India immersion yields lessons in Society as much as business

By her entrance, Linley McConnell is a “go-go-go” individual, usually with very little patience for slow service and other impediments for her job done.

However, this year, a two-month firm internship in Pune, India — a centrepiece of her 16-month master of science in management (international business) program at the University of Western Ontario’s Ivey Business School — taught her the value of patience and humility in working in a foreign business environment.

“When I came back from India I had been the most patient I’d ever been,” she says. “I learned that you just need to allow it to be and plan to take care of obstacles that are thrown in your way and be proactive instead of reactive.”

Her insight echoes a report this year by CEMS, a worldwide alliance of business schools (Ivey is the only Canadian member), and Universum, a Sweden-based adviser on employer branding.

According to a poll of 1,200 company recruiters, business graduates and students, the Going Global report found that half of human resource managers stated they “value candidates with the capacity to embrace the challenges of working in a different country.”

At the same time, managers in the survey stated “geographical mobility of a prospective employee is a powerful advantage in the early stages of their career.”

As work goes worldwide, business schools are responding with short-stint learning opportunities for students to step outside their comfort zone and immerse themselves in unfamiliar company cultures.

One such example is the Ivey Global Lab, a compulsory 10-week practicum for students registered in the worldwide business stream of the school’s master of science in management, a specialty program for students with minimal work experience. Laboratory students visit India, Nicaragua or Vietnam to deliver actual jobs for local businesses recruited to take part in the program.

Since 2013, the laboratory’s cohort has risen to 62 pupils in the three nations, from 15 in only one, India.

The laboratory is delivered by Ivey (with course content developed by organizational behavior professor Lynn Imai) in cooperation with two traveling experience consultants, Toronto-based Terraficionados and India-based Authentica, which offer on-the-ground logistical and coaching support before and while the pupils are on the job.

That combination of immersive international learning and collaborative delivery is uncommon among specialty master-level business applications, according to Patrick Cullen, vice-president of innovation and strategy to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the world’s largest business education alliance that accredits business schools globally.

“From all of my colleagues and I at AACSB have observed, and we have not seen everything, we believe this Ivey Global Lab is the most significant and intensive experiential learning initiative we know of in a yearlong master’s program,” states Mr. Cullen, mentioning the scope and rigorousness of the international component. “That’s clearly distinctive.”

Dr. Imai, also trained as a psychologist, has delivered the Ivey route between January and July. “It requires plenty of work to be certain that they [students] get immersed in a situation that’s going to be beneficial for them,” she says. “Ivey, with this program, takes it to the extreme in ensuring they get that cross-cultural business immersion.”

As private-sector partners, Terraficionados and Authentica identify national businesses and scope out projects which could be delivered by pupils throughout their two-month stay and supply on-the-ground training to students who need to quickly navigate an unfamiliar company culture. Before leaving for their mission, students receive training on cultural and other obstacles of working overseas and then must reflect on what they’ve learned about themselves.

“Going and residing in a foreign country is a massive challenge,” says Christopher Clark, founder of Terraficionados and a former Toronto-based strategy adviser. For students working overseas, he adds, “The big switch is that you can not expect to be told what to do [compared to] a classroom environment in which you’re given a computer file.

“You’ve got to recognize it [the business problem to be solved] and you must push and make the case.”

Ravi Raj, a former management consultant who founded India-based Authentica in 2010, awakened the next year with Mr. Clark (they’re MBA graduates, in various years, of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire), and together they forged a partnership with Ivey.

Mr. Raj recruits local businesses, not North American subsidiaries, so students get full exposure to a foreign business environment. He also coaches business officials about what to assign students during their placement.

In Pune, Ivey laboratory participant CĂ©line Zollinger worked for a significant wind turbine manufacturer. Multilingual and well-traveled, Ms. Zollinger also choose to make an extra CEMS designation (with students needed to be proficient in two languages, studying a thirdparty, and to spend at least one semester abroad at another CEMS alliance faculty) while finishing her Ivey degree.

“Reading about the culture and the nation is very different than getting in there and working together with the [company] people,” she says. “You always have to eliminate your Western perspective of the way to conduct business.”

Before her assignment, she signed up for an optional one-week guided tour of India offered through the Laboratory to acclimatize to her new environment.

Ms. McConnell, who had visited India as a teenager, says, “The language barrier, the cultural nuances and how business is conducted, particularly their leadership, is extremely different.”

Some differences appear superficial but are significant: In India, a supervisor’s head bobble could mean yes or no, and tea time is a vital opportunity for informal networking. Other differences are embedded in Indian industry practices, using a more hierarchical management structure compared to North America. ” [In India], regardless of what the boss says, goes,” states Ms. McConnell.

After graduating from Ivey this season, she joined Deloitte in Toronto as a business analyst and proceeds to apply what she learned from India. “Life is just a whole lot of things and you can address them in a positive manner as a chance, or as a negative,” she says.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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