After living in China as an expat for five years, Zach Frantz came home to the Midwest to start his WashU MBA. A few weeks later, he was back, viewing China with fresh eyes as he launched into a study of business models in a global environment.
Frantz, MBA ’21, was one among nearly 100 first-year students on the final leg of a long ‘round-the-world trip to launch their MBA studies. After two weeks in St. Louis, the students spent a week in Washington, DC, two weeks in Barcelona and on July 25, landed in Beijing to start the final phase of their journey.
The students had two days to explore the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace before they decamped by bullet train on a four-and-a-half-hour trip to Shanghai on Sunday.
“For sure, I’m looking at China and business models very differently. Before, I’d try to look at a business model and see how a company makes money, but this has really given me a much stronger framework to understand how decisions are made,” Frantz said in the midst of a morning excursion with his team, collecting first-hand data on pastry and coffee shops.
That excursion was a key component of the “Business Models in a Global Climate” course taught by Daniel Elfenbein and Anne Marie Knott. The students have divided their time between lectures and simulations conducted inside a downtown Shanghai hotel ballroom and trips into the field to collect real-world data to bring the lectures to life.
The course turns on a simple question: Should St. Louis-based Strange Donuts consider an offer to expand in the Shanghai market? Answering that question required a foundation in business models and an in-the-field examination of the competitive landscape.
Great progress—and adjustment
For the most part, the students’ time has been heavily programmed with classwork, team projects, outside reading, presentations and field excursions.
Before Friday morning’s excursion, Associate Dean Patrick Moreton—the chief organizer of the global immersion—congratulated the students on the progress they’d made over their first week in Shanghai.
“You’re absorbing and engaging with the environment in a way we’ve never seen before,” Moreton said, citing the papers, presentations and simulation results students have submitted. “You’re doing a great job and while you might not be seeing it, we’re feeling good about the learning outcomes we’re getting.”
Moreton also noted that the faculty and staff were responding to student feedback by tweaking and adjusting the workload to ensure students could balance learning with additional opportunities to get out into the community.
Frantz was enthusiastic about the work, however. A Midwestern boy who worked as a math teacher for four years in Kunming in China’s Yunnan province and a year as a translator in Shenzhen, he chose WashU Olin because he was ready to return to his network of friends and family in the Midwest—and because of Olin’s newly launched global immersion.
He said the program had already given him new data-driven tools to help him evaluate business in a more sophisticated way and that he was excited to return to St. Louis to start the core curriculum.
“If school is easy, why would you pay a bunch of money to come here?” he asked. “I came here to be challenged and push myself.”
Coursework and data collection in the field continues next week with course by Fuqiang Zhang and Lingxiu Dong on “Business Operations in a Global Context.” Students complete their trip around the global on August 15 when they return to St. Louis.
Pictured at top: Duckenson Joseph, MBA ’21, questioning a store clerk at one of the Shanghai coffee shops he visited with his counterparts on team 10.