Nineteen College of Business MBA students recently toured three European countries and seven businesses in 10 days.
“We wanted to give students some international experience and an opportunity to see how business works in Europe and see the challenges they face,” said Finance Department Chair Lee Colquitt, one of two faculty representatives on the tour, which spanned March 1-10.
The trip to Germany (Munich), Austria (Linz and Vienna) and Hungary (Budapest) allowed students to visit a variety of firms and take in three different cultures.
“Lee and I have done this purposely in close corners of Europe where three countries are close and they can experience three different cultures,” said Finance professor Dr. Steve Swidler, who said he and Colquitt have co-led a similar MBA trip once before. “The three countries have three different cultures and histories. If you drive that far here, you still would not have gotten out of the South.
“The big difference between the three was that Hungary was on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain for many years. It is a young democracy.”
As part of the MBA program, the trip is a requirement for students.
The visit entailed visits to General Electric and Instrument Systems, a light measurement company in Munich; Voestalpine, an international steel company in Linz; Baxter Pharmaceutical, a health industry corporation in Vienna; Raiffeisen Bank in Vienna; the Budapest Stock Exchange; and Farnair, a regional airline company in Budapest.
In a survey completed by students on the trip, students rated the tour at General Electric as their favorite destination. However, Swidler and Colquitt noted the tour at Voestalpine was a “hotspot.”
“It was visually impressive,” Colquitt said. “It was going inside of a furnace.”
Inside, steel was melted down at temperatures of up to 1,300 degrees Celsius by men in heat-retardant suits.
“It was definitely the most theatrical presentation,” Swidler added.
Another interesting visit was to Raiffeisen Bank, which Swidler and Colquitt said was attempting to open locations in Eastern and Central Europe, old Socialist strongholds.
“They seem to think the risk is well worth the taking,” Swidler said.
Colquitt noted that the group took time to make a handful of cultural visits, including a concentration camp at Dachau, tour the Budapest Parliament and the cities visited.
Colquitt said the visit to the concentration camp, where barracks, ovens and gas chambers were visited, was “sobering.”
“This was a working vacation,” Colquitt said. “But we don’t want students to be in an office building the entire week. We want our students to explore other cultures and deal with people who use a different currency. It expands their horizons a bit. Just going to the airport and going through security and customs … if you’re going to take a job in business you would have liked to have done that a time or two.”
Swidler noted that we are living in a different economic era.
“This is a global economy now,” he said. “We do business everyday everywhere. We used to get away with being an isolated country.”