The 24 members of Cohort 66 of the Executive MBA (EMBA) program are business professionals from diverse backgrounds, industries and professions. However, as different as each may be, when it came to the international residency portion of the EMBA, we were united in the excitement of experiencing different cultures and learning how the world conducts its business in an ever-changing global environment during an intensive 10-day immersion in Denmark and Ireland.
Once the cohort had filtered into Copenhagen and everyone was accounted for, we were given a couple of days to decompress, adjust to the new time zone and prepare for our meetings. We met Dirk, our tour guide, a fashionable gent with an encyclopedic memory of Danish culture and architecture. His quiet demeanor and dry wit kept the cohort entertained and educated throughout our stay.
Once acclimated, our first formal meeting was with Ari Kokko, a professor from the Copenhagen Business School, who provided a detailed look at the history of Denmark and Sweden as it applies to international business. From this information we were able to develop a framework we could then apply to our upcoming meetings with companies in both Denmark and Sweden.
Notable visits included the European headquarters of Coloplast for a look at international manufacturing and globalization, and the corporate headquarters of Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company. Coloplast, which makes medical devices such as catheters and wound care products, embodies a unique set of cultural values in their quest to increase patient quality of life. Their views on innovation, manufacturing and quality control demonstrated a keen commitment to serving their customers as people, not simply consumers. At Maersk, which truly operates on a global scale, legal issues and risk management were hot topics for our cohort. We asked a steady stream of questions regarding risk and law as applied to global business practices and were intensely curious as to how a company of Maersk’s size stays within its own parameters given the scope of their business.
During a day trip into Sweden we toured Alfa Laval, a company that specializes in heat transfer, separation and fluid handling for industrial air conditioners and dairy processing facilities. As a company that holds more than 2,000 patents, it’s also a place where innovation is cultivated. We were escorted past pods of teams who work in unison and rotate duties at their discretion in order to maintain focus and quality. This production format was also reflected later in our trip at Medtronic. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps these European manufacturing sites were on to something with such a dynamic and team-oriented approach.
From Denmark, we traveled to Dublin, Ireland where it quickly became apparent that Western culture and business practices were very much practiced and understood. Our new tour guide, Dez, an Irishman filled with historical facts and love of country, kept the cohort informed and entertained as we snaked through the streets. We enjoyed a day trip across the Emerald Isle to participate in an insightful and engaging meeting with medical device powerhouse Medtronic, where we received an amazing reception and were given a presentation by executives who provided insights into the globalization of the Medtronic brand, their approach to innovation and new product development, and the process structure instituted at the Medtronic campus.
We had many opportunities to experience the cultures of Denmark and Ireland, with side trips that further enhanced the international experience. In Ireland, my favorite things include: a stunning exhibit of poet W.B. Yeats, a custom guided tour of the Viking exhibit at the National Museum of Ireland, a viewing of the Book of Kells at Trinity College Library, walking the grounds of St. Patrick’s cathedral, and joining in the revelry of thousands of Irish fans at a tent party alongside the River Liffey during Ireland’s play in the Rugby World Cup.
The highlights of Copenhagen included countless pubs and small eateries tucked into every possible enclave and the amazing evening walking tour during Kulture Night – similar to National Night Out in the U.S. – where an estimated 300,000 Danes took to the streets to enjoy food vendors, concerts, museums, street performers and national pride. It was truly an experience that I will not soon forget.
The international residency held many valuable lessons and memories. Here are some of my key takeaways:
- The quality of meetings that we participated in; our hosts took our meetings seriously, answered all questions and fully covered our subject matter.
- The “flat organizational” format at the companies we visited. I found this to be a very interesting aspect of European corporate hierarchy… or lack thereof. Every company we visited professed not to have a formal corporate org chart, allowing each employee access to leadership across all channels and the ability to drive innovation and change.
- Finally, I was impressed by the flawless execution of the international residency in both planning and in-country logistics. This complex part of our Executive MBA program had many moving parts and our leaders deftly handled it all with grace. This was a remarkable experience that provided both a personal and professional look at how other countries approach global business.