Tag: Global Immersion

This story originally appeared in the 2019 edition of Olin Business magazine.

On a pristine Thursday in July, a group of WashU Olin MBA students sipped two varieties of Spanish sparkling wine and sampled pan con tomate in the main house of the 500-year-old Barcelona winery where they’d spent two afternoons collecting data.

The students had strolled among the knotty vineyards, smelled the soil and ducked into dark cellars lined with bottles of aging cava. They’d heard about the wine-making process and the family values that drive the latest generation of vintners at the Raventos i Blanc winery 40 minutes from the city’s center.

By 9:15 that evening, the sights, sounds, aromas and flavors had become another data point. Students clustered on sofas and barstools around the lobby of the Pulitzer Hotel in downtown Barcelona. Melding their research data with the culture and values they’d absorbed firsthand, they prepared team presentations for class the next day while three Olin professors milled about, offering insights and answering questions.

Olin Professor Andrew Knight leads a class at the Brookings Institution in 2019.

The scene was emblematic of WashU Olin’s newly rebooted full-time MBA program and its crown jewel: a ’round-the-globe immersion in international business designed to set students up for a richer business school education and set them apart from their peers. Students absorbed a rigorous schedule of classroom work, course-driven field excursions and presentations in Washington, DC, Barcelona and Shanghai.

By the time they returned to St. Louis 38 days after they left, the verdict was clear: The new MBA program was a success.

“I was prepared to feel like a student on this trip and to take incredible classes from amazing professors,” said Kendra Kelly, MBA ’21. “But I wasn’t prepared to see myself as a working professional in these places. In six weeks, I feel like I’m leaps and bounds beyond where I would have been had I not participated in this.”

Eighteen months in development

At a faculty meeting on May 23, 2018, Dean Mark P. Taylor challenged instructors to consider a bold new plan for the full-time MBA program. By then, a team of staff and faculty had already completed several months of behind-the-scenes work. New courses had been conceived. International locations had been chosen. Partner institutions were identified.

With faculty approval, the race was on to implement the new program in time for the arrival of first-year MBA students in late June 2019. The newly rebooted program would include options for MBA students to accelerate their education and graduate a semester early by foregoing a summer internship.

Heading toward the Lincoln Memorial in DC during the 2019 first-year MBA global immersion.

It would also offer students the option to pair their MBA with a concurrent specialized master’s degree in about 23 months.

But the real meat of the new program would be its biggest challenge, drawing dozens of instructors and scores of staff members into the planning process. The required global immersion would be an enormous logistical feat as WashU Olin arranged travel, meals, lodging, coursework—and prepared for inevitable surprises—for nearly 100 students across three continents.

Planners piloted the program over spring break in March 2019, taking 70 first- and second-year students to Shanghai and 35 to Barcelona for a compressed version of classes and excursions. Organizers returned with insights on how to manage transportation logistics, how to engage weary travelers and how to pace the coursework.

First-year MBA students participated in a scavenger hunt upon their arrival in Barcelona during the 2019 global immersion.

The goals were clear: Build the global mobility of Olin’s latest cohort. Set the tone for a program rooted in values-based, data-driven decision-making. Establish a baseline in international business for students with varying levels of business experience. Provide perspective on how business is done across different cultures, countries and economies when students begin core classes.

By the end of the trip, Professor of Practice Patrick Moreton—the faculty director and chief organizer of the global immersion’s academic experience—was confident it had met the goals.

“These students were absorbing and engaging with the environment in ways we’ve never seen before,” Moreton said, citing the papers, presentations and simulation results students had submitted throughout their journey.

The student presentations, designed to solve market entry questions and operational problems for real companies in the United States and abroad, incorporated rich learnings from their own field observations and data collected from financial documents and company research.

“They did a great job,” Moreton said, acknowledging that the students were deliberately challenged to use business concepts they hadn’t yet formally learned. “The experiential design of the courses lets students see the value of these concepts in action and achieved great learning outcomes.”

Working on coursework in the hotel lobby in Barcelona.

Rebooting the full-time MBA

Elements of the redesigned program for full-time MBA students at WashU Olin

  • A required global immersion for all students entering the program, including a 38-day ’round-the-world trip with coursework and excursions at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC; in Barcelona; and in Shanghai.
  • An option to accelerate the MBA experience and finish a semester early by foregoing the traditional summer internship between years one and two.
  • An option to earn a specialized master’s degree.

Bonds for life

Faculty members were also impressed with the quality of the cohort. From the beginning, program leaders acknowledged the new program would attract a certain type of student—a student prepared to touch down in St. Louis and depart almost immediately for faraway lands. With the highest yield rate in Olin’s MBA history, it was clear prospective students made Olin their top choice—specifically for the global experience.

Meanwhile, those nearly six weeks of global travel also fulfilled another goal: Organizers expected the program to create deep bonds among members of the cohort. And bond they did.

In Shanghai, first-year MBA students did field research in Chinese retail locations for a project during their global immersion in 2019.

Sixteen students celebrated birthdays during the 38 days of travel. Four students formed an impromptu band using idle instruments in a DC pub. Another took a long weekend away from Shanghai to get married—and was showered with classmates’ well wishes when he shared wedding pictures on WeChat, the Chinese social media platform everyone used to stay connected. Ten students rented a yacht in Barcelona for a water-borne city tour and an afternoon swim. Students visited karaoke bars in Beijing, walked on the Great Wall, toured DC monuments and gazed into the soaring ceiling of Barcelona’s Sagrada Família basilica.

“We spent a lot of time together. We had meals together. It really helped us inside the classroom because we are really comfortable talking to each other, asking each other questions,” said Benjamin Gaffney, MBA ’21. “It helped the academic conversations as well.”

Ashley Macrander, assistant dean and director of student affairs for graduate programs, said students frequently cited the deeper cultural competency they’d gained as an important takeaway of the program.

“This experience has given our students an even stronger start than they’ve ever had before,” Macrander said. “They care about each other as colleagues and friends. They’ve formed tighter bonds with Olin. It’s made them even more engaged students and that’s going to make them more engaged alumni.”

One after another, students praised the strength they drew from one another through the trip, a strength derived from the bond they’d created—and the understanding they’d gained of each person’s ethnic, professional and social backgrounds.

“People from different backgrounds, different industries, different countries, different life experiences—and when we work in teams, we get to share all our different ideas and see how they come together,” said Abhinav Gabbeta, MBA ’21. “All these different perspectives fill the different gaps you have.”

Students drew on one another as they worked on a series of projects that began in St. Louis, continued at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, extended to the cava producers in Barcelona and finished with garment manufacturing plants on the outskirts of Shanghai.

Rigorous coursework around the globe

It’s Friday morning in early August and the mercury creeps toward a high in the upper 90s. Four first-year WashU MBA students dodge other commuters in Shanghai’s People’s Square subway station and squeeze aboard the No. 2 train, standing chin-to-shoulder for a quick ride two stops to the west.

Susie Bonwich, Zach Frantz, Duckenson Joseph and Linh Nguyen—joined by two Chinese-speaking guides—have scattered into the city seeking insights about the coffee shops and confectioners doing business in Shanghai. Their classmates have gone in other directions, visiting other stores.

Students gathered around their laptops outside a Shanghai hotel ballroom while working on a retail simulation for their class over the 2019 global immersion.

Before departing WashU in late June, all the students visited Strange Donuts, a St. Louis-based chain of shops with locations around the region and in Mexico City. Jason Bockman, the owner and a former Olin student, had been invited to consider opening a doughnut shop in Shanghai. The question for the students: Should he?

“I’m really excited about this project,” said Bonwich, who joked about her previous experience as a corporate trainer for a premium global burger restaurant chain. “I feel like shaking fries will actually have some value in this program.”

The four students visited four different shops, including a simple coffee shop, a high-end bakery and a patisserie. Their mission: Gain competitive insights. Evaluate square footage. Compare what Chinese diners prefer—their values—against the US palate. That work would merge with data from Bockman’s business and lessons they’d learned in their course on business models in a global environment, taught in a Shanghai hotel ballroom.

“For sure, I’m looking at all of this very differently. Before, I’d try to look at a business model and see how a company made money,” Frantz said. “But this is giving me a framework to see more about why decisions are made. I have a much more data-driven framework.”

Throughout the trip, students blended on-the-ground experiences with in-the-classroom lessons. The business models course invited students to contrast retail strategies across a variety of industries—including hardware, cosmetics and apparel—among retailers on three continents.

In the hardware industry, for example, contrasting values came to the forefront as students noted less of a do-it-yourself mentality among Chinese homeowners compared to Americans. That’s largely thanks to the lower cost of labor—they can more easily afford a plumber—and the lack of space to store and work with home improvement supplies.

Meanwhile, their Global Management Practices course in Barcelona included student visits to three wineries as they developed strategies for expanding cava in the US market. Their business and policy course at the Brookings Institution included detailed briefings on global economies in Europe, South America, Asia and Africa. With visits to Chinese garment makers and global distribution centers, students explored the role of operations strategy in their global business operations course.

Threaded throughout, students trained on effective teamwork, received communication coaching to hone their presentation skills and met with counselors from the Weston Career Center.

“I didn’t think the global immersion would add so much to my experience, but I feel like I’m so much ahead,” Joseph said. “I have a lot of stories I’ll be able to tell an interviewer.”

Changes, differences, similarities

Anne Marie Knott teaching a business models class during the global immersion in 2019.

Throughout the experience, faculty and staff watched and learned as the class of 2021 served as the vanguard for Olin’s new full-time MBA. They provided social and political insights to help students assimilate across three unique cultures. They prepared for the inevitable upset stomachs and ear infections that would interrupt any group of 100 adults over six weeks. They noted—and will adjust for—the time it takes to secure visas for a large group of students attempting to traverse the globe.

And they tweaked schedules along the way in an effort to preserve a rigorous academic experience alongside the rigor of international travel—with all the demands of border crossings, jet lag and laundry.

“The faculty has had to adapt the schedule to students’ needs,” Gaffney said. “We very much appreciate those changes, but also, you just need to learn: While this is the plan, it may change.”

In the end, students appreciated the opportunity to contrast the cultures and values across so many stops, integrating that perspective into their work. They noted the late-morning, late-evening routines among Spanish businesses—and their preference to begin meetings with more small talk and a personal connection. They recognized that the Chinese palate doesn’t favor sweets to the degree Americans do. They saw the ways Chinese manufacturing conditions contrast with Americans’ preconceived notions.

“Honestly, the thing I’ve seen most powerfully is the similarities,” Gabbeta said. “It’s all about the human connection we’re making. We’ve gotten to know the people. There may be a lot of differences, but at the end of the day, as long as we share that human connection, we can make some really powerful differences in the world.”

Faculty and Courses


Values-Based, Data-Driven Decision-Making

  • Stuart Bunderson, Director, Bauer Leadership Center and George and Carol Bauer Professor of Organizational Ethics and Governance
  • Seethu Seetharaman, Director, Center for Analytics and Business Insights and W. Patrick McGinnis Professor of Marketing


Global Institutions and Values

  • Tarek Ghani, assistant professor of strategy
  • Lamar Pierce, professor of organization and strategy and associate dean for the Olin-Brookings Partnership


Global Management Practices

  • Sam Chun, assistant dean and director of executive education, professor of management practice
  • Peter Boumgarden, professor of practice, strategy and organizations


Understanding Business Models in a Global Context

  • Daniel Elfenbein, associate professor of strategy
  • Anne Marie Knott, Robert and Barbara Frick Professor of Business

Implementing Strategy through Global Operations

  • Lingxiu Dong, professor of operations and manufacturing management
  • Fuqiang Zhang, professor of operations and manufacturing management


Foundations of Impactful Teamwork

  • Andrew Knight, professor of organizational behavior

Effective Communication for Business Leaders

  • Cathy Dunkin, lecturer in business communications

Amy Shiller Brown, Molly Cruitt, Sarah Gibbs, Judy Milanovits, Gabe Watson and Katie Roth Wools contributed to this report.

Pictured above: Students in the 2021 MBA class during the scavenger hunt in Barcelona in 2019.

For the second year running, WashU Olin has been named one of “10 Business Schools To Watch” by Poets & Quants.

In a recent post, Olin received recognition for two of its strategic pillars—entrepreneurship and global experience—that have been successfully implemented into the curriculum.

“Every course at Olin has to be accountable to entrepreneurship and innovation… That took entrepreneurship from being a really strong niche to something every Olin student is going to be exposed to,” said Cliff Holekamp, former professor of entrepreneurship at Olin.

However, Olin “places equal – if not greater emphasis on global business.”

“Deep global immersion in international business issues, cultures, and practices sets an important foundation for business today,” said Dean Mark Taylor discussing the MBA global immersion trip. “The cohort [also] really bonds as everyone gets to know one another and works together—especially as they begin the program by being thrown into the deep end on the global immersion where, at some point, every student must adjust to a foreign culture.”

P&Q also highlighted Olin’s location, accelerated graduation path, and the option for a STEM-designed specialized master’s degree paired with an MBA.

“We’re leaning into the needs of today’s business students, differentiating WashU Olin by leveraging our unique assets, preparing them to be globally-minded and globally-mobile and providing the tools to confront the challenge and create change,” said Taylor.

Other schools listed alongside Olin included the Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, University of Chicago’s Booth, USC’s Marshall, and IMD.

Read more of the P&Q article citing Olin as a top 10 school to watch.

Poets & Quants names WashU Olin its 2019 program of the year.

Calling WashU’s revamped, global, full-time MBA “one of the boldest and most innovative program changes any business school has made,” Poets & Quants has named Olin Business School its program of the year for 2019.

P&Q specifically cited WashU Olin’s 38-day global immersion as a break-from-the-pack innovation “at a time when most MBA experiences are frankly commoditized.”

The website acknowledged the importance of breaking away from the pack, citing Olin Dean Mark P. Taylor’s comments about the challenge.

“The MBA is a flagship program and a lot of schools are closing their programs,” Taylor told Poets & Quants. “My view is that we have to break into the top end, and we can’t do that by tinkering. We have to be bold and build a go-to program.”

Quick turnaround in planning

“For both the bold vision and successful execution of the radical revamp, Olin’s new MBA has been named Poets & Quants program of the year,” publisher John Byrne wrote in his piece announcing the honor on January 14, 2020.

A year and a day ago, P&Q placed WashU first in its annual list of its “Top 10 MBA programs to watch,” also citing Olin’s intention to summon first-year students a semester early and launch them on a ’round-the-world immersion into business in Washington, DC, Barcelona, Beijing and Shanghai.

“No less impressive, the school was able to get its innovation off the ground in record time,” Byrne wrote in Tuesday’s story. “The changes were approved by the faculty on May 23 of 2018, leading to a pilot program just 10 months later.”

Tuesday’s honor was only the third time P&Q has named a program of the year. Two years ago, the site recognized the University of Rochester and last year, Cornell University. Byrne called Olin’s revamp “a remarkable achievement, considering the enormous logistical challenge.”

Pillars of excellence

Byrne’s story also highlighted Olin’s five-year strategic plan and its four pillars of excellence, noting how the school’s focus on values-based, data-driven decision-making; entrepreneurship; globally minded learning; and experiential learning informed the design of the revamped program.

Ohad Kadan, one of the architects of the revamp and vice dean for education and globalization, told P&Q the pillars helped Olin create a program that was highly differentiated, appealing to a certain segment of prospective MBA students.

“We did not have an identity,” Kadan told P&Q. “We are now the number one choice for students who like this new approach.”

Poets & Quants noted that attitude was reflected in remarks from students: “Not only was student reaction highly positive, but many of the MBAs chose Olin because of the new experience,” P&Q wrote.

Byrne spoke to student Mike Haueisen, MBA ’21, who said, “The immersion tipped the scale for me toward Olin.”

P&Q also spoke to faculty members who were thrilled with the results—both in terms of the rapid growth in business savvy by the students and the collaborative teaching approach the revamped program demanded of the launch team.

“It was one of the most meaningful teaching experiences that I have ever had,” said Andrew Knight, professor of organizational behavior who traveled throughout the immersion to teach teamwork.

Read why Poets & Quants named WashU Olin as 2019 program of the year.

Pictured above: First-year MBA students from Olin Business School tour a vineyard near Barcelona, collecting data for a consulting project focused on entering new markets.

Andrea Adams, MBA '21, doing a presentation for class while in Barcelona for the global immersion.
Andrea Adams, MBA ’21, doing a presentation for class while in Barcelona for the global immersion.

Andrea Adams, MBA ’21, participated in the inaugural class of WashU Olin’s rebooted full-time MBA program, which began in late June with a nearly six-week ’round-the-world trip to immerse students in global business.

Students in the attached video recount the ways the experience exposed them to different world perspectives on three continents and across the experiences of their classmates.

Adams shares three ways the experience positioned her for later career preparation—including the comfort with uncertainty.

In retrospect, now several weeks past your return from China, can you describe how the global immersion has influenced your approach to class?

The global immersion was not only international in nature, it gave us insight on business practices from a global level. I mean this insofar as it allowed me to see the interlocking pieces of, for example, how strategy and managerial economics are relevant to accounting—and vice versa.

Hopefully each MBA program ultimately allows students to connect the dots on why one sector of business relates to another, but the global immersion gave us experiential insight to see the interplay between functions—in the real world.

So, when a new concept comes up in our core coursework, I already have an example from our experiential learning to reflect. The true benefit of experience is having a pre-existing framework to fill in the gaps with the lessons from our core classes to understand a concept’s relevance.

What did you gain from the experience that you’ve been able to apply already?

I’m a strong believer that not every experience or encounter needs to have direct utility. However, the global immersion fostered development of a sense of global awareness to encourage students to think about issues at a high level.

So the summer coursework pushed us not just to evaluate business decisions based on limited qualitative and quantitative information, but take it a step further: Why is this information important and relevant to the problem as a whole?

Have you been able to use this experience yet in any preparation for your career next step?

As a first semester MBA student, the focus quickly shifts from acclimating to coursework to finding a summer opportunity that is a good fit for both you and your future employer. This can be a daunting task.

Having an intense immersive experience so early in the MBA trajectory, I feel as though I’ve deeply benefitted in the career search and recruitment process in three ways.

The first: You start thinking about business concepts earlier. Because the summer semester gave me a global overview of sectors within business, I feel as though I am more able to understand the incentives of the companies in which I have interest.

The experience also gave me a framework for thinking about the problems the firm might face within their industry and having a working knowledge of the environment with which a firm operates can lead to beyond surface level interview conversations.

The second: I know my “value add,” but have already identified areas for improvement. To balance the working environment of the global immersion summer session while traveling away from home for a six-week duration is, aforementioned, surprisingly intense.

Throughout the experience, you are in constant communication with professors, communication advisers and peers, who are providing formal qualitative and quantitative feedback for your performance. Though your weaknesses are amplified, the experience highlights areas to improve upon in preparation for recruitment throughout the fall.

The third: You learn how to deal with ambiguity. Because of the traveling nature of the immersion, and the shift in coursework throughout the semester, there is no unchanging variable. You have to be OK with uncertainty—whether it be in not feeling familiar with a city, assignment, or class content.

I think the valuable skill here that is transferrable to any job search is learning to adapt in different contexts and rise to the challenges that are outside of your comfort zone—most of which you can’t anticipate.

When nearly 100 WashU Olin full-time MBA students spanned the globe this year to launch their studies, they started with a strong dose of the entrepreneurial spirit—and they carried it with them through the 38-day journey.

As students recount in the attached video, a portion of their global studies included an examination of entrepreneurship and whether a startup dining concept in St. Louis would translate overseas in the competitive market of Shanghai.

Tyler Edwards, MBA ’21, was one of the students on the global immersion. He’s eager to work in a field where he can help entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses. Here are a few of his reflections since returning to the United States and diving into his core classes this semester.

In retrospect, weeks past your return from China, can you describe how the global immersion has influenced your approach to class?

The global immersion was a great way to ease students into the class format at WashU Olin. This experience has given me momentum and familiarity when approaching my courses. From our time abroad, I now look at cases from the point of view of a student, a client and as a consultant.

Rather than seeking the answers to case issues, I’m thinking about alternative routes of strategy and decision making on the business side, and applying what I know outside of class into the dialogue to better shape my experience.

I don’t think I’d be in the same position if I were only two months into school rather than having experienced the global immersion.

What did you gain from the experience that you’ve been able to apply already—particularly as it might related to your interest in entrepreneurship?

I’ve been able to gain perspective on client expectations in short-term projects and executables. The global immersion was a crash course in executing very short-term projects for clients in fields that we know very little about.

Taking these experiences out of the classroom, I have enhanced my abilities to synthesize company goals and founder visions quickly, and produce solutions that align with those visions and goals. This enhanced ability to dive into projects and get hands-on quickly has been a great addition to my experience.

Have you been able to use this experience yet in any preparation for your career next step?

I have been able to point to these experiences in my interviews and conversations with employers. It’s great to have the experience of helping an entrepreneur explore a completely different country and market in the manner that the global immersion program exposed us.

Employers are blown away when I can tell them about client empathy and customer research when I tell them about figuring out whether customers in Shanghai would eat sugary donuts. These experiences are great for applicability in problem solving, and provide for a great story to break the ice.