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Dateline -- everywhere

Global Initiatives in Management takes Kellogg students on a worldwide leadership trek that brings classroom lessons to life

By Aubrey Henretty

  GIM Tanzania
  GIM Zambia
  GIM Russia
Sunipa Bhattacharjee '09 stepped into Terminal 3 at China's Beijing Capital International Airport in mid-March, just two weeks after its grand opening. Designed and built to impress foreign visitors in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, the $3.5-billion terminal occupies nearly twice the floor space of Chicago's Merchandise Mart. Daylight streams through adjustable skylights while luggage zips along the $240-million transfer system at speeds above 20 miles per hour. Bhattacharjee, a student in the Kellogg Full-Time MBA Program, sums up the terminal in a single word: "opulent."

Bhattacharjee and her traveling companions — classmates in the Emerging China group of this year's Global Initiatives in Management Program — had been studying the world's most populous nation from afar for the previous eight weeks, but reality had already thrown some unexpected challenges their way. Days before the trip, they'd had to cancel their planned visit to Tibet. Now, in the Beijing airport, TVs aired CNN, but any time reporters mentioned the disputed region, the screens went black.

After a brief visit to Shanghai, Bhattacharjee's group scouted smaller Chinese cities — including Chengdu, which the May 12 earthquake would devastate — for General Electric to test the viability of the company's new portable ultrasound device. During their two-week tour, they met with representatives from GE, Baxter Healthcare, Chinese government health officials and one very busy practicing MD.

"The government's buying whatever's cheapest because they still have so many people who aren't being serviced," says Bhattacharjee. Out of necessity, quantity trumps quality. Further complicating the market, she adds, is that it's illegal for a pregnant woman in China to know the sex of her fetus. Cultural pressure to produce sons and widespread sex-selective abortions have led to a serious gender imbalance in the population.

An experiential journey

If traveling through China amid political turmoil and dodging natural disasters sounds like an unconventional way to earn credit toward an MBA degree, it's just business as usual for GIM. The program's inaugural trip took 30 students to the former Soviet Union while the Cold War was winding down.

Associate Dean Ed Wilson remembers how, in the fall of 1989, a new Kellogg tradition was born. The Berlin Wall's days were numbered, and many Westerners were eager to visit Eastern Europe, says Wilson. A student named Sandy Haviland '90 walked into Wilson's office, wanting to lead a spring break trip to the Soviet Union. He wondered if Kellogg would help.

GIM China  
GIM Southern Africa  
GIM Turkey  

"I didn't know what to do with this question," says Wilson, an adviser for a GIM trip to India this year. "What if we send a group of students and they don't come home, arrested as spies or something?" But Haviland was persistent. A few weeks later, he returned with a new pitch: He would lead an educational trip to the Soviet Union, giving participants a chance to gain first-hand knowledge of a new culture and economy.

In the nearly 20 years since those first 30 students took off on their adventure, Wilson has watched GIM evolve. Today, the course is one of the options that fulfill the school's global elective requirement. Now, more than 500 students from the Full-Time, Part-Time and Executive MBA programs study and travel to more than a dozen nations on six continents. A faculty-selected team of students designs each course, choosing relevant readings and bringing experts into the classroom to speak.

Eyeing the stacks of papers and three-ring binders on his desk, Wilson reveals these as his trip's records: rosters, leadership team applications, readings on India's culture, economy, people and climate, and — finally — student presentations. "When we're done," he says, "we know more about India than some people who live in India."

GIM Program Director Mark Finn, a clinical professor of accounting and international business, says the "radical student focus" is one thing that has kept GIM fresh and flexible.

"There are copycat programs, including a new program at Harvard," says Finn, who has been directing GIM since 2001. "If you look at our competition, the idea of giving students the rights to design their own program — with structure and faculty oversight — that's a radical idea. That's what makes GIM special."

Wilson has accompanied students to the Republic of Ghana, the United Arab Emirates, the Czech Republic, Vietnam, Thailand, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and South Africa. "I've been to so many wonderful places," he says, "but what I cherish the most is that I got to know the students."

One of this year's students was leadership team member Sang'ona Oriedo '09, who came to Kellogg from San Francisco, where she had been an engineering project manager for a biotech firm.

"I had a particular interest in India because it was a former British colony, and my family is from East Africa, which was also colonized by the British," says Oriedo. Her GIM team looked for growth opportunities in rural India's mobile phone market, scouring research on local consumer behavior and meeting with industry experts to determine what rural consumers really want in a mobile device (the short answer: less phone, more media).

  GIM Tanzania
  GIM China-Korea
  GIM Russia

"Business meetings in India have a much different tone than they do in the United States," says Oriedo. A mid-meeting power outage might fluster Stateside executives, but in India, it's a minor inconvenience and an excuse to break for tea and snacks.

Oriedo says students on the India trip enjoyed visiting markets and other "off-the-beaten-path" locales, and they didn't have to stray far to find unique local flavor. "One group in our class was walking through a city park and a monkey started following them," says Oriedo. The monkey trailed relentlessly until a group member handed it an open bottle of Coca-Cola, which it happily accepted and drank.

Cultural revolution

The juxtaposition of new economies with the old world was a common sight for 2008 GIM students. Travis Morgan '09 was part of the group that visited the Republic of Turkey and the United Arab Emirates' booming city of Dubai. His trip began in Istanbul, Turkey.

"It really is an ancient city," says Morgan. "We saw mosques that were built in 600 A.D." Spires from the old mosques peeked out over city rooftops and shared real estate with centuries-old palaces and brand-new buildings. "It's almost a metaphor for the city itself," he adds, referring to Istanbul's geographical and cultural position as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East.

Morgan's group studied Turkey's attempted entrance into the European Union. "What you read about is that Turkey is trying to get into the EU for several years," Morgan says. The official story is that Turkey has been rebuffed repeatedly and ordered to implement reforms before it will be considered for membership, he explains, but the reforms have already gone such a long way to improving the quality of life in Turkey that joining the EU may be an afterthought by the time the nation is admitted. "It may not even matter at that point to the Turks."

Morgan says Istanbul owes its cosmopolitan streak largely to Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who established the democratic, secular state in 1923. "We study in our Kellogg MORS classes how difficult it is to change the culture of a company," says Morgan. "Atatürk, in his lifetime, changed the culture of an entire country. That's incredible!"

Also incredible, he says, was the city of Dubai, home to the world's only seven-star hotel. "It's one-part Disney World, one-part Las Vegas, one-part New York City," Morgan says. "It really has just risen from the desert." Like Istanbul, Dubai incorporates the old and new, but unlike Turkey, where residents "take their secularism very seriously," the United Arab Emirates are ruled by a religious monarchy. There are obvious cultural tradeoffs, says Morgan, but one seems to be that, in Dubai, large projects are completed at breakneck speed:

"The sheik says, 'We need a mass transit system,' and they're building it now, and in a year it will be operational."

Healthy impatience with social ills

While Morgan and the Dubai group marveled at that city's ability to make things happen, Robert Albright '09 and the Tanzania group tried to bring some order to a splintered health system.

Although no GIM trip can be called "typical," this year's Tanzania trip was unusual even by GIM standards. Instead of exploring completely different industries, the small groups in GIM Tanzania were all working toward a larger goal: bringing appropriate, effective HIV testing technology to areas that need it most. In conjunction with the Kellogg School's Global Health Initiative, these students hoped to make a lasting difference in the lives of Africa's HIV patients.

"It's sometimes hard to know exactly what's happening on the ground," says Albright. "What you're hearing from the government is different from what's happening at the clinic."

That's where the Kellogg students came in. Some groups, like Albright's, met with medical professionals and government officials to understand the nation's existing HIV testing policies, procedures and goals. Others spent time in rural clinics, far from the reliable electricity and knowledgeable medical staff of Dar Es Salaam. In the evenings, the students converged at their hotel and shared what they had learned during the day. Back at Kellogg, they presented their findings to representatives from GHI, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and partners in the private sector.

Albright says the urgency of addressing the HIV problem, and the partnership with GHI, added a rewarding dimension to GIM Tanzania: "We knew the work we were doing — in some small part — would continue on."

Kara Palamountain '04, a research associate professor and the executive director of GHI, was the Tanzania group's faculty adviser.

"I can't tell you how exciting it was for me to watch the students move from an academic environment — where they were listening to lectures and guest speakers — to [a complex, real-world setting]. Within 10 minutes of getting to our hotel, the power went out." The active, resourceful learning began immediately, she adds. "Someone had a flashlight and we just continued our meeting."

Palamountain says MBA students — sticklers for results — are uniquely prepared to take on global health problems. Already, she says, students from the Tanzania group have been asking when the devices requested by their new friends in Tanzania will be ready.

"That kind of impatience" she says, "is exactly what we need."

Photos courtesty of Kellogg student GIM participants

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