In the corner of a fluorescent room humming with sewing machines and dappled in shocks of orange, yellow, black and green fabric, Hyrum Palmer spoke to the operations manager of a Shanghai company that connects the New Zealand native’s favorite rugby teams to the process of supplying sportswear to the world.
Meanwhile, 6,100 miles and seven time zones away, Jose Reynoso strolled among columns of oak barrels and regiments of knotted grapevines on a cool Barcelona afternoon to learn about the billion-dollar wine industry and work on strategies to better connect producers and consumers.
Palmer and Reynoso, both MBA ’19, were among more than 100 first- and second-year students dispatched for a week abroad, spending spring break immersed in new classes focused on global business and participating in a test run for a bigger global experience designed for the next class of Olin MBA students.
“It’s bizarre to be a New Zealander—studying a business education in St. Louis in the middle of the United States—to come to China as part of this program and to be in a factory that is all about New Zealand and our culture,” Palmer said. “It’s a surreal and tremendous opportunity.”
Palmer’s group of 35 students in Shanghai toured Mudoo Fashion Co., a sportswear manufacturer founded in 2004 by WashU alumna Judy Yu, EMBA ’16, who earned her degree in Olin’s program with Fudan University in Shanghai. And Palmer—a devout fan of rugby—wasn’t too shy to geek out over the brands Yu’s company supplies, including Pacha, Armani, Ezibuy and Canterbury of New Zealand, which sponsors the country’s national rugby team, the All Blacks.
While his group focused on global business operations in a class by Fuqiang Zhang, tracking the connections from production, distribution, marketing and retailing in the fashion industry, Daniel Elfenbein taught another Shanghai group of 35 MBA students focused on global business models. Their goal: understand the baked-goods market in the context of global demand and develop a recommendation for St. Louis-based Strange Donuts about how the company should enter China.
A continent away, another 35 students in Barcelona took Sam Chun’s class in general management practice, immersing themselves in the wine industry. Half the students focused on strategies to help luxury brands differentiate themselves in an international market while the rest focused on a distribution strategy for a wine brand anchored in a unique philosophy of “biodynamics.” As part of their week, the students visited the Gramona and Pere Ventura wineries and took coursework at Olin partner ESADE Business School.
“Wine is a pleasure, but it’s also a business with a retail value above 200 billion euros,” Xavier Ybargüengoitia, former CEO of Moet Hennessey, told the students—one of many experts the students encountered during their week in Barcelona.
“The insights we received helped us look at the problems our wineries were facing with different perspectives, focusing on key ways they could leverage their competitive advantage to differentiate themselves from others,” Reynoso said.
All 100-plus students left St. Louis for their respective destinations on March 9, 2019. The Shanghai students arrived late the next evening, thanks to a late departure, a 15-hour flight from Dallas and a 13-hour time difference. After an evening departure, the Barcelona students arrived in time for a breakfast March 10 provided by ESADE and the hotel. Shanghai students returned March 16, while east coast storms delayed the Barcelona students’ return until the following day.
The dense, content-packed spring break immersion trip also served as a pilot run for the coming summer immersion semester aimed at incoming MBA students in the class of 2021. After spending two weeks in orientation and coursework in St. Louis, the entire MBA cohort will head for a round-the-world immersion into global business with a week at Washington, DC’s Brooking Institution, two weeks in Barcelona and 17 days in Shanghai.
“The pilot was extremely successful,” said Steve Malter, senior associate dean of undergraduate and graduate programs. “The student experience and global business education was impactful and it is clear Olin has an incredible new signature program for our MBA students.”
Students on the spring break trip seemed to agree that the experience, while intense, would be an amazing opportunity, showcasing WashU Olin’s strengths.
“It speaks volumes to the quality of the education at WashU and the opportunity it affords,” said Palmer while still in Shanghai. “But also to the quality of the connections and the network of Washington University.”