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MBA students study business abroad

August 02, 2007

Editor’s note: Erin Concors, a second-year student in the W. P. Carey MBA evening program, was a participant in the course “Business and Its Environment: Austria and the Czech Republic.”

Donning hard hats and safety goggles, the group of MBA students followed their guide into an enormous factory. Heat radiated from the giant furnace in the center of the building. The students climbed a set of rugged metal stairs, which were covered in black dust, and watched the process of molten steel being poured and formed into glowing, flat sheets of metal that later became doors for Renault, Ford or Skoda cars.

The students toured Voestalpine Steel, a leading European manufacturer of steel, automotive parts, appliance components and railway structures, located in Linz, Austria. The group of 13 working professionals, who are earning their master’s of business administration degrees through the W. P. Carey MBA Evening Program, recently spent 17 days meeting top managers of large and small companies in Austria and the Czech Republic through the international MBA course “Business and Its Environment: Austria and the Czech Republic.”

Through field trips, company tours, class discussions and case studies, the students learned how businesses operate within their own countries and within the greater context of the European Union.

The students took coursework at the International Management Institute at Johannes Kepler University in Linz. In addition to the tour of Voestalpine, students visited Bombadier-Rotax, a subsidiary of Bombardier Recreational Products Inc. and producer of Rotax engines for motorized vehicles; Greiner Holding AG, a family-owned firm with divisions producing packaging and foam products, extrusion products and plastics; and the Chambers of Labor and Commerce for Upper Austria.

The students had ample opportunities to ask questions and gain insight into what makes Austrian business systems efficient, lean, productive and competitive in international markets.

“It was just amazing to see how automated the Austrian plants were compared to American plants,” says Ben Tanner, a fabrication supervisor for Phoenix Manufacturing, Inc. and student in the W. P. Carey MBA evening program. “They had a very quick, lean manufacturing process.”

The efficiencies in Austrian factories are due, in part, to a cooperative system known as the “Social Partnership in Austria” – the legally mandated system of economic and social cooperation that brings management and workers together regularly to discuss and set wages, working conditions and other policies. As a result, Austria has few labor strikes.

At the Bombadier-Rotax firm, management encourages employees to make suggestions. An average of 10 suggestions per employee are implemented annually at the company, a spokesman says.

At Greiner, the students learned from managing director Franz Reitbauer that the company specifically did not seek to synergize its subsidiaries.

“What I find really interesting is how Greiner managers don’t look for synergies within their own companies to save costs,” says Stephen Williams, an engineer for Phelps-Dodge and MBA student. “They feel if they keep everything separate, it drives innovation and creativity.”
The students traveled by bus to the Czech Republic, where they participated in lectures and discussions at the University of Economics in Prague. Lectures focused on the conversion of the Czech economy from a planned, central economy under communism, to a free-market system, under which businesses became privatized in the 1990s.

The students toured Baest a.s. Benesov, a midsized manufacturer of welded steel frames and construction machinery; Ruckl Crystal a.s. Glassworks, producer of lead crystal and glassware; the Royal Brewery of Krusovice, one of the oldest breweries in the Czech Republic, founded in 1517; and Skoda Auto, one of Europe’s oldest car manufacturers, which is owned by Volkswagen.

The course was co-taught stateside by Gerry Keim, associate dean for MBA programs and a professor of management in the W. P. Carey School of Business, and a visiting professor in the International Management Institute of Johannes Kepler University; professor Gerhard Reber of the International Management Institute; and professor Milan Maly of the University of Economics in Prague.

Keim was a Senior Fulbright Professor in Germany for the 1990-1991 academic year, where he studied business and government relations in Germany and the European Union. At the end of 1991, he won a U.S. government grant to help Czech managers learn to work in a market economy. He spent the next two years working with Reber and Maly to develop management education capabilities in the Czech Republic.
This early collaboration led to the creation of the course for MBA students.

Erin Concors,
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