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Global lab team in Chile
A Kellogg team, including Brad Rager '08 (standing, second from right), traveled to Chile to meet with a client during Global Lab.

With Global Lab, students don't wait to tackle real problems

New course challenges by demanding intellectual depth and international perspectives

By Rebecca Lindell

Karina Hirai '08 is passionate about global business. So passionate, that she was determined to gain as much international experience as possible before graduating from the Kellogg School. If that meant creating a class to obtain the sort of hands-on overseas consulting experience she wanted, so be it.

Hirai took her proposal to the Kellogg administration early last year. A few months later, the new course, Global Lab, debuted. It quickly attracted 25 registrants as eager as Hirai to take on a real-world challenge for an international firm.

The Kellogg School recruited Paul Christensen, manager of the $28-million private equity firm ShoreCap International Ltd., to teach the class. He assigned students to small teams, each working to solve a specific problem for one of six overseas companies.

Each team met with Christensen once a week to discuss its work. At the end of the quarter, the teams traveled to meet with senior management and present their findings.

"This is not an easy class, and that's by design," Christensen says. "I used to be a consultant, and I would have found it a real challenge to do 10 weeks of work before I even met with the client. Our students worked very hard to figure out the crux of the issue and address the client's problem. They took their core functional skills — strategy, sales, marketing, finance — and applied it to a case. It was a real deliverable, for a real client, and a true international business experience."

Hirai and her team partnered with a firm in India, researching the apparel industry and determining how to apply lessons from successful U.S. brands to the Indian market. They ran focus groups, surveyed consumers and, once in India, worked closely with senior managers to strategically position several Indian brands.

Hirai said the experience was exactly what she had hoped for when she proposed the class. She called Global Lab a "perfect balance" between the demands of a professional consulting job and a reflective academic and cultural experience.

"Having that exposure to international consulting before graduation was great," said Hirai, now a consultant for McKinsey & Co. "The distance and the cultural differences made it more challenging, but it was extremely rewarding and helped me expand my global perspectives."

Brad Rager '08 had a similarly gratifying experience. Rager's team consulted with a rapidly growing company in Chile that has created a device to measure lumber volume. The company asked the Kellogg students to determine whether and how to enter the U.S. and Canadian markets, so Rager and his colleagues researched the North American lumber industry, analyzed laws and regulations, and shared their findings with the client.

"It was far more time-consuming than any other class," Rager says. "But we didn't treat it like a class. We viewed it as an opportunity to help our client."

At the end of the quarter, the team traveled to Chile and spent two weeks at the company's offices, completing research, brainstorming with senior managers and assembling a final presentation, which included implementation and timeline recommendations.

"The class teaches you a lot about consulting — working with the client, thinking through the problem, managing expectations, focusing on the execution and meeting the customer's needs," Rager said.

Those needs were met successfully. In a survey, all the participating firms agreed that students' work was of long-term value. All also said they would do another project with a Kellogg team, Christensen says.

"They felt the students brought new insights and knowledge that the clients hadn't thought of before," Christensen says. "They found the students personable and engaging to work with, and they were very pleased."

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