Global Experiences: A Foundation of the MBA Journey

Mikaela Moore, Juan Manuel González, MBA/MA ’16, and Ana Paula Gout.

For more than 600 MBA students each year, participating in global experiences programs is one of the highlights of their time at Stanford GSB. As students travel abroad and study with faculty and classmates, they learn from alumni and leaders about business issues in diverse cultural contexts that will further their studies and careers.

“We have five distinct global experiential learning programs that enable students to gain real-life experiences and reflect on them as they develop as leaders,” said Margaret Hayes, associate dean of the MBA and MSx programs. “Students have the flexibility to select programs, topics, and regions that align with their interests, and they often participate in multiple experiences,” she said.

The Global Experiences portfolio includes Global Seminars, the Global Management Immersion Experience (GMIX), Self-Directed Options, the Stanford-Tsinghua Exchange Program, and Global Study Trips — programs that encourage learning beyond the school and underscore the school’s commitment to developing insightful leaders who understand — and change — the world.

Global from the Start

Last September, just before the start of fall quarter, 29 first-year MBA candidates traveled with two faculty members and three second-year students to Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa, as part of a faculty-led Global Seminar. Initiated in 2015, these seminars allow students to build community with faculty and new classmates and dive deeply into a global business management topic before starting the MBA Program. Students are introduced to Stanford GSB’s culture of reflection and introspection that allows them to understand “lessons learned” from faculty, alumni, and others.

“The first-years arrived in South Africa filled with excitement, a bit of anxiety, and a deep desire to learn from each other,” explained second-year student Abhishek Garg, who organized the 10-day seminar with two other classmates. “We had a tightly packed meeting schedule with diverse speakers from morning to evening. It look less than three days for the whole crew to become a family — trusting and sharing with the highest level of confidence,” Garg said.

David Broockman, associate professor of political economy, and Kuang Xu, associate professor of operations, information and technology and Business School Trust Faculty Scholar for 2019-2020, led the group in examining South Africa’s economic and political milieu, and provided a crash course on big data and AI and their applications to issues like healthcare and politics. The group met with several Stanford GSB alumni, including Zipho Sikhakhane, MBA ’14, CEO and founder of EMZ Advisory, and Peter Baird, MBA ’95, and Faraimose Kutadzaushe, MBA ’13, both executives at Investec Asset Management, to discuss South Africa’s investment landscape and its challenges and opportunities for economic and technological growth.

Stanford GSB faculty led two other Global Seminars supported by second-years that brought students to Ireland and the U.K. and to China. Accounting Associate Professors Lisa De Simone, the James and Doris McNamara Faculty Scholar for 2019-2020, and Rebecca Lester, the Michelle R. Clayman Faculty Scholar for 2019-2020, led the Ireland and U.K. trip. The students explored the ethics and economics of global tax avoidance to deepen their understanding of the factors that lead companies to seek out tax havens. The group also explored the consequences of these actions on countries’ and companies’ relationships with European Union partners. Frances Wehrwein, MBA ’18, chief of staff for Stitch Fix, an online personal styling service, was one of several alumni who met with the group to discuss tax regulation and policy in the U.K.

Riche Lim, second-year MBA with Sea Group staff

Project-Based Learning Around the World

In the summer after their first year, MBA candidates have opportunities to apply what they learned in their core and elective courses to real-life business contexts outside the U.S. One popular choice is participating in the GMIX, a four-week program for second-year MBA students to work with a sponsor organization (including corporations, social enterprises, and governmental/NGOs) to execute a high-impact project. This past summer, 60 students participated in GMIX, working in 24 countries on wide-ranging projects for 45 organizations, many led or owned by Stanford GSB alumni.

“Taking a month out of my summer to do a GMIX was a significant time investment that paid huge dividends for me — personally and professionally,” explained Riche Lim, who conducted a competitive analysis and market development strategy plan for Singapore-based Sea Group. Sea’s CEO, Forrest Li, MBA ’06, sponsored a GMIX project to support the company’s expansion of digital entertainment, e-commerce, and financial services in Southeast Asia, Taiwan, and Latin America. “I worked alongside Sea executives on key business issues. It was a great way to apply what I had been learning in the classroom to real-world challenges I am passionate about solving,” Lim said.

Another student, Mikaela Moore, worked as a consultant at Enseña por México (Teach for Mexico), which provides access to education for more than 76,000 of the country’s most economically vulnerable children. Managing Director Juan Manuel González, MBA/MA ’16, sponsored a GMIX that brought in Moore to work with the team to review and make recommendations on the organization’s theory of change.

“The project was the perfect way to explore the intersection of business and society,” Moore explained. “It was incredible to see the ways in which I was able to help a nonprofit organization after only one year at Stanford. I came back for my second year with renewed professional clarity and personal passion for setting goals and mapping the road to impact.”

DIY Global Experience

Second-year students with a specific career interest or passion have an option to create a Self-Directed Global Experience — supported by a faculty advisor — that complements their studies. This past summer, Aurora Griffin focused her project on M&A activities in the craft beer market. She traveled to Belgium to better understand how small breweries view prospective acquisitions, whether acquisitions have affected their brand, and how business strategy is affected due to M&A activity.

Last year, Simon Qin, MBA ’19, created a self-directed project with George Foster, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Management and professor of accounting, to explore how global sporting franchises leverage analytics and technology to build a sustainable competitive advantage. Adopting the perspective of a large global football club, Qin interviewed football executives in the U.K., Spain, and Germany, conducted primary and secondary market research, and analyzed how clubs were able to establish an edge over their competitors.

Building Business and Cross-Cultural Relationships

While most MBA candidates fulfill the global experience requirement during their first year, many pursue experiences in their second year as well. The Stanford-Tsinghua Exchange Program (STEP) is a two-quarter course focused on experiential learning that brings together Stanford GSB- and China-based students to examine business and cultural perspectives. Over Thanksgiving break, Szu-chi Huang, associate professor of marketing and Business School Trust Faculty Scholar for 2019-2020, accompanied 24 students to Tsinghua University to meet with their MBA counterparts and participate in a mix of academic, business, and cultural activities.

“We connect future business leaders from the West with those from the East through a buddy system, project teams, and week-long visits,” Huang explained. “The program’s multi-dimensional approach has been highly successful in building lifelong networks and friendships between Stanford and Tsinghua MBAs.”

Coordinated by a student leadership team and the faculty advisor, STEP participants spend one week in Beijing in the fall and host 25 students from Tsinghua University at Stanford GSB during winter quarter. During the STEP course, various faculty, including Joe Piotroski, the Robert K. Jaedicke Professor of Accounting, whose research examines the impact of legal, political, and regulatory forces on capital market behavior and corporate decision-making, most notably in China, introduce students to the Chinese economic context before Stanford GSB students collaborate with their Tsinghua counterparts.

Applied Leadership in the World

In addition to learning as participants in the Global Experiences programs, second-year students have various avenues to shape their peers’ experiences. During winter break, Jonathan Kaufman will join four classmates in leading 30 classmates on a Global Study Trip (GST) to Indonesia. The group will explore how government policy changes have supported innovation and the transformation of the retail, finance, and hospitality sectors in the 270-million-person Indonesian market.

“I am so excited to share the knowledge I’ve gained from living in Indonesia with my classmates,” explained Kaufman. “There are exciting business challenges and opportunities that can be applied to other large developing economies,” he said.

GST leaders participate in a rigorous application process during which they define a challenging global business issue to examine in a specific location. These nine-day in-country experiences include business meetings, team activities, critical discussions, and reflection. Leaders design and deliver pre-trip academic sessions that prepare participants to critically engage with the GST’s central questions. Trip leaders often have roots in these markets and gain leadership experience facilitating group learning and cohesion, interacting with senior leaders, and navigating unplanned challenges.

In addition to developing leadership skills, GSTs are invaluable in helping students understand what it takes to do business across cultures. Second-year MBA candidate Luciana Barrancos is one of five students leading a trip to Brazil this winter. “The trip is such a good way to bridge what my classmates and I have learned at the school with what we Brazilians have experienced at home,” she said. “It’s also an opportunity for me to get their perspectives on what my country has to offer.”

The group will examine the impact of entrepreneurship on the social needs of communities in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Students will also explore whether business and government leaders view entrepreneurship as a way to solve social needs and how the public sector could incentivize and scale start-up ecosystems to accelerate the process.

Stanford GSB’s Global Experiences programs are designed and led by faculty and students who work together to identify challenging problems and apply the concepts they are teaching and learning about in the classroom. An essential component of these experiences is the ongoing engagement of alumni who sponsor GMIX projects, host meetings, and give their time and ideas to students and faculty.

“We are a tight-knit community that becomes even stronger as students come together to share their global experiences with our faculty and alumni,” explained Dean Hayes. “The skills and perspectives they develop through this process will last a lifetime.”