Monday, March 16, 2009

We're Off to Panama and Ecuador!

There was a time—and I remember it well—when we actually taught a course in international business at UC Davis. The idea was that there was business, and then there was that exotic version, international business, that dealt with trying to open markets in places that did not speak English as a first language. Mostly that meant tips on doing business in European capitals.

The rise of Japan as a major manufacturer forever changed our view of the U.S. as the only country that could export large amounts of goods, and even innovate management practices. We spent a decade studying Edward Deming, Theory M, and Toyotism as we tried to move away from domestic management practices we could trace to the era of Henry Ford in favor of lean manufacturing and continuous improvement.

More recently we accepted the idea that American goods made by U.S.-based companies such as The Gap and the Chrysler Corporation might have some foreign components, even a majority of them sometimes. We realized those really well-priced goods at Wal-Mart are often sourced from countries we have trouble placing on a map, and even that the Chinese government is ostensibly our banker.

What's the world coming to?

We are linked, for good and for ill. We design in one place, source in another, and sell everywhere it makes business sense.

At the Graduate School School of Management we began teaching an International Study Practicum, which focuses on a specific country or region and culminates with a 10-day, first-hand learning experience. I’m on this journey to Panama and Ecuador with 16 UC Davis MBA students, and Wil Agatstein, the executive director of our Center for Entrepreneurship Executive Director. We have spent 10 weeks planning the trip and making contacts with law firms, political officials, construction companies, tourism developers, agribusiness firms, and a variety of for- and not-for-profit organizations. We’re here to learn about what it is like to be a business person in this region, to understand the opportunities and challenges of these countries in the global economy.

The students, who come from all three of our MBA programs, chose this region because they wanted to learn about developing economies where the possibilities for new markets are great and where market development is not already dominated by established firms. They are motivated by curiosity, concern for the developing world, and by the chance to develop their own savvy about global business processes. By sampling different parts of these societies we hope to get a well-rounded, if initial take on business practice in Panama and Ecuador.

You can follow our travels on the Web site that one of our students, Sonny Johl, has created. We're sharing blogs, photos, comments >>

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