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Spring 2013

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BY KEVIN MOE

The Global Business Practicum at the Carlson School is all about collaboration. With Carlson School faculty, undergraduate and MBA students, international partner school faculty and students, and multinational companies all working together, the practicum delivers unparalleled educational experiences, valuable business insights, and strengthened relationships between the academic and corporate worlds.

Created more than 15 years ago, the practicum is a course designed to provide students with an opportunity to collaborate in cross-cultural teams, to analyze real-life business issues, and provide sound recommendations to corporate partners. “This program developed as a result of a meeting I had with the late Lee Kennedy of 3M,” says Carlson Global Institute Associate Dean Michael Houston. “We were discussing ways to enhance the 3M-Carlson School relationship, and I mentioned we were starting a live case program in Vienna, focused on Central and Eastern Europe. Lee jumped on the opportunity for 3M to participate as the corporate partner and, in fact, accompanied the students on the early versions of the program.”

global quoteCompanies involved in the practicum acquire actionable recommendations from the focused attention of 25 to 45 students from multicultural backgrounds, all receiving expert direction from Carlson School and international business school faculty. Topics have ranged from new market entry and marketing strategies for new product launches to supply chain and industry analyses.

The practicum also has served as a valuable recruiting tool as companies can evaluate the work of potential future employees. The students get to see and develop an interest in a company’s operation in the U.S. and internationally. Companies involved in the practicum have included 3M, Cargill, Hormel, and The Toro Company among others.

To get the ball rolling, the Carlson School first identifies a corporate sponsor and its international business challenge. Students then participate in several class sessions focusing on this case, which includes a live discussion with a company representative. The students are also in virtual contact with 10 to 20 students also working on the project at an international partner school.

Two weeks are then spent abroad at the partner school, where they work with their international peers to finalize their recommendations. During this time, the students perform primary research and visit organizations related to the project. Final recommendations are presented to the corporate partner after the end of the two weeks. In some cases, a presentation is made to the company’s local executives when the Carlson School students return to the United States.

“In addition to the learning outcomes for students, faculty, and corporate partners, the one benefit that cuts across everyone involved is a deepening of relationships, especially on the part of the schools,” Houston says. “This program adds another dimension to our relationships with partner schools and companies.”

Bridging the Corporate and Academic Worlds

Since 2008, The Toro Company has participated in four case studies with the Carlson School, with the most recent one taking place in the Czech Republic. “As Toro looks for new ways to support and expand our business in Eastern Europe, the Carlson School students did a thorough job meeting with our distributor partners and end users, providing us with ideas and suggestions to improve sales, operational enhancements, and overall customer satisfaction,” says Karine Watne, a marketing manager at Toro. “Their work identified areas that we are working on with our channel partners to expand the parts business in Eastern Europe as a whole.”

Watne plays a key role in bridging the relationship between Toro’s international business and the Carlson School. She helps find relevant projects that will serve Toro’s international marketing managers as well as arranging for presentations at the Carlson School and helping organize the logistics in country.

“Toro feels very strongly about being involved as a corporate citizen with the international business education system,” she says. “We benefit from receiving feedback on a particular business case from a group of students with diverse professional and cultural backgrounds.”

Benefits Professional and Personal

Sean Erickson (pictured at top), ’12 MBA and currently a global marketing operations manager at 3M, was one of the students working on the Toro project. “Throughout my MBA, I made sure to select classes with an international emphasis in order to align with the global focus of my company,” he says. “Central and Eastern Europe had recently become an area of focus for my company and seemed like the perfect place to invest my time.”

quoteErickson and his Carlson School cohorts partnered with students from the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU). While Erickson and his team studied other Twin Cities companies to see how they managed their parts and services businesses throughout the globe, WU students were compiling reports on the general business conduct in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as its aftermarket business of durable equipment and an economic analysis of the area.

Once all the students were together in Europe, research was conducted on-site at Toro’s commercial equipment distributors. “This research included numerous interviews with key stakeholders in the parts and service business, along with the leadership of Toro’s chosen distributors,” Erickson says. “Throughout the two weeks, we visited locations inside and outside the city limits of Vienna, Brno [in the Czech Republic], and Prague.”

Finally, all of the information was compiled, analyzed, and combined to produce a final proposal for Toro.

Erickson says the program was beneficial to him both professionally and personally. “From the professional side, the ability to gain international business experience with one company while employed at another company is very rare. It avails the opportunity to immediately apply what is learned throughout the course upon return to work,” he says.

On the personal side, Erickson says there is not a better opportunity at the Carlson School to significantly expand one’s professional network or build as strong of friendships than in this program. “Nothing compares to two weeks abroad with the same people, working on a live case study, while experiencing the local culture,” he says.

If your company is interested in sponsoring a project, please contact Jennifer Hawkins at 612-624-4334 or hawki044@umn.edu.

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