Mara Gulens
August 17

New MBA skill: Suitcase packing
The Globe and Mail

"It was a no-brainer," Sherilyn Trompetter says as Mexican music wafts over the phone line. "Anybody seriously considering a career in international business should look into a double-degree experience."

Ms. Trompetter is in Mexico completing her second year at Tecnologico de Monterrey business school after having put in one year at the University of Alberta's school of business. By July she will have a double-degree MBA in international business.

"I will be returning to Canada and will specialize in international business," she says. "I hope to be living out of a suitcase for the next chapter of my life."

As business becomes increasingly global, Canadian schools are responding by globalizing their MBA programs. The trend is reflected in the number of foreign students attending Canadian schools, which gives the student body an international flavour and provides contacts around the world.

But Canadian students also have more ways to go global, including school alliances, degree joint ventures, exchanges and road trips.

"All the business schools around North America are putting more and more emphasis on international business," says professor Barry Scholnick, coordinator of international business specialization for the Alberta School of Business. "Businesses are demanding students with the skills necessary to manage."

Business schools are offering courses in marketing, finance, accounting and economics with an international bent, as well foreign languages. Schools are also adding opportunities to experience business firsthand in another country.

"In the past a lot of [executive MBA] programs would have an international trip to somewhere for a week or 10 days, which is fine," says Beatrix Dart, academic director of executive MBA programs for the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. "However, it does not fulfill the requirement that you really understand how the business culture works."

Rotman's global executive MBA program, called Omnium, has academic partnerships with schools in Switzerland, China, Brazil and Argentina. Business students from all over the world come together for three-week blocks four times a year in four corners of the Earth and spend the rest of the year in virtual teams and communicating by phone.

"They are really immersed in the business projects while they are there," Ms. Dart says. Students meet with expatriates who provide insights "on both the nice and the nasty and what they need to set up there," she says.

James Parker is completing the Omnium program from Beijing, where he is a general manager for enterprise business for Microsoft.

"Globalization makes the world smaller," says Mr. Parker, who says such education goes hand-in-hand with worldwide labour markets, suppliers, partners and capital.

The Queen's University-Cornell University executive MBA program is appealing to those who want an EMBA from a prestigious school or want to work on Wall Street, says Bill Blake, associate dean of MBA programs at Queen's.

The program has three residential components -- at Cornell (in Ithaca, N.Y.), Queen's and the IBM Executive Learning Facility just outside New York City.

"From a Canadian student perspective they're going to get exposure to the New York City business environment from an international perspective," Mr. Blake says.

The Queen's-Cornell program is rounded off with a project in which students come up with an applied research product and fly to a foreign destination to collect field data and conduct interviews.

Professor Bernie Wolf, director of the international MBA program at the Schulich School of Business at York University and one of the program's founders, says it was started in 1989 because the thinking back then was that "Canada is awfully oriented toward the United States and that we need to have people who are able to participate in a global business world."

The Schulich program offers an MBA plus global orientation and fairly in depth knowledge of a particular region and its language.

"That makes you quite valuable to a company that wants to engage in business in that region," Mr. Wolf says. "But even if it's a different place, if you have investigated a particular region, you become much more culturally sensitive."

Students can study abroad at as many as 30 of the world's top business schools in such countries as China, Japan and Spain.

"These days when you want to get a good position, you have to sell yourself," Mr. Wolf says. "Companies look at what are you bringing to the table. What makes you unique? Why should I hire you as opposed to someone else?"

While some students sign up for the program because they want to work elsewhere, many end up working in Canada for companies that have a global orientation.

"Sometimes you start in one place and end up in another place," Mr. Wolf says. "We do intend to prepare people for a specific region of the world, but we are also keen to have people be generalists."

Nonetheless, while more students from abroad are coming to Canada to study and learn the North American way of doing business, there is little effort on the part of Canadian businesses to become better educated about foreign environments, Ms. Dart says.

"In general, Canada still lacks global competitiveness because it is so strongly focused on the U.S.," she says. "I do hope that over the next five years there will be a trend showing Canada opening up to other countries. . . . I think there are a lot of missed opportunities because of a lack of understanding."

This fall, Rotman's first group of MBA students will partake in an India exchange program.

"India seems to be the next upcoming economy," Ms. Dart says.

Mr. Blake predicts that within 10 years there will be more partnerships and standardization so that students will be able to move from partner school to partner school the way they pick courses. "There will be more exposure, more movement, more complexity," he says.

But for the time being, the pickings are not bad for anyone wanting a piece of the global pie.

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