By Katie Quaranta
Mesbah Saheli, an Ohio University MBA student, found himself in Shanghai, China, this past summer, not as a tourist, but as a consultant.
Along with his fellow student teammates, Saheli made a pitch to executives at a major Chinese car manufacturer, recommending strategies for marketing three car models in several domestic and foreign markets. To his delight, the executives said they would discuss how the team's ideas could fit into their global marketing strategies.
"To impact a company like that feels really good, especially when you are just an MBA student," said Saheli, who graduated in August.
Saheli was one of 25 MBA students who took part in the university's Joint Student Consulting Project this summer, with 14 traveling to China and another group of 11 working in Bangalore, India. The project, which has been a part of the university's MBA requirements for nearly 20 years, marks the culmination of the students' five quarters of study.
The program requires students to travel to another country to work for three weeks with international MBA students as consultants on real-world business problems. In the past, students have traveled to countries such as Italy, Hungary, South Africa and Brazil.
A global perspective on business is increasingly valued, according to O'Bleness Professor of Management and MBA Director Deborah Crown, who accompanied the students to China.
"Everyone is aware that, in order for someone to be competitive in today's marketplace, we really have to make sure that people understand that our marketplace is no longer domestic, that we really do have to have a rich understanding in globalization," she said.
She added that both the caliber and the hands-on nature of the experience set it apart from more classroom-centered international programs at other universities.
"One of the criticisms of many MBA programs is that they primarily deal with theories in the classroom and the students don't know how to use the information," she said. "We provide our students with ... the processes for understanding how (they) use this information, how (they) integrate this (and) how (they) go in and actually solve a problem."
While in China, students worked in four- to five-person teams with MBA students from Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Team members met with their respective companies -- SAIC Motors, a large automobile manufacturer in China; Urban Markets, a major Chinese food producer; and EDU, a company that specializes in teaching Mandarin Chinese to businesspeople domestically and abroad -- and discussed their clients' business concerns.
At the end of their three-week stay, they suggested a variety of strategies, including branding initiatives, tapping new markets and ways to increase efficiencies. Crown said clients were impressed with the students' efforts.
"They were so appreciative that they started recruiting students right there in the final presentation," she said. "They thought that they … did an exceptional job making recommendations that were feasible and were appreciative that they also provided implementation plans."
The group of students in India similarly worked with international MBA students from the Ohio University Christ College Academy for Management Education (OUCC) -- an Ohio University College of Business program based in India -- to solve business problems for companies ranging from large financial institutions and pharmaceutical companies to consulting companies and a major supermarket chain.
"This gives our students a chance to gain firsthand experience in an international, multicultural consulting engagement," said Thomas Luce, a professor of management information systems who supervised the students in India. "They have to deal with interpersonal, communication and cultural issues as well as the underlying business problems."
For MBA student Joseph Plessinger, learning to navigate differences and getting to know the international students in his team were among the most challenging and valuable parts of his time in India.
"As a group, they were the nicest people I have ever encountered," he said of his colleagues from OUCC. "I was sad to leave them in the end. I made some really good friends among them."
Students in both groups worked with the Appalachian Regional Entrepreneurship Group (AREG) in the nine months before their international experience. Part of the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, the entrepreneurship group pairs students with local businesses and entrepreneurs and has them, for example, create business plans or develop marketing strategies.
MBA student W. Otis Crockron Jr. said that hands-on, real-world experience enriched his time abroad.
"At the Voinovich School we actually worked with real clients for about a year," he said. "We got comfortable operating in that type of an environment, so it definitely was a plus."
When they weren't working with clients, students immersed themselves in another culture -- something that at times proved difficult but ultimately rewarding.
"The largest challenge, other than attempting to hail a cab during rush hour in Shanghai, was working through the language barrier," Saheli said. "At times, it would take saying something two or three times for us to understand each other and the business terms that we were using."
However, Saheli is grateful for the experience and looks forward to putting these lessons to use at his new job as an audit assistant with Deloitte & Touche LLP in Cincinnati.
"I am willing to travel and work internationally," he said. "(This) will help in showing my management that I have the skills, knowledge and desire to successfully work in an international setting."
Updated at 5 p.m. Oct. 21, 1008, to correct a typographical error.