July 26, 2007
By Anita Martin
Between visits to sun-dappled vineyards and tours of 13th century French chateaus, Jackie Miltner, a junior majoring in finance and marketing, provided business consultation to Les Galeries Lafayette, a popular European department store based in Dijon, France.
Miltner's summer trip was not your typical French getaway – heck, it wasn't even your typical study-abroad experience.
She was one of 139 Ohio University students who participated in this summer's Global Competitiveness Program, a two-week international program arranged yearly by the College of Business to engage both undergraduate and graduate students of business, engineering and other professional tracks as actual consultants for real-life business issues overseas.
The program's hands-on approach won the college's Center for International Business Education and Development a second-place award for Innovation in Business Education from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business in 2006 and a Governor's Award for Excellence in Exporting in 2001.
"The GCP was designed to prepare our students for the global business community that they will enter upon graduation," says Glenn Corlett, just-retired dean of the College of Business. "The goals are to provide an experience that will give our students confidence in dealing with business problems in another country and confidence in working with multinational teammates."
The program takes students to Pecs, Hungary; Leipzig, Germany; Dijon, France; Wuhan, China; Ancona, Italy; Aalborg, Denmark; and Thessaloniki, Greece. At each location, participants connect with students from a partner university. The on-site university provides housing, computer labs and meeting rooms for the students and helps link them to local business clients. Ohio students and their partner school colleagues work in teams of four to six to complete their assignments. Some students conducted their GCP projects this year from June 15 through 30 and others from June 29 through July 14.
For Miltner, business consulting in Dijon demanded cultural flexibility and a different kind of social finesse than she would use for such work in the United States. "It is very challenging to work with people from different cultures," she says. "You have to accustom yourself to new working habits."
In particular, France's two-hour lunch breaks frustrated Miltner, who prefers a steady work momentum, especially early in the day. But she understands that there, lunch can present the best opportunity to forge business relationships.
Sometimes issues that seem irrelevant to business take on new meanings in different countries. Lauren H. Logan, a senior majoring in electrical engineering and geology, who traveled to Greece for her GCP project, inadvertently offended her client by choosing not to drink wine with dinner.
It can be difficult navigating the professional etiquette when you don't even speak the host country's language, but according to Corlett, learning how to negotiate differences is all part of the game.
"Being out of their comfort zone is a new challenge for most of our students," Corlett says. "They encounter language difficulties, work habit differences, ethical differences and project management challenges."
Still, Greg Ciolli, a junior majoring in management information systems and marketing, found that he had more in common with his German peers than he expected.
"I went into the program hearing about how different everything would be culturally, but when it comes down to it, our interests overlap," Ciolli says. "So it was very easy to get along with German members of the group."
At the end of their two-week programs, GCP participants and their international student partners presented final reports to their clients. Most teams analyzed financial data for their businesses and evaluated relevant market trends. For example, Logan's client, a printing company called Philippos, asked its group for a general financial analysis and a report on which machinery it should buy. Ciolli's client is considering global expansion of his business and asked for an assessment of the United States market.
"Business is not local anymore," says Gary Coombs, associate professor of management. "We're all branching out and competing on an international scale. And it's not just senior managers who are traveling for business. A mid-level employee may get picked for overseas assignment and have to adapt quickly."
Even if the students don't work overseas, chances are they'll deal with issues of a global market at some point in their careers, Coombs says. And for many of these students, the GCP marked their first international or cross-continental experience -- an eye-opening venture in itself.
"I signed up for the GCP because I wanted to see the world," Ciolli says. "Also, from a professional standpoint, I did it because this is a golden opportunity to understand the future of business. The world is globalizing; it's extremely important to be perceptive of the entire economy."