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David E. Platt

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International Business Education

The reality of the phrase “global economy” looms large in Mexico City. In the capital of Mexico, only half as far from Austin as the U.S. capital in Washington, D.C., most managers from the United States might as well be on the far side of the globe for all the comfort they can draw from familiar surroundings. Aside from the differences of language and currency, managers find themselves both stimulated and challenged by other, more subtle, differences: the breadth of socioeconomic strata, the volatile economy, the differing cultural and interpersonal norms, the shifting political landscape and the restricted economic and logistical infrastructure.

Illustration representing International Business Education
Differences such as these can be a difficult reality for managers trained in the United States and working for U.S. companies. But as their companies increasingly derive value from participating in the global economy, they must become not just comfortable, but enthusiastic about working and even directing operations in other countries and cultures if they wish to remain relevant and be successful.

For these reasons, the McCombs School of Business established its Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) in 1989. CIBER’s purpose is to increase the competitiveness of U.S. businesses largely through the globalization of business education. Although CIBER has established programs and relationships around the globe, from its inception it has focused a significant amount of its energy and resources on Latin America.

The success of this focus can be seen in the September 2001 issue of AméricaEconomía, a leading Spanish and Portuguese-language business publication. In an article ranking MBA programs in Latin America, relationships between UT Austin and the top fifteen programs are cited eleven times, more than any other university.

At its core CIBER, which is supported in part through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, exists to build bridges that promote globalization by supporting many different kinds of traffic in both directions. Like the traffic on the bridge that crosses the Rio Grande between Laredo, Texas, U.S.A. and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, this traffic is notable for both its volume and its diversity.

Exchange Partnerships. One of the most effective ways of developing a relationship with a university in another country is through an exchange partnership. In an exchange partnership, a UT student pays the regular tuition and fees to the University of Texas but attends classes at a partner school in Latin America. An equal number of students from the partner school come to Austin, while paying tuition at their home school. In this way, not only do a few UT students receive an intensive experience in the language, culture and business practices of another country, but the education of many other UT students is enriched by the perspectives of Latin American students in Austin.

The McCombs School maintains three BBA and five MBA exchange partnerships in Latin America. It has relationships with top-ranked business schools in Mexico (ITESM: Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey), Brazil (FGV: Fundação Getúlio Vargas in São Paulo), Chile (PUC: Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago), Venezuela (IESA: Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administración in Caracas) and Peru (ESAN: Escuela de Administración de Negocios para Graduados in Lima). About fifty UT business students spend a semester on exchange at one of these schools each year. A special arrangement with Cargill Corporation, a Minneapolis-based agricultural products company that has extensive operations in Brazil, provides financial support for some BBA students studying in Brazil.

CIBER often achieves its goal of globalizing business education by functioning as a catalyst, and this is particularly true in the case of exchange programs. While exchange relationships are by no means unique to business education, and UT’s Study Abroad Office develops educational exchanges for the entire university, CIBER works to reduce the particular institutional frictions of business education in several ways.

First, business students follow more tightly scripted programs of study than many other students. By establishing partnerships with universities that have top-level business programs and maintaining long-term relationships with them, CIBER is able to help students find courses and programs that fit with their McCombs School educational plans and so avoid prolonging the length of their education.

Second, CIBER works to identify top-tier business programs as well as the particular strengths of different schools so that UT students can be sure of receiving an education while abroad that is consistent with the caliber of their education in Austin. This screening process also helps ensure that the caliber of business students coming to Austin is appropriate and that UT’s professors will welcome their presence in classes.

Finally, the present high level of U.S. influence in the global economy may lead some business students to place less value on experience abroad than do non-business students. CIBER actively promotes exchange opportunities directly to business students in the belief that the experience will enrich their lives professionally as well as personally, and in its ten years CIBER’s efforts have increased tenfold the number of business students studying abroad.

Double Degree Programs. A significant benefit of an exchange partnership is that it often leads to a deeper relationship between UT and the partner school. The value of such a relationship can manifest itself in many ways, one of which is the development of new and creative educational opportunities.

Having been exchange partners for several years, and recognizing the need for a more in-depth international education experience for MBA students, the McCombs School and ITESM in Monterrey partnered in 1994 to create the first double degree MBA program between a U.S. and a Latin American university. This program—North American MBA/MBA de Norteamérica—allows graduate business students from the two institutions to earn MBA degrees from UT and ITESM in two and one-half years, only slightly longer than the two years required to earn a MBA at UT alone. An integral part of this program for UT students is a summer “Spanish for Business” class, taken prior to beginning business classes in Spanish at ITESM, and a proyecto de campo, an intensive business project conducted at a Mexican company.

Pages from the 'Business Spanish' textbook used by UT students
Two pages from the "Business Spanish" textbook used by University of Texas students.
The McCombs School now has double degree arrangements with all five Latin American partner schools, including three of the top five business schools in Latin America, according to the 2001 AméricaEconomía survey. While each double degree program has distinctive characteristics, all follow a model similar to that pioneered with ITESM. The program allows UT MBA students, for a small additional investment of time, tuition and opportunity cost, to demonstrate for employers that they are truly prepared to do business throughout the Americas. In addition, generous financial support for these students is available through a grant from the Sasakawa Foundation.

Close Relations with Mexico. The McCombs School and CIBER have a special relationship with ITESM. Based in Monterrey and with campuses throughout Mexico, ITESM is a highly respected university and boasts the top-ranked graduate school of business in all of Latin America. Its geographic proximity, only a six-hour drive between Austin and Monterrey, and a shared history of efforts to globalize business education have forged a bond between the two institutions that has allowed cooperation in several innovative ways.

One of these innovations has been in the training of Mexican doctoral students. While ITESM-Monterrey provides doctoral education in business, it perceived a need for its students to associate with researchers outside of ITESM for specialized research training in their chosen fields. Building on the educational partnership nurtured through CIBER, the McCombs School has worked with ITESM-Monterrey to accommodate several doctoral students each year as non-degree students at the University. This program has created a small cadre of professors and researchers in Mexico who have links to UT and McCombs School faculty members. The McCombs School continues to provide research seminars to doctoral students from the ITESM campuses in Mexico City and Monterrey.

Another educational innovation partnered by the McCombs School and ITESM is a co-produced Executive MBA. Primarily located at ITESM’s Mexico City campus and supplemented by week-long sessions in Austin, the bulk of this program is delivered by McCombs School faculty in an English language, executive (every other weekend) format. Drawing students from many of the top Mexican companies as well as from the Mexican operations of U.S., French, German, Japanese and Swiss companies, the program has tripled in size in five years. It serves as a highly visible and tangible reminder of the McCombs School’s strong links with the Mexican economy and of its determination to maintain substantive ties with Latin American businesses.

Faculty Involvement. UT faculty are actively involved in these programs, and as their teaching and research are influenced by these experiences, they deliver course content that is more global in nature—even to UT business students who never leave Texas. For example, explicit international or global topics in which the faculty member has developed an interest, such as financial instruments for hedging exchange rate fluctuations or cross-cultural consumer behavior, may be incorporated in a course curriculum. Or the experiences of faculty members may provide opportunities to create supplemental course content, such as a guest lecture by an executive from a Mexican company.

In addition to faculty involvement in these programs, faculty exchanges and research relationships often develop from and contribute to partnerships. Many business faculty members have relationships through their research with faculty in other countries, and these sometimes develop into school-to-school partnerships. Other times, CIBER helps to provide contacts for faculty through the relationships it has developed, and it is active in supporting faculty who visit, or are visiting from, partner schools.

During the past ten years, McCombs School faculty members have visited all Latin American partner schools in many different formats. Some of these exchanges have been quite focused. UT marketing professor Vijay Mahajan, for example, was a featured speaker at the International Congress of Management Executives 2000, held in Lima, Peru, and cosponsored by partner schools ITESM and ESAN. Others have been more extensive, such as the year teaching and doing research on international taxation that UT accounting department chairman Steve Limberg spent at FGV in Brazil.

Finally, faculty members also participate in international consulting relationships throughout Latin America. These sometimes develop through partner schools, but more often through the McCombs School’s executive education organization or from a faculty member’s research and international reputation. Consulting projects in Latin America in recent years have included teaching and advising for Vitro, Femsa, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Cemex in Mexico, as well as other companies throughout Latin America such as Accor, Banco do Brasil, IBM, Petrobras, and YPF. Again, through the infusion of global experiences into their teaching and curricula, all of these faculty interactions in Latin America are likely to translate into a more globalized education for UT business students.

Business Language Education. One final area where the McCombs School and CIBER are active in preparing students to participate in and contribute to the global economy is through support of business language education. One of the bridges that CIBER has built is within the University itself: CIBER’s associate director for business language education is a faculty member in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

Business language education programs are provided at UT in Spanish and Portuguese (as well as French and German). An extensive “Business Spanish” track is available to MBA students, with coursework beginning in August prior to the start of their MBA core classes. This intensive Spanish class is taught in Austin for beginning and intermediate Spanish speakers and in Monterrey as a refresher for more advanced speakers. After this, students may take a commercial Spanish course. Finally, a faculty member or visiting professor fluent in Spanish will offer one of the regular business content electives or a “Doing Business in Latin America” course in Spanish.

At the undergraduate level, a special section of the “Advanced Spanish Grammar” course is dedicated to presenting the subject in a business context rather than the traditional literary context. A “Business Culture” class and an “Advanced Conversation for Business” class are also offered.

In addition, Spanish tutoring coupled with immersion experiences in Mexico have been offered to business faculty who are willing to commit the time and effort to become conversant in Spanish.

Illustration depicting a graduate with diploma
The Future. CIBER has completed a busy and exciting decade of globalization at the McCombs School of Business, with much effort focused on building bridges with Latin America. In some respects, the efforts of recent years will continue of their own inertia, particularly where the globalization of faculty institutionalizes the progress. In other ways, however, we see room for growth and a need for new initiatives.

New programs are being considered that will build on and expand the strength of the partner school network. There are also opportunities to link the McCombs School’s students and faculty to resources throughout UT Austin, which boasts a substantial and influential Latin Americanist faculty and the highly regarded Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies.

It is these challenges and opportunities that CIBER was created to address. With a strategic plan that includes globalization in general, and a focus on Latin America in particular, the next several years promise to remain active ones for the McCombs School’s activities south of the Rio Grande.

David E. Platt
Dr. David E. Platt is director of the Center for International Business Education and Research at the McCombs School of Business. He teaches courses in cost and managerial accounting, both in UT Austin’s #1-ranked Program in Professional Accounting and in the Executive MBA program offered in partnership with the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM) in Mexico City. A member of the UT Austin accounting faculty since 1996, Dr. Platt has received research grants for his international scholarship from UT, Dell, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. He earned a B.S. in economics and accounting from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, a MBA in marketing from Syracuse University and a Ph.D. in accounting from Cornell University. Dr. Platt can be reached at 512-471-1829.


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May 14, 2002
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