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Insights from Chilean Businesses

Preparing students to move from the classroom to positions of business leadership is mission critical at the Merrick School of Business. And in today's business culture, that means exposing students to business on a global scale.

"If our courses stop at the (U.S.) border, we are doing our students a great disservice," says Dennis Pitta, professor of marketing.

In an effort to provide students with a first-hand experience of global business successes, last January, Pitta, along with 14 M.B.A. students, left Baltimore's snow-covered streets to spend a week in sunny, pre-earthquake Chile. They arrived in Santiago—not to relax and enjoy the summer weather south of the equator, but to participate in an intense academic experience that introduced them to successful Chilean business practices.

Chile, once ruled by a leftist government, now boasts a sophisticated, stable free-market economy.  Chilean fruits and vegetables stock U.S. grocery stores, while Chilean wines are earning an international reputation for quality. This growing import presence is only one reason why Chilean-owned companies can teach today's business students some valuable lessons.

"I can give you 100 reasons why this trip was better than just a classroom course," says M.B.A. student Allison Starkey.  "We learned how much culture can affect every aspect of business.  It is amazing how different people can be, yet how similar." 

Starkey, a student in the joint UB/Towson M.B.A. program, was one of many participants who were able to take advantage of the opportunity to study in Chile thanks to partial financial support from the Wright Global Scholars program.

"The award made all the difference to me," says Christopher Ifeanyi-Nwanze, another student on the trip. "I appreciate the fact that UB can make such an award available to students seeking to add a global hands-on experience to their learning."

The students stressed that the behind the scene examination of Chilean businesses provided valuable insights into the realities of running a business. The group’s tours included a visit to a company called Sodimac, a Chilean home improvement store. At Sodimac, students learned why the store was able to successfully compete against Home Depot, which eventually gave up on the Chilean market and sold its locations to Sodimac. For UB students, the story was a lesson in how a business needs to understand its customers and its target market.

Ifeanyi-Nwanze describes the value of the global study tour to Chile this way: "It's one thing to watch an all-star game, and it's definitely a different experience being at an all-star game and experiencing it. Just being able to hear these Chilean managers explain how they operate on a daily basis, and then to go on a factory tour and actually see it all was great."

Starkey praises the UB/Towson M.B.A. as one that meets her academic needs while providing the flexibility they need as working professionals. For Ifeanyi-Nwanze, being a member of the M.B.A. program is a family tradition:  his three older siblings have all completed UB's M.B.A. program. 

"UB has definitely lived up to my expectations," he says. “I came to UB as a student, and I will leave UB as a leader. During my time at UB, I have discovered myself better and I don't think I could have been able to achieve this without being in the right environment."

Note: This article first appeared on the Uniquely UB: The Campaign for the University of Baltimore Web site.

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