How does a business major in Standish, Maine, establish a furniture company in Greece? You “gotta know the territory,” to quote the salesmen in the opening scene of “The Music Man.” Thanks to business professor Antony Girlando, and an assist from mentors in faraway places, international management students this spring learned how to start up a company and sell to people nine time zones away who speak another language and think nepotism can be a better way to hire people. And they did it effectively using college-supplied iPads to Skype with their foreign mentors, who could give them insights only a local can give.
Back to that furniture company in Greece. The St. Joe’s students proposing the faux company try to make it as real as possible, and they know that a country’s culture and politics can influence business practices. For example, the students discover Greeks would find the use of professional athletes inappropriate in marketing a product and that using children in advertising would never be allowed. They need to know their Greek personnel manager would find nothing wrong with nepotism and prefers an autocratic structure with a man at the top of the company ladder. They also need to know unions are active and strikes common.
What if the company were in Thailand? They might discover Thai people prefer funny ads. They also need to know a new hire might not show up for three months because he or she went on retreat at a monastery – and that’s considered normal. What if the company were in Brazil? The furniture company must use brazilwood.
After choosing a country to manufacture and sell furniture, each student creates a feasibility study focused on product, price, place and promotion. They are required to explore media in the country, translating as they read newspapers, listen to radio and iTune university lectures, watch TV and YouTube videos, and join Facebook groups. With a measure of foreign language under their grasp, they must give a two-minute introductory speech to a faux customer – in front of the class.
Once foreign mentors are on board, they consult them via Skype. Twice during the semester the mentors are Skyped into the classroom for a general question-and-answer session. For example, the Chinese mentor is asked about China’s policy banning Facebook.
The role of the iPads? Provided by the college for the entire semester, Girlando says the small computers created an “equality of technology” among everyone in the class. He calls them extremely portable and convenient, allowing students to carry them around like a light book or notebook, which dramatically increases their functionality and frequency of use. Combined with Apple TV, students can project Power Point or other images directly from their iPad to a larger screen or TV without transferring files through another machine. That means students and professor can stay seated seminar-style while sharing information instantly back and forth, creating uninterrupted collaborative learning.
by Charmaine Daniels