BY KEVIN MOE

The Carlson Global Institute (CGI) depends on key partnerships—committed faculty, alumni willing to give back, and corporate friends—to support the international experience for students. And often, the experience has far reaching effects on them as well.


Patience, Flexibility, and Adventure

Senior Lecturer Holly Littlefield was part of the undergraduate curriculum committee that originally recommended the Carlson School add an international requirement for its students.

“When I was an undergrad, I studied in Scotland for a year—it was one of the best experiences of my life and ever since I have been a strong advocate for study abroad experiences,” she says. “I had been hoping to be able to teach one of the international courses.”

Littlefield got her wish—she has taught Business Communication in Spain for three years and Business Communication in India for two. “It has made me more conscious of trying to bring international elements into all my teaching, not just into the specific international courses,” she says, describing the experience.

When she teaches presentation styles to students in the regular sections of business communication, she talks about how preferred communication styles and presentation organization differ from culture to culture. Expectations regarding body language, eye contact, persuasive styles, and other communication elements all vary depending on the audience’s cultural background. “My international teaching has made me even more aware of the importance of bringing cultural understanding into all my classes,” she says.

Broadening the Discussion

Professor and Frederick H. Grose Chair in Accounting Pervin Shroff’s first international teaching assignment came about when Professor Mahmood Zaidi—an international education pioneer at the University—urged her to consider teaching in the newly minted CHEMBA program in Guangzhou, China. “I was intrigued—mainly by the opportunity to visit China I must admit—but was unsure how my department would view this use of my time given that I was still an assistant professor,” Shroff says.

Surprisingly for her, the Accounting Department chair, Judy Rayburn, enthusiastically supported the idea and Shroff soon found herself teaching an introductory course in financial accounting in CHEMBA as well as in the WEMBA program in Warsaw. Starting in 2015, she began teaching in the VEMBA program in Vienna, so she has had the privilege of teaching in all three of the Carlson School’s international MBA programs.

Shroff has noticed her teaching methods have altered slightly when working with internal Carlson School students. Accounting in the U.S. is mostly rule-based and class content very often focuses on “how” rather than “why” things are accounted for in a certain way. International programs provide a setting where the instructor is forced to give up being U.S.-centric and broaden the discussion to allow comparisons of alternative accounting methods and practices in the global arena and debate the merits, limitations, and impact of different practices on national and international economies.

“Over the years, my teaching style has changed to incorporate more thought, more flexibility, and a broader view of accounting, and I think a lot of this change can be attributed to my international teaching experience,” Shroff says.

Mutual Need

Cargill finds the University of Minnesota a natural ally.

“The University is similar to Cargill in that they both are broad institutions with rich perspectives. It touches our company in many, many places from engineering to business to ag and food science,” says Joe Ramaker, ’98 MBA and Vice President of Finance in Cargill’s starches, sweeteners, and texturizers business.“There’s a mutual need between the two.”

However, there is always opportunity to make this relationship stronger. “It’s probably the type of relationship you can take for granted because it’s in your backyard,” Ramaker says. “You don’t appreciate the full potential of what the full relationship could be.”

Ramaker wants to see more connections with the school, especially those that have an international bent. Site visits have been very popular this year. “We’ve been very involved in bringing classrooms to Cargill’s headquarters in Wayzata,” he says. “We had the Global Executive MBA program there in May. At the same time, an undergraduate business communications class visited our facility in Spain outside Barcelona.” In a few months Cargill will host an MBA Global Business Practicum with its animal protein business in China. “Through a variety of mechanisms, we are getting much more involved with the Carlson School,” he says.

The international interest is obvious. With 150,000 employees in 70 countries, Cargill is one of the top authorities on conducting business globally. “Global complexity is what we have to navigate every day,” he says. “One of our core strengths is understanding global food and agricultural supply chains. You need to be able to think across multiple regions, multiple countries, and multiple ways of doing business just to conduct the business we do every day.”

Cargill places a high value on international experiences. “We value it for people who are going to have leadership roles in the company,” Ramaker says. “We need people in leadership roles with an appreciation for how things work in different parts of the world. People who have an international experience are going to have a better understanding of diversity of thought and diversity of perspectives.”

Ramaker is in a good position to know, as he spent seven years himself as an expat in Brussels, Belgium with his wife (a ’97 MBA) and children. “The expat is given a broader way of thinking and is forced to learn how to be more appreciative of others, how they make decisions, and how they think through things culturally and in terms of business practices throughout the world,” he says.

Ramaker found his overseas experience so profound that he joined the CGI’s Advisory Board last year. “I’m passionate for this. I believe in the international aspect,” he says. He’s particularly impressed with the international requirement for all students, something that didn’t exist when he was a student at the Carlson School. “I think I would have had a more rounded experience had I pursued that when I was there,” he says. “Students shouldn’t think that the international requirement is something they have to do, but rather something they need to do to make them a broader professional and a broader person.”

International Experiences Are Certainly a Plus

When Associate Dean and Ecolab-Pierson M. Grieve Chair in International Marketing Michael Houston was assembling an advisory board for the CGI several years ago, he mentioned to a colleague that he would love to have someone from 3M on it. The colleague suggested Jan Shimanski, then managing 3M’s international marketing, who had received her PhD at the Carlson School. Houston’s eyes lit up—“Jan, I know her!”

When Shimanski was an undergrad at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, she took a consumer behavior class taught by Houston. It was time to get reacquainted. “He called me and said ‘we have this board and we want you to be on it,’” she says. “I thought it was a good opportunity—I’m an alum, I know Mike, and at the time I was running international marketing.”

Since 2012, Shimanski has been an active member of CGI’s Advisory Board, currently serving as vice chair. “There are about 12 of us at 3M who participate on advisory boards at the Carlson School,” she says.

Recently, 3M helped fund research that tracked Carlson School alumni and their international trajectory three, five, and 10 years out of school. Of those polled, 79 percent who studied abroad said their experience had an impact on them professionally. A majority said their experience helped them better adapt to change, switch gears when new priorities emerge, learn new processes quickly, and make judgments about complex issues.

Shimanski, who is now vice president and chief learning officer at 3M, says international experiences are very important for the company, which has sales in 200 countries and operations in 70. “About 60 percent of our sales, or $18 billion, is international,” she says. “Although we don’t require international knowledge to be hired at 3M, it certainly can be a plus. It gets people up to speed faster depending on the nature of their position.”

Keeping Connected a Continent Away

Like Ramaker, Bryan Maser, ’06 MBA, graduated from the Carlson School before an international experience was a requirement for students. However, the school played a big part in his eventual move overseas. After earning his MBA, Maser worked his way up from several marketing director roles at Ecolab to finally being sent to Wallisellen, Switzerland as vice president of marketing.

Maser has continued his relationship with the Carlson School, as he recently managed a Global Business Practicum with the school and Ecolab. The practicum focused on both Germany and the Czech Republic. “This allowed the students and Ecolab to learn from both an established market like Germany and an emerging market like the Czech Republic,” he says.

What was really great about the practicum, Maser says, was that it included students and faculty from both the Carlson School as well as the partner school WU Vienna University of Economics and Business.

The focus of the project was on food safety and its importance to foodservice customers. After initial kickoff meetings in both Minneapolis and Vienna, the students focused on secondary research. “After this step, the students and supporting faculty from both universities spent time with us at our RD&E location in Germany, as well as visiting customers in both markets,” Maser says. Finally, a presentation was given to Ecolab by the students in Vienna at the close of the practicum.

Even though half a world away, the importance of a continued relationship with the Carlson School is clear. “Talent is our number-one challenge at Ecolab. We simply can’t find enough strong talent to meet our needs,” Maser says. “Staying connected with the Carlson School helps us to identify high-potential marketing, finance, supply chain, and HR leaders of the future.”

Increasing Confidence and Satisfaction

While Beth Blankenheim, ’10 BSB, was still a student, she had one marketing class with an international component—about three weeks in Paris and Bordeaux. “It was only my second trip to Europe at the time, and I never imagined that I would be living there one day,” she says.

However, the wheels were already set in motion. As a junior, she did a semester in Ecuador, where for two months she took classes in international development and then worked another two months at a bank evaluating its microloan program. “I think my semester abroad in Ecuador was really the starting point for me to start to shift my mindset about what was possible and what I wanted out of life,” she says.

A few years after graduation, she took a position in France. “I found a role at Arrow Electronics that combined my skills in financial analysis and system implementation working at its European headquarters in Paris,” she says.

Blankenheim says one of the things about living abroad is that you are constantly feeling between worlds—you don’t quite fit in your new country and you no longer fit in your home country. This is why she became a mentor.

“An opportunity to bridge those two worlds is always welcome,” she says. “When I heard that the Carlson Mentorship Program was looking for international mentors to work with students during their study abroad experiences, I was happy to be a part of it and connect to my other world.”

Through the mentorship program, she has mentored two students so far who were doing their international experience in France. She says she has three main messages she tries to instill in her mentees or indeed to anyone who is interested in pursuing an international career: know your strategy, get a skill, and anything is possible if you want it badly enough.

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