Field Notes

getting first-hand experience is key to 

understanding international business

W hen Yijun Bao visited Maserati’s automobile factory in Modena, Italy, she was blown away by the neatness. Each worker had his or her own quiet, well-organized workspace and was left to work at a comfortable pace. The contrast couldn’t have been more stark with the factories she had been accustomed to visiting in China as a buyer of gift-with-purchase products for L’Oréal cosmetics. 

For Bao, the takeaway lesson of this MBA field trip was that productivity isn’t the only measurement of factory management. “From that trip I began to see how to operate a factory to achieve both the value of human capital and also achieve the quality of the product,” says the recent graduate of Trinity Western University’s MBA program.

It’s one thing to study international business in a classroom, but there’s no substitute for first-hand experience, according to Murray MacTavish, dean of TWU’s MBA program and professor of leadership and international development. “I start with the premise that as you travel the world, different cultures influence the way a company might be set up, the way they operate, the way they manage their employees,” explains MacTavish, who leads the annual international field trips.

In the spring of 2010 MacTavish led a group of eight students on a tour of four western European countries, including visits to a BMW plant in Munich, a chocolate maker in Austria and a department store in Venice. 

The annual field trips aren’t limited to factory tours and executive interviews: daily assignments include mingling with locals, sampling regional cuisine and immersing themselves in local culture. “They’re not just playing; they’re actually learning,” says MacTavish. “Because when you do business in another culture, it’s important to understand your partner.” l