking about it in a typical classroom setting,” Dr. Fawson said.
While the students invested most of their days meeting with business, government and academic leaders, they also spent time visiting historical sites and exploring. Students who visited Dubai, for example, took a camel ride in the desert in their spare time and visited the world’s tallest building, the 2,716-foot tall Dubai Tower, which is now named the “Burj Khalifa” after the president of Abu Dhabi. They saw Michelangelo’s Statue of David in Italy. In London, they visited Westminster Abbey and the House of Commons.
“It’s not a travel tour,” Mr. Snyder said of the visits. “It’s a business study tour, but if you don’t understand the culture, you can’t do business, and that’s why exploring historical sites can be an important part of the trip.”
Chelsey Funk, an economics and English education major, was one of the students who went to Sierra Leone and got to meet with President Kabbah. She wants to be a high school teacher in America, but her experience has convinced her that she would like to invest some of her career in teaching outside the United States
The students said the visits opened their minds to some of the opportunities available to them.
“China is on a growth track that will eventually take over the United States’ production and consumption,” Mr. Tall said. “If we can be savvy enough, China is an open door to intense business possibilities.”
Leah Gunther was one of 12 students who went to Spain and France on a Master of Science in Human Resources Executive Program (MSHR) trip. She said business people have to understand the international marketplace.
“Even if a company does not offer their products and services internationally, they cannot escape the global aspect,” she said. “They will interact with international customers and employees in their own country, deal with international suppliers or have to expand their own markets internationally. Understanding international business is crucial. A significant aspect of that is cultural sensitivity, a respect for people in general and an open mind to the practices and experiences of others.”
Even the professors who traveled with the students said they gained new insight. Chris Reutzel, assistant professor, said the things he has learned will help him in the classroom.
“This experience has provided me with concrete, real-world examples of application of strategic management principles that I have and will continue to use in my strategy and social entrepreneurship classes,” Dr. Reutzel said.
One of the MBA trips took students to Italy and France. In Italy, the students visited the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. David Woolstenhulme, executive-in-residence and lecturer, said the Huntsman students worked on a case study with the Modena students.
“The interaction was outstanding,” he said. “This was a great learning experience for me and for our students.”
Kelly Fadel, assistant professor, set up the visit to the university in Italy.
“Our students learned first-hand that Italians have a different way of thinking about these issues,” Dr. Fadel said. “Family and roots are of paramount importance to Italians, while performance and the bottom-line tend to be what Americans care about more. It was great to see our students engaging with the Italian students and finding ways to reconcile two very different decision making processes.”
Brad Winn is the director of the MSHR executive program. He took a group of 14 MSHR students to Paris and then to Dubai. The group was the first from the executive program, which draws its students around the Utah, to take an international trip.
“One of the best forms of education, frankly, is travel, because you’re able to gain that much broader perspective from your own parochial views, but also you’re able to understand your own culture better as you put it in context with another country,” he said.
Dr. Fawson said he expects opportunities for students to travel will only increase.
“The basic point is that the Huntsman School is deeply committed to creating the kinds of opportunities that students will look back on some day and say it was a transformational turning point in their understanding of the world, and a pivotal experience in understanding their personal leadership role in making a difference in the world,” he said.
They won’t have to hard-sell the students who went on the recent trips of the necessity of such international exposure.
“One of the four pillars of the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business is global vision,” Ms. Gunther said. “Utah State University is not simply professing it— they are living up to their standards. They are taking their students all around the world, touring business and interacting with professionals in that global setting to prepare their students to be successful business leaders internationally.”