Anderson: why do we need the multicultural executive?

Posted: September 16, 2013 by jennroig in English, Interviews
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This is the original, unedited version, of the interview to University of Miami’s Business School’s Dean Eugene W. Anderson, published in Spanish on AmericaEconomia on September 8th, 2013. The interview covers the new “Miami Executive MBA for the Americas” program, which aims to be the new flagship program of UM B-School.

Eugene W. Anderson: UM Business School Dean

Eugene W. Anderson: UM Business School Dean

Among so many MBA programs out there, what would make this program relevant for Latin American executives who aim for a second time in academia to update their skills and knowledge? What are some distinctive features of this program “Miami Executive MBA for the Americas”?

We are hoping that this program is that program. The one program Latin American executives who want to go back to school want to be a part of. As far as I know, it is really going to be the only program out there that has uniquely taken as its focus doing business in Latin America, in the Americas. I think it’s such an important high growth area of the world.

Then most MBA programs have a very traditional structure and are organized around specific functional areas like accounting, finances, and marketing. And most MBA programs are using the same text books and cases, which are all very are all very US based, US centric. This programs aims to be very different. Instead of having a functional structure, we are going to try to focus on the issues that are important to managers and organizations doing business in the Americas. It’s about multicultural leadership, it’s about entrepreneurship, and innovation, managing international and global operations.

Attacking anyone of those individual areas, doesn’t fit neatly into the disciplinary box of any particular functional area, real business problems, real business issues are multifunctional, cross-functional. So we are designing the program around those issues and specifically around issues that are important to folks working in Latin America. We are going to provide that as architecture, and then the students are going to be bringing current problems and issues they are facing in their businesses into the classroom. In fact, they are going to create the cases to be very current and also based on the geographies they work on and are doing business in… instead of analyzing ten-year-old cases that are based in Iowa or something like that. In that regard we think that we are taking a very different and unique approach.

I think the result would be a really terrific program for anybody who wants to up their game and learn more about doing business in Latin America. And also, there’s not only the intellectual content, but the opportunity of peer interaction, the friendships and networks that will be built in the program.

We are hoping that people graduate from this program and walk the stage feeling that they are not only prepared to be great managers and leaders of their companies in Latin America, but also have a much broader view of the different cultures that are there, and of themselves, so they will feel more multicultural. And also they can feel they have created new networks of colleagues across many different countries, because we are hoping to draw students from Mexico, Colombia, Panama, Brazil, some of the Caribbean and certainly some from South Florida. We are hoping we will help these people to develop a powerful network which will benefit their career on the long term as well.

You just mentioned the program would use cases brought to the class by the students, considering their experiences, what exactly does it mean?

We hope that they will bring current business issues and things they are facing. For instance, maybe some of them will be working for a family business in Colombia which is seeking to entering Peru.

In terms of methodology, how are the professors going to be prepared for the challenge, considering they will have less time to prepare for the analysis of the cases?

First, we are going to be using our faculty that are most seasoned. They are not only used to working with executives but also are used to work in these markets so they will have a deep understanding when the issues will come in.

The other thing that will be asked from the faculty is that instead of being the proverbial sage on a stage where the professor knows the case, what questions to ask and what kind of answers will get, the faculty members will be more of the guide by the side. They will be working with the students to help them formulate the right questions to ask, to help them think about how they want to answer those questions. So everyone together can learn and discover what the most current issues are out there and what the best approaches are to try to address them successfully.

My hope is the faculty will be learning a lot in this program from the students too. That should be because when you have seasoned executives, people who have been out for 10, 15 years, they have a lot to offer when they come in the classroom. If you are using a traditional teaching model, where the students are listening to the faculty member who knows everything, walks in to kind of to project to the audience the knowledge that they received, that may work ok with a classroom of undergrads, but if you have a group of 30 or 40 executives with 10 to 15 years of experience, then you are really missing out by not tapping in all that experience and knowledge that is sitting there in front of you. If you have a classroom with 40 people with 15 years of experience, you have 600 years of business experience in front of you. If you stand there and lecture them with power point slides you are not going to tap in that knowledge and experience in the way that you would learn as a faculty member. But more importantly, how the other folks on the room are going to learn from each other, we expect a lot of peer to peer learning in this program.

Who are the potential students? Will the program target some specific kind of executive, with expertise in certain areas or specific time of experience on the job?

We rather like to stay away from saying specific numbers or thresholds for the folks. We rather have been thinking how it would be the ideal professional, man or woman, for this program. How he or she would be like.

If you think in admission on the individual level, we would be looking for people with really high potential, with a track record of success, probably a record of progressive management responsibility.

But also their colleagues and their superiors, as well as to our interview, we determine how high potential they are for senior level positions. Our ideal folks would be the people that their organizations view as their future leaders. That’s kind of what we are looking for at the individual level, so whether or not the person has 8 years experience or 15 years experience, that can probably vary a lot from person to person.

There’s other thing we are going to be looking for when it comes to admission, it is the creation of a group. If we have 25 managers from Bogota in the classroom that’s going to make the conversation different than if we have 5 from Bogota, and 5 from Panama city, and a group from Lima, and somebody else from Puerto Rico… We want to have a real diversity of perspectives in the classroom. We like to think that we are not only looking for people that have the ability to learn, which is kind of the first part, that they demonstrate they are high potential people, we are also looking for the right group of people that have the ability to teach, because we want them to be able to teach each other in this program.

It is likely that the program will gather two kinds of students, some will come from the USA with intentions to go to work in Latin America, while others will come from Latin America with the interest of learning about other Latin American countries but also about the USA. From the program’s perspective, how will be tackled these two specific needs from both subgroups?

Those are exactly the two groups that we want in this program. We think we have a lot to teach to each other, one group about learning how to do business in Latin America, and the other group learning about doing business here in the US, and both getting an opportunity to develop networks in places where they want to go to.

We think the program is going to have the most value if we get a good representation from both these groups. Now, what are the big themes of the programs? And how can these groups take advantage of the program?

One of the big themes of the program is multicultural leadership, so certainly we are going to want people to learn about, for example, what the cultural business practices are. For instance, some of the people who can be 4th generation US citizens, they still have a lot to learn, even if they grew up here in Miami which is very multicultural, they still have a lot to learn about doing business, or the cultural side of doing business that is interacting with folks in Lima, Santiago, or Sao Paulo, and how these places are different from each other.

Something that inspired this program was listening to businessmen who have dealt with these differences expressing that they wish to have had better preparation over the cultural differences, in the societies, in the way business are conducted in these different countries… because one would be not only living and managing an organization in a foreign country, but overseeing the entire let’s say Andean operation, which includes countries like Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Chile.

I think that’s a very important goal we have for people who are coming from the US to learn about Latin American context, and vice versa for managers from Latin America to learn about US culture. And hopefully we will learn from each other, because one thing I hear from talking to business leaders in Latin American countries when I have visited Bogota, Sao Paulo or Lima is that they want to do with their management talent is help people that are very focused on their own country to learn more how to be multicultural within Latin America. The Brazilians have grown up learning about Brazil and doing business in Brazil, but more and more if they want to take the next step and become multinational –and often the first step in becoming multinational is to enter a neighboring country’s market- so they need to learn how to take those steps.

At this point, is there any definition or particular interest regarding a particular country, or even city, and also industries, developing in Latin America that you consider as indispensable to be addressed in the program?

In that sense, we really like to make sure we gather a good mix of people coming from the different major business centers in Latin America. Ideally we would like to have a good representation from places like Bogota, Lima, Panama City… those would be very important for us.

In terms of industries and verticals, considering we are in Miami and what the city has become, I’m sure there will be a strong financial services aspect to the program. There are so many financial services that have been based here for the Latin American operations. I don’t think that it will be limited to that. I expect we will have a good representation from the many other kinds of services and consumer products companies, the healthcare companies, and so on that have put their Latin American headquarters here in Miami.

The other group that is not precisely a vertical, but we would also like to have a strong representation of in the program, it’s people coming from family businesses, all the way across the board, because that’s such an important part of the business world in Latin America. So we want people that are into family business and people that are not, especially from the US side, they need to learn what all that is about in Latin America.

Will the program somehow address the kind of particularities that can affect the executive’s performance which are not part of the office work, but are embedded in the context?

Absolutely, we really want to focus on not just navigating new cultures, but different government rules, regulations… the different kind of socioeconomic, legal, political things that you come across. That is a very important part of it.

We will tackle topics related to international contract law and compliance, which is a big issue especially in healthcare and in some other financial services as well. One of the points of focusing on making sure we are getting good representation from some of the major business centers in Latin America, it is to have people in the class who can share with people interested in moving to Sao Paulo or Lima some of the challenges that they will face not only in the business sense, but also on a personal level as well.

Are there any plans to foster the participation of students from Latin American countries with scholarships or grants of some kind?

Yes, one of the things we would like to offer for students who are really great is that there could be chances of financial aid. We could certainly consider merit scholarships. We have started initial conversations, still when we are a year away from launch, but we are talking with corporations who might be willing to help support this.

As you can imagine there is already a lot of companies that are multinationals, either coming from Latin America and are based here, or multinationals from elsewhere that try to go to Latin America to have operations there. This could be a very attractive program to them to help develop talent that is capable to be fluid and moving back and forth between these two different worlds.

 The program will blend the on-campus experience with the online learning format. Even today, there are not many Business Schools adopting the online learning variant. Why has UM decided to adopt it? What are the expectations in terms of potential challenges and benefits?

There are an increasing number of schools which are adopting online variants of learning formats. Maybe they are not going fully online, but there is an increasing number offering hybrid formats like we are doing. Some of them are quite prestigious schools like Duke and the University of Michigan, which have hybrid programs for 10 years now.

I think that it’s a growing trend in business education, and I think there are some great benefits to doing things at a distance. Part of it is that there’s so much work these days is done virtually by people working at a distance in virtual teams, that I think it’s essential for business education to include that in the experience we are offering to our students, so they can learn more about virtual collaboration and how it works.

I think it’s an important benefit of distant learning. I also think that online has some real strength, you get great consistency because people can go at their own pace. But also if set it up right they can have great collaborative experiences within their smaller groups, and working with the professor in small groups that they will never get in a classroom with 50 other people.

For instance, in a discussion around a certain issue, in the classroom would only have the chance to ask a limited number of people in an hour, but if you do it on an online environment where the professor can connect with 8 or 10 other people, everybody better get prepared because everybody is going to get the chance to talk and be called by the professor and will have to interact with the other folks.

Then I believe there can be real benefits to the online environment, though I don’t think online has gotten to the point where it can fully replace the richness of the experience of bringing people together in a face to face interactions do. That’s why the blend of the experiences is very important for us.

That’s from a learning perspective. The other I think importance thing about a hybrid format in today’s world it’s that gives people flexibility in their very busy lives. It’s a very fast paced, interconnected world that we are living right now. If you are in a program where you are expected to come to campus every two weeks for a couple of days, it’s more restrictive considering both your professional and your personal family time than a program like this where your commitment is to come once every two months. It helps you to balance all the competing demands you have at work and hopefully help people achieve a work-life balance while they are going through one of these programs.

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