Donna Lambert, who works for IBM in Washington, was recently part of a team that helped set up financial management software for the company in Beijing. To do that she had to communicate not only with employees in China, but also with information technology personnel in Belarus, Britain and Australia.
That experience is one of many that have validated her decision to pursue an internationally focused MBA. Lambert, a management consultant, is obtaining one through a new program offered jointly by Brown University and IE Business School in Madrid.
“A lot of businesses are expanding globally,” she said, “and you have to learn to interact with people in different locations.”
The program, which is part time, is “aimed at people who operate on a world scale one way or another,” said Matthew Gutmann, vice president for international affairs at Brown.
More continuing education departments, like Brown’s, have recognized that if they are to meet students’ demands for global knowledge, they must provide instruction in culture, customs, laws, marketing and more, in addition to the standard foreign language classes.
Gustavo Demoner, an adjunct professor who teaches a course called Global Business Skills through UCLA Extension, said interest had been strong as businesses recognized that more of their revenue would come from foreign countries.
Demoner’s students have included people from Hollywood studios, NASA, construction companies and small family businesses – all of them thrust into the global economy in one way or another.
In his global skills course, Demoner discusses negotiation strategies, business etiquette and even body language in countries around the world.
In Latin America, for example, do not be alarmed by effusive hugging and kissing during a business deal, he said. And in places like Brazil and Argentina, tread carefully when discussing soccer or barbecue because opinions are strong on both topics.
In Japan, do go out and socialize with your business partners; otherwise, they may keep a distance during negotiations, Demoner said. If you go out to happy hour with the Japanese, he said, you are likely to gather valuable information. But don’t drink too much sake, or they may get too much information out of you, he added.
For anyone doing business in Taiwan, he said, “all the high rollers belong to Rotary International; if you want to do business in Taiwan, you should definitely join Rotary.”
Demoner also teaches a course called Doing Business in Latin America. UCLA is among the universities offering business classes tied to certain regions, especially those that include the fast-growing BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Demand for these classes has grown because the United States is in many ways an aging market, and much new business growth is abroad, said Van Anderson, program director for UCLA Extension.
Sometimes people must learn how to do business in a country they have not even visited, he said. It may be necessary to understand laws on patents, intellectual property and incorporation that are quite different from those in the United States.
Hiring presents another set of issues. Many companies must go outside the United States to find talent, especially in science and technology, Anderson said. Whether these employees work from their home countries or in the United States, requirements governing their employment and compensation can be complex. And management practices may differ depending on an employee’s country of origin.
Understanding customers is another topic of great interest. Take marketing: In Latin American, unlike in the United States, a huge portion of the population watches soap operas, and it may be “a lot more effective to use merchandising on television on a specific soap opera rather than going through regular marketing and communication channels,” Demoner said. And using social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn to attract customers can work differently, too.
Courses with a global focus respond to demand – and find teachers – based on the industries and groups in the area. In San Diego, a biotech hub, the University of California offers a course called Clinical Trials Administration that has a strong international focus.
“Many of the clinical trials that used to be done in America have moved over to Europe,” especially Eastern Europe, and to South American countries like Brazil and Peru, said Donna Stern, manager of clinical trials education at the university. That requires knowing specific international rules, rather than just those of the Food and Drug Administration.
New York University has long drawn on its proximity to the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations as it plans courses. It has offered a global affairs certificate since 1989 and began a certificate program in global philanthropy in 2010. This summer the university will offer a one-week intensive course called Creating a Nonprofit in a Global Landscape.
Global affairs topics have shifted since the early 1990s, when the world was absorbing the fall of the Soviet Union, said Vera Jelinek, divisional dean of the Center for Global Affairs at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. Current areas of emphasis include ethnic and cross-border conflicts, human rights issues, climate change and food and energy resources, she said.
“You can’t just go into a corporation and start investing without understanding the geopolitical issues” affecting various countries, Jelinek said, adding, “We don’t sacrifice theory, but the emphasis is on the practical applications.”
One exercise in the university’s Summer Institute in Global Affairs involves a daylong crisis simulation, in which students must represent delegations of various countries involved in an urgent global conflict.
For Brown’s collaboration with IE, the MBA program brochure points to “sources of disruptive change that will occupy the management agenda for years to come,” including climate change, migration flows, epidemics and transnational terrorism.
The program, which lasts 15 months, is arranged so that weeks featuring face-to-face classes – at both Brown in Providence, R.I., and at IE in Madrid – alternate with online sessions so participants can continue working.
Lambert, who received a degree in mechanical engineering from Brown in 1998, has a few months remaining to complete the MBA program. She said the liberal arts focus of the program had encouraged her to look at new ways of solving problems.
You might not think that a class session about an orchestra would have much practical application for Lambert. But the session, part of a course on politics and culture, was about the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a group of Israeli, Palestinian and other Middle Eastern musicians who play together despite their leaders’ political differences.
Lambert said one lesson from the class was that to operate outside the United States, “you have to understand the culture, and you have to understand the history.”