From the category archives:

International Business

It was exactly a year ago that I went to Audencia Nantes School of Management, France for a week-long study abroad program offered by GWSB MBA. It was a very eventful week for me, and probably one of the brightest highlights of my whole MBA experience. The course that I took there was on Corporate Social Responsibility -CSR, in France, and more generally in Europe. The classes were taught by Audencia professors and we also had a few visits to local businesses where we learned about their specific implementation of CSR.

While the class lectures were on a more general CSR policies and practices, there was one recurring theme in all presentations at the local businesses that was extremely peculiar to me. Whenever the management were talking about CSR at their company, invariably they were talking a lot about  management-employees relationship and what the management had done in order to keep their workforce happy and content. It was obvious that this one aspect of the CSR is the most important focal point of companies’ CSR efforts. Also, at every business that we visited they were talking how effective their CSR was, and as a proof at every single business they mentioned how long their company had been going without the workers going on strike. Coming from the US job market and hearing about the strikes and the pride the companies take in being able to avert those was quite unusual.

This was a stark contrast to the CSR emphasis in the US-based businesses, where the focus is more often on the community impact at large, not just the labor, including environmental issues, sustainability, and charity.

Analyzing this narrowly-focused CSR efforts at French companies, one could not help but think about the cost to the businesses and its ultimate effect on the international competitiveness. However, given the subject of the course I took in Audencia, this issue never received appropriate coverage in our classes. There were, of course, some cursory references to the cost of up-keeping the CSR programs, but not in the context of international competition.

A few weeks ago, I read this article Are the French Really that Lazy? It was touching on all these specific aspects of high labor costs and how difficult it is to conduct business in France, especially for someone with a US brand of business management experience. Even though the title of the article is quite provocative, it touches upon some very real hurdles for Multinational Corporations who want to run business in France. The article immediately brought to my memory the last year’s CSR course in Audencia. It was like finally getting a chance to see another side of the coin.

Personally, the most striking part for me in the article was about the power of the trade unions who can dictate their will and manipulate businesses. From the classes I knew that most of that CSR in French companies is regulated by the government requirements, and influenced by the unions, but the article is specifically focusing on the role of the unions.

Now I think that all those presentations and references to the success of the CSR programs that we heard at the company visits in Nantes were dictated not as much by the pride of the management in being proactive in their CSR efforts, but by a pure fear of the unions. Not a good recipe for genuine CSR programs.

Just to give you another point of view on the issue of French “laziness” here is an article from over two years ago that gives a kind of rebuttal to the above referenced article – Are the French a bunch of lazy slackers? Obviously, this article comes from the French source.

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Written by Kristin Schulz, class 2014 part-time MBA student at GWSB; Residential Programs Manager at Clean Currents. Passionate advocate and evangelist for renewable energy and business sustainability.

One of the great things about the part-time MBA program at GW is the flexible course offerings that make it possible to sit classes into an already packed full-time work schedule. Luckily, study abroad courses were not left out of the equation either.

GWSB offers 10-day programs that allow professionals to get the hands-on experience and international exposure of studying abroad. I have just completed my last assignment for the program I participated in this January – International Entrepreneurship and Business Growth Strategies in Developing Countries. I spent a grand total of 14 days in Ghana, West Africa combining some travel of my own with the structured course in Accra, the country’s capital city.

The program helped me gain incredible insight into what it takes to establish and run a business in an emerging market. I am especially glad that I chose to participate earlier on in my MBA schedule. This experience has inspired and motivated me to work hard to gain all the valuable business skills I will need in order to pursue a future career in emerging markets. My area of interest is the private renewable energy sector so I know that nothing would have replaced the learning opportunity of seeing Ghana’s energy infrastructure first hand.

Ghana is one of the most developed and stable countries in Africa where the majority of the population enjoys access to all the modern conveniences one would expect, including electricity. Although Ghana has abundant power sources (their hydroelectric facility generates the majority of the electricity supplied not only in Ghana, but throughout West Africa) the national electricity grid continues to experience inefficiencies. I learned that this has both positive and negative implications for their residential solar industry.

  1. On the down side: There is no motivation to be energy efficient due to the lack of any meter-reading system. A flat monthly energy charge is determined for each building when it’s first inspected. This amount will not change from month to month despite acquisition of new appliances over time unless the utility is notified. Since there is no enforcement of penalties for not advising the utility, it’s no surprise that no one reports installing more lights, charging new cell phones, purchasing a refrigerator etc. The power outages make sense since the country is demanding more power than the utility even realizes!
  2. On the up side: Frequent outages have motivated residents to explore off-grid solar options for their homes. Currently there are over a dozen successful Ghanaian solar companies dedicated to residential solar installation. The initial upfront cost, while reasonable by US standards, is still a major barrier because the average rate for a one-year loan in Ghana comes with 48% interest! But that’s a whole other story…
Solar Energy in Ghana

Given the country’s annual sun exposure, large-scale solar was a logical consideration in the initial plans to expand the country’s energy generation. But when oil was discovered off the coast in 2007 a national solar project took the back-seat in lieu of establishing off-shore oil refineries. Solar is still in Ghana’s future and it looks like that may be sooner than later due to a partnership with Blue Energy of the UK to build The Nzema Project (http://www.treehugger.com/renewable-energy/solar-farm-ghana-be-africas-biggest.html) which could generate enough power for 100,000 homes annually!

Ghana is not only ideally situated for solar, but also for offshore wind. It is exciting to see a developing country like Ghana willing to explore their diverse energy resources and open to embracing new clean energy technology. It will be interesting to see what resources are prioritized in the expansion of their energy portfolio.

Aside from the knowledge I gained during this short program, I was also able to take some time to experience the friendly people, vibrant culture, spicy food, and gorgeous geography of the country. Some of my unique adventures included learning the bobobo dance, trying fufu and goat stew, getting around via tro-tro, attempting to balance a water bowl on my head and mastering the handshake snap.

I simply can’t say enough about how much this experience meant to me both professionally and personally. I strongly encourage everyone to participate in a short-term study abroad experience while pursuing a MBA!

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About a month ago I received an email from a friend I met at Audencia School of Management on my study abroad trip to France. She asked me if I had any contacts of venture capitalists who she could approach for funding the business she was helping her friends to start in Algeria. I had to admit that I had neither contacts nor much knowledge about venture capital. Even though there was some sort of an elective offered at GWSB that tackled on the new ventures and their funding, I did not take that course. One thing I picked up from talking to some students and reading business publications was that generally venture capital is extremely difficult to secure and you should have a really brilliant idea to sell in order to get a shot at venture capitalists.

So I promised her to contact some of my classmates from MBA programs at GWSB who I thought could have at least some exposure to or experience with the venture capital due to their jobs or because I knew they were trying to start their own businesses. I received back three responses from about ten emails I sent out. It was interesting to read those emails.

One was very short: “I’m afraid I’m not the right person to ask. I can’t even get VC funding in DC”. Another guy said that he was actually working at VC firm and they were raising capital for several projects in the Middle East. He requested additional information and gave links to his company’s website.

And one of the classmates, Ben Lee, a principal at BRL Consulting Group and a blogger at Sustainable Employees, gave a bit more extended general advice which I am going to include here with his permission. I actually featured a post from Ben recently in my blog too. Even though his suggestions are somewhat general, I found them quite interesting and helpful as the very first introduction to venture capital. So here is Ben’s advice:

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Regarding VC contact info, that is a great question.  Here would be my plan of action.

 1.  Write a fantastic feasibility/business plan.  Play extra close attention to the section on who is managing the business and their credentials.
2.  I would try to make your project/business work without needing a VC.  VCs fund an incredibly small number of projects that are presented to them and fund less then 1% of new businesses started each year.  If they have already exhausted the three Fs (family, friends, and fools), they might have better luck talking with a bank if they are from the US or live here now.  Banks in Europe sometimes can be a little tight with their money regarding entrepreneurs.  If they haven’t already, they should start building a strong relationship with their banker.
 3.  Check out www.kickstarter.com.  Pretty cool place to get funding for certain types of projects.
4.  Enter business case competitions and volunteer at business case competitions,  for two reasons.  Number one, if you enter the competition, you could win some money and/or resources for the business.  The second reason is to network with some VCs.
5.  Its all about networking.  Which it seems they are doing a good job with.  But they need to not just let people know about the project they need to let people know that they need funding, why someone should fund this project, and the viability of the project (30-45 second sales pitch).
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So I forwarded all these responses to my friend in Nantes and hopefully the readers of this blog find them useful as well.

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On Saturday Washington, DC was a host to an annual highly popular event: Passport DC – Open Houses at Washington, DC Embassies. Last weekend it was open houses from countries all over the world, and this Saturday it was just the countries of the European Union.

Last time I had a chance to attend this cultural celebration was three or four years ago – in my pre-MBA life. After that I could not go because of my regular routine of spending whole weekends on homework assignments. But now that it is all over, I can do again fun stuff. Come to think of it, I suspect I will be posting a lot about my post-MBA fun, because there has been a huge penned up demand for just having life/fun in the last three years that will be released now.

I had some commitments in the morning, so I started my travel around Europe (or along Massachusetts Ave.- depends on perspective you choose) quite late, around 2 PM. That meant I had only two hours before all participating Embassies closed their doors. Still, between Dupont Circle and the British Embassy I was able to catch glimpses of a lot of exciting stuff going on.

Most of the Embassies had huge lines of willing guests. I specifically wanted to get to the British Embassy, because I had read that they were preparing a lot of activities and expositions to showcase the country in the light of upcoming Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Therefore I did not go inside any of the Embassies along the way, except one. With the rest of the Embassies I was just watching (and at one point – participating) the folk dance performances.

Embassy of Luxemburg - Passport DC 2102 Open House

Embassy of Luxemburg - Passport DC 2102 Open House

First, I visited the Luxemburg’s Embassy. Small area was open for visitors, with some artwork and fun facts sprinkled around the visitors’ pathway. One of the highlights of the Embassy was a magnificent bed of roses in front of the building, everyone around me were taking multiple pictures of those beautiful flowers. I took just one – to give you an idea.

Irish Folk Dance- Passport DC -2012

Irish Folk Dance- Passport DC -2012

Next, I stopped at the Embassy of Ireland and watched a couple of dances there. I was amazed at what an elaborate legwork is involved in those dances, some variation of tap dance, I would say.

Just around the corner was another dance performance in front of the Romanian Embassy. There, again, not only I watched a couple of dances, but also participated in one simple two-step dance when the audience was invited at the end of the formal performance. What a fun it was!

Latvial Folk Dance- Passport DC 2012

Latvian Folk Dance- Passport DC 2012

Next stop was at the Embassy of Latvia where I enjoyed watching a couple more folk dances.

After that I was going straight to the British Embassy without stopping. Once I got there the line was long but was moving steadily. I got in line in anticipation of some great time.

Royal Marine at British Embassy - Passport DC 2012

Royal Marine at British Embassy - Passport DC 2012

At 3.20 PM when I was mere 50 yards away from the entrance checkpoint a uniformed guy, looked like a Royal Marine, announced to us that the Embassy is closing admission of the guests, because the event is closing at 4 PM and they would need time to process the guests that were already in. He also explicitly added that “there are no exceptions for anyone”. Here is the picture of the guy who closed my entry to the UK ;-)

Italian Fairy - Passport DC 2012

Italian Fairy - Passport DC 2012

It was a disappointment, and I headed back to Metro. On the way back I spotted a line to the Italian Embassy, which I joined. I finally got in at about 3.50 PM. I had a look around the visitors area, checked out a few vendors, and some art exhibited there, took a picture of Italian Fairy (never had seen such long eyelashes in my life, fake ones of course). I also bought some Italian desserts, just to experience the taste of Italy. I spent there a total of 15-20 minutes and it was a nice closure to my Day in EU.

So, you might be wondering by now, what was the lesson in international business. It is simple: the way the time is treated in different countries in Europe, as was illustrated by the contrasting policies of the British vs. Italian Embassies.

The south Europe in general, such countries as Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, etc., has a much more laid-back way of life. This laid-back attitude translates in how they do business, communicate with each other and the world, which I had firsthand experience  during my Study Abroad program in France; and hate austerity measures after screwing up their economies, for that sake.

The northern European nations, on the other hand, are much more pedantic, punctual, and formal, with that “no exceptions” attitude expressed by the Marine. That’s why I was still welcome at Italy at 3.50 and turned away from UK at 3.20. I have no grudges, but it is helpful to keep these peculiarities in mind when doing business or even just traveling in different countries across Europe. And, as turns out,  you can experience these differences even without ever stepping outside the Washington beltway.

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International Exchange Programs at GW MBA

March 8, 2012

About a month ago I did something what I could only dream about in my part-time MBA program at GWSB: I signed up for a short study abroad exchange program. The GWU School of Business has a rather strong push for international exchanges/residencies. The University is offering these programs all around the world, from South […]

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Fine Art vs. Art for the Masses

February 14, 2012

In my Microeconomics class way back at the beginning of my part-time MBA program at GW School of Business I came across a fascinating case on the topic of competitive firms and markets. The case was in my textbook – Microeconomics (5th Edition),by Jeffrey M. Perloff . We are all very familiar with outsourcing, offshoring […]

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Labor Disputes – Unionized Dis-Unity

January 2, 2012

One of the assignments in my Conflict Management and Negotiations class was to prepare for discussion of the documentary Final Offer.  You can watch it online, if interested. A very suspenseful documentary about the labor negotiations between the Canadian section of the United Auto Workers (UAW) and GM in 1984. Even though the immediate objectives […]

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