Category Archives: Uncategorized

Innovation and Cooperation in Mondragón

This past summer, Jessica Kort traveled to Mondragón, Spain to learn about the role of the environment and community in innovation and entrepreneurship. Please enjoy reading her perspectives on the philosophy of business, leadership, and life.

“It is extraordinary that this course on Models of Participatory Leadership is offered in Mondragon. Beyond being a unique yet entirely enlightening topic for students of business, it is invaluable to learn about this style of leadership that is uncommon for us in the United States. Were Mondragon 2it not for the financial aid, I would have been unable to travel and study in Mondragon. I truly treasured the experience because being immersed in the culture that generated this philosophy of business and leadership added complex layers to my understanding of it.

It was one thing to read about Mondragon cooperatives’ competitive advantages and astounding success from campus in San Diego. It was another entirely to see where it all began, speak face-to-face with beneficiaries of this way of business and of life, experience the culture that inspired it and watch its creations in action. Visiting the headquarters of the cooperative umbrella corporation, the cooperative factory floors and cooperative university brought theMondragon 9 narratives to life. We digested the forces and motives that drove visionaries to create cooperatives in the Basque region while sharing traditional Basque meals with beneficiaries of their foresight. We studied the economic theory behind cooperatives and walked the halls of a stunning university later created to teach and embody that cooperative structure. We mulled over how Catholic Social Thought laid the foundation of values that inspired the cooperatives’ founders to construct something better for their community in the 1950s, and trekked to a symbolically designed basilica erected and dedicated to the community in that same decade. We learned about another people’s perspectives on wealth, happiness, progress, independence and fairness.
Mondragon 1The course content gave me much to consider as an entrepreneur, and the trip reminded me that our environment has as great a role in our creations as we do. We cannot design or innovate in isolation. We must observe our surroundings and take stock of other people’s needs and perspectives to generate workable solutions and community change. I am currently applying what I learned to my nonprofit work. I’m drawing useful comparisons between cooperatives’ growth in their cultural environment and collaborations in the San Diego social sector. I will remember what I heard from cooperative workers as I look for ways to incorporate qualities they cherish about their professional environment. It was so inspiring to witness their commitment to and belief in the cooperative model, and I hope to emulate those feelings of dedication to work and livelihood here.”

Mondragon 8

To check out more student experiences, visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

Business Etiquette in Spain, Portugal, and India

Rajat Raizada made the journey to Lisbon and Madrid this summer, experiencing a contrast of Portuguese and Spanish business etiquette to that of his native country, India. Please enjoy reading his perspectives on European and Indian cultural practices, and how to have cultural-awareness in international business.


“During my summer abroad trip to Spain and Portugal, I noticed many cultural differences between these countries and India. I made several points about what occurs to me as different in Spain and Portugal from India.


Indian society is very hierarchically organized which isIMG_20160525_173020 apparent from the way parents raise their kids. The parents are the boss and the kids follow the instructions of the parents. Even in business environment, the companies follow a hierarchical structure. In organizations, hierarchy is the central way of managing. If you work with a software company, even a small one, you’ll find a project manager, who is managing the team leader, who is managing the programmers, even in the smallest projects. And the programmer will need his superior for anything that he does. However, in Europe (Spain and Portugal) most companies give people responsibility, freedom and measure people on their performance within those boundaries.


In India, people are very open, discussing personal, professional, and all kinds of topics with their friends and colleagues. India is a collectivist society and major focus is given on relationship building. Before conducting any business, two parties generally meet 2-3 times to develop good relations and bondIMG-20160615-WA0015s between them. While in Europe (Spain and Portugal), people are always trying to be very polite and won’t share anything negative or offending (which also makes for a very positive cultural experience). It is sometimes hard to really get the truth or the person’s vision on a subject. From a business perspective, it is valuable to learn about different cultures, as by understanding them, it becomes easier to develop a successful cooperation.


Though India is moving towards gender equality, India is still predominantly a male-dominating society. This is quite evident as most of the important financial decisions are made by the male member in the family. In companies, gender ratio has not yet reached 50:50 and most of the senior positions in the company are taken by males. In Europe (Spain and Portugal), there is no gender bias and men and women work together and share the same goal. Unlike in India, some key positions in Portugal and Spain are held by females in the company.


While many Spaniards of the opposite sex will greet each other with a kiss on both cheeks, this is not as common in business relationships unless you know the other party well. While in India, handshake is most prevalent way of greeting in business community (don’t even think of kissing).


Addressing a person

In Europe (Spain and Portugal), people use first name for addressing a person in the company. In India, though, addressing by first name is catching up but people still prefer to be addressed as Sir or Madam (especially if you are talking to senior).


In Portugal, punctuality is not seen as very important. Interestingly, people from the North are usually more punctual than those from the South. In fact, it is polite to arrive five minutes late. The host usually arrives “on time” but all others are usually late. When you arrive for a meeting, do not be offended if you are kept waiting for up to 20 minutes. This is the usual practice in Portugal. If you are kept waiting more than 30 minutes, then it would be quite normal to express some discontent. While in India, people are generally punctually (not as punctual as Americans) and arriving 5 minutes late in a business meeting is not considered rude.

In Portugal, during my visit to WE DO Technologies, I noticed quite a few differences from the Indian companies. First, the CEO of the company was very approachable to all the employees. Second, all the employees of the company were encouraged to suggest new ideas which can aid in companies growth. Third, the work timings of the company were from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM with weekends off. In India, the company CEO is not easily approachable to all the employees and generally top management makes all key strategic decisions about the company. Other employees just follow their superior’s orders. Also, the work timing in India is very harsh. Generally, 9-10 hours workday is common with Saturday as working day (half day in some companies).

Doing business in Europe – Spain

These are the things which I learned during my trip to Spain in regards to doing business:

Doing business in Spain requires good understanding of their culture and values. Spanish culture has influenced the world greatly in the past. At one time, Spain ruled in South America, the Caribbean and as far east as the Philippines. As a result of this large colonial influence and the growth of Spanish as a second-language, Spanish is regarded as the second most spoken language worldwide. Spain has a relational culture.IMG_20160530_174610

To do business in Spain means one has to build a network of contacts in different sectors of society. To get your client to trust you right from the start, it helps to provide him with references about yourself and your company from important people in Spain. Getting yourself introduced by a trusted relation of your new client is also a very good way to start the initial contact. Relations are built personally, not by telephone or e-mail. Out-of-the-office meetings like lunches or dinners offer the best occasions to get to know each other better. This aspect of doing business of Spain is very similar to that of India.

The Spaniards like to dress well. Formal business suits are worn by men with dark colors in winter and light in summer, and fashionable business dress is worn by women. Spain has a large shoe industry therefore shoes are an important part of their dress. The social status of a person is directly connected to the dress. Young people, however, are nowadays generally free to wear comfortable clothes.

Doing business in Europe – Portugal

Portuguese people are very friendly and social. Generally, it takes 1-2 meetings to build a relationship before starting a business with them. Some of my other key takeaways about doing business in Portugal are mentioned below:IMG-20160615-WA0016

Business dress is usually rather formal. Casual dress is still unusual in Portuguese companies, even in modern or creative industries. In some cases, however, companies allow their staff to dress down on Fridays. However, a standard business suit is still the most common form of dress among businessmen.

Portugal has a slightly higher level of corruption than other western European countries. Corruption is an important political and economic issue and still represents an enduring characteristic of Portuguese business culture. Most cases of bribery and corruption are reported from the public sector. They are related mainly to concessions, unclear approvals of contractors and specific economic lobbying or job offers to friends and family members.

In the Portuguese business environment, it is normal to give a gift to customers and partners. To reject a gift is seen as offensive. Also, as gifts are considered to be a personal gesture, it is not polite to re-distribute a gift to staff.”

To check out more student experiences, please visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

10 Must-Do’s in Tokyo

Acerney Yu studied abroad in Tokyo, Japan during spring break and gave her knowledgable suggestions on the best places to both visit and see! Enjoy!


1. Meiji Jingu (Shrine)
Located in Shibuya, Tokyo, Meiji Jingu is the Shindo Shrine, a symbol of the Japanese spirit. The Japanese go to Meiji Jingu in January in order to give a blessing for the following year. If you are lucky, you may see the traditional wedding holding in Meiji Jingu. Surrounded by many trees, Meiji Jingu is a forest in the middle of the busy concrete jungle that is Tokyo. You will be able to enjoy a sense of tranquility and peacefulness in Meiji Jingu.

2a    2


2. Tokyo Skytree
Tokyo Skytree is the tallest building in Japan. Just built in 2012, it has become the new symbol of Tokyo. There are 360 degree views of Tokyo from the top of the building, providing great opportunities for pictures both during the daytime  and nighttime.3a3

3. Tsukiji Market and Sushi
Tsukiji Market is a fish market with many sushi restaurants serving really yummy and fresh fish. There is also a fish auction that occurs around 3am most mornings. You definitely must try the sushi and sashimi, as it is some of the best in Tokyo!


4. Akihabara
Akihabara is famous for its animation-related products and themed restaurants, such as maid-cafés. This sub-culture plays an important role in current Japanese life.



5. Sensō-ji (Temple)
Sensō-ji is located in Asakusa. It is the oldest temple in Tokyo. The Nakamise-dōri, a street on the walk to the temple, contains many shops that sell traditional Japanese food and souvenirs. The length of the street is approximately 250 meters and contains around 89 shops. Sensō-ji is also famous for Tokyo’s largest and most popular festival, Sanja Matsuri.


66. Shibuya
The most famous district in Tokyo. The crossing is one of the busiest in the world. There are many department stores that carry the latest fashionable goods, as well as delicate Japanese products.


7. Tokyo Station
Tokyo Station is a railway station in the Marunouchi business district of Chiyoda, Tokyo. It is one of the busiest stations in Japan. It serves 14 lines, including several Shinkansen (Japanese high-speed rail lines). Tokyo Station is very beautiful, and there many good restaurants and shops (Ekinaka) in the station.


image0158. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Shinjuku Gyoen is one of the largest parks in Tokyo. It was originally a residence of the Naitō family during the Edo period. There are traditional Japanese tea houses throughout the gardens and the park itself is very famous for its cherry blossoms that bloom in the springtime.



9. Ichiran Ramen

Ichiran Ramen is a Japanese ramen chain from Fukuoka. What makes Ichiran Ramen so special is that you can customize your own ramen by choosing the flavor strength, richness of the soup, the noodle texture, etc.



10. Kaiseki ryōri
Kaiseki ryōri is the traditional multi-course Japanese dinner. It contains many different dishes which allows you to enjoy several different tastes of Japanese food, all at the same time!


To check out more student experiences, visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

Going Global: An Asian Excursion

Torero Travelers

Following Torero Travelers around the globe not only brightens our day, but also sheds light on what our fellow Toreros are doing internationally. USD has a large and impactful presence in the international education community, hosting students from an expansive range of foreign nations and offering programs for the university’s students in 44 countries. In this episode, we follow the journey of USD graduate student during studies in Korea and China through the Ahlers Center for International Business.

Going Global: An Asian Excursion

Written by Steven Cummings (MSGL student)

IMG_2144In the ides of October, I joined a happy company of MSGL students (M.S. in Global Leadership pursuants) to embark on a mission to the Far East, seeking ken of the currents of commerce and as well as the rich cultural vestiges of an ancient past. Our host nations included the Republic of Korea and the Peoples’ Republic of China, lands long familiar with a flux of foreigners visiting their shores and cities.

As one descends onto the streets of Seoul, the first destination on our voyage, the mildly opaque air is not immediately refreshing…but well-structured city blocks and clean streets sweep away any impression of Korea’s history as a developing nation. Full of bright cultural traditions, a colorful palette of Korean cuisine, impressive displays of advanced technology & infrastructure, and a calm yet bustling crowd, Seoul is characterized by a distinct blend of the East and West.


East-West encounter at a Martial Arts demonstration

Possessed of a rather conspicuous “Californian” look, I did not blend in particularly well in Asia. Drawing stares on the streets proved an easy feat, even those lost in their smartphones could generally be shaken from their Confucian decorum by a long blonde mane on a tall striding male. Public courtesy oft prevented more than a few seconds’ glance, but experiments with sunglasses revealed many wide-eyed gawkers at this alien creature crossing in their path. While Korea has a strong international presence, its society is relatively homogenous in comparison with our melting pot nation: 96% of the population comes from the Korean ethnic group.

By day our group would walk among the markets, sometimes of the less formal variety with a myriad of unidentifiable fruits, fish, rice-based creations, a hundred kinds of kimchi, sometimes the highly modernistic malls that inhabit the upper floors of the city streets as well as the interlocking subterranean levels below. The food ranged from spicy to really spicy, with highlights including the famous Korean barbeque, the signature dish “bibimbap,” and an inexhaustible assortment of side dishes that were constantly refilled and often mysterious. Street food presented further opportunities for mystery and bewilderment – one especially succulent dainty came in the form of a still live & wriggling squid tentacle that would suction desperately to the cheeks and throat on its way down.

The people of Seoul dressed smartly but in plainer styles, as if they all shopped at the same department stores. Exceedingly polite and often decently versed in English, interactions by day felt slightly reserved – but by night, especially if soju had seeped into their veins, the Koreans let fly a very vibrant nightlife social scene. Introduced to Korea centuries ago by invading Mongolian hordes, soju retains its spark of chaos and reigns supreme as the alcoholic drink of choice for the nation – capturing 97% of spirits sales. It’s also an excellent weapon in one’s arsenal to reign supreme in the karaoke den…

FullSizeRender 15

Factory visit to AmorePacific, a Korean cosmetics company

The nightlife scene subsided substantially as our group transitioned to Beijing, the municipal and cultural capital of China. While Shanghai may steal the show with regard to afterdark pomp & circumstance, Beijing contains not only many of China’s most important historic monuments but a strong sense of where the country stands today. Its newly upgraded metro system is fast and efficient, unusually-shaped skyscrapers decorate its skyline, the air breathes much easier than the pre-Olympic days, and a veritable shopper’s paradise greets the residents and tourists of the commercially booming city. Yet it also holds space for a more traditional generation, as well as the envelope-pushing avant-garde – artists, students, and champions of free thought have found the most expedient channels of growth and change on the streets of the capital. With a population of 23 million and growing, Beijing has a bit of everything.

As a group my fellow students and I took in as many of the city’s hallmarks as we could, touring by walk or run the large grounds of the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, Behai Park, and also material attractions like the Silk Market and Wangfujing. While the immensity of the Forbidden City was impressive, my personal favorite of the city sights remains the “Nine Dragon Screen” of Behai Park – a spirit screen depicting nine dragons in relief that served to protect the ancient princes of state. Of course, no trip to Beijing could be complete without a trek to the Great Wall, so together (or rather, in a long string) we climbed to a lookout tower of a section of the Wall bordering a garrison.


Posing on the Great Wall of China

My individual journey in Beijing took me to some of the more underground parts of Chinese culture, sects previously unknown to me. A rendezvous with a longtime friend from my days as a European expatriate deposited me squarely in the midst of the “Chinese Punk” scene, where again my long hair won me attention and allies. Later we went for refreshments with her companions to a nearby vintage shop, the owner of which (another friend) being an organizer of “vintage festivals” all over China. The shop sat nestled in an old hutong of Beijing, essentially a neighborhood of narrow alleyways and buildings constructed long ago in traditional courtyard style. We met again the following night to prepare dinner together, where we set about concocting five customary dishes for a first time houseguest. As “garlic peeler,” my task left the husky remains of no less than thirty bulbs of garlic at my feet by the time my mound of ingredients was deemed satisfactory.


Steven’s Chinese dinner hosts

Once the graduate studies had concluded in China, I couldn’t bear to leave the country having seen Beijing alone. Luckily, the nation’s expanding network of bullet trains place many of the distant destinations within reach. A six hour ride at 300kmph brought a fellow student and me to Xi’an, the first capital of China and principal city of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. Renowned for unifying the host of warlords occupying the lands that would become China, the emperor is also made famous by the remains of his Terracotta Army that accompanied him into the afterlife – over 8,000 unique figures representing his warriors, chariots, and horses, as well as non-military personages such as officials, musicians, and acrobats. Its discovery in 1974 put Xi’an on the map as a tourist destination, although its ornate palaces, pristine city walls, peculiar Muslim Quarter, and salubrious hot springs also make it an attractive site. Unfortunately, time constraints did not allow me to climb Mount Huashan, one of the five sacred mountains of China, and thus I suspect this visit to Xi’an will not be my last.


Nor to China. International travel, especially over the course of one’s studies in higher education, serves to provide some of the most edifying experiences of a person’s life. The intangible lessons gained through journeys abroad have certainly been a boon to the formation of my character as a global citizen, and I would wish that those faced with the opportunity to travel abroad pursue it with zeal and intention. This excursion to Korea and China has furthered my knowledge of how the world and its people interact, how they exchange information, ideas, memories, and hopeful prospects, and how we are all so universally similar and dissimilar. In the unending quest to leave no stone unturned, I look forward to a future of skipping across the water.

To read more student experiences, visit our Study Abroad blog page.

More information regarding study abroad opportunities can be found on our website.

Aventuras en Madrid Pt. 1: Adapting to Spanish Life

Swastik Mukherjee, USD MBA student, is studying at IE Business School in Madrid, Spain as part of a semester exchange program.  In his own words, he describes his personal experiences adjusting to this new city and opening himself to exploring all that Spain has to offer:

“Getting the opportunity to do a study abroad program during an MBA is something that one cannot miss. Getting that opportunity in a top ten-business school in one of the most vibrant cities in the world is definitely the icing on the cake and a definite no-brainer. As a content for my first blog post, I wanted to talk about Madrid the city. Or about the gastronomic experience. Or about the language barriers. In fact, I wrote three different versions of this blog post earlier and discarded all of them. Somehow, I was not able to hit the nail on the head. What is it about this experience that has been the standout feature? The answer hit me last night. It is the people.

Dinner at San Sebastian copy

Now before coming to Madrid, I was scared. Very scared because I was told by numerous people that Madrid is not a very tourist friendly city. That only 22% of the population speak English. That my absolute lack of Spanish knowledge would get me into problems. Even forums on tripadvisor said that Madridistas are rude. Well, 2 months in and I have the ammunition to vehemently refute those claims. Madrid has been a revelation and how!

Exchange Students Social

I will not really touch upon the service industry as much as talking about my classmates. One never really understands the importance of finding common ground until you meet students from different walks of life. I would agree that I warmed up to my fellow IE students quicker because of the lack of language barrier, but I have had the chance to study with people from Peru, Chile, Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, United Kingdom and Japan. It truly made sense why USD had collaborated with IE in the first place. IE shares similar traits with USD in terms of being internationally focused, and it has truly given me great networks and a great education. The acceptance that I have felt at IE has been truly amazing given the fact that I am only there for 3 months and they are extremely busy preparing for graduation and their quest to land that dream job.Getting Some Study On

My group meetings have been extremely fruitful; they have welcomed me warmly. My group members have been very flexible and accommodating with scheduling, so that I am able to experience Madrid and Spain as much as I can. Different people have greeted me during lunches, introduced themselves and had conversations with me. I was slightly overwhelmed by the new city and the language barrier loomed large in my mind, which probably made me go in to a shell for the first few days or so. Nevertheless, the fellows at IE and my fellow exchange students have made this experience of mine a brilliant one.

The camaraderie that I have shared with everyone has lifted my spirits and has made me more adventurous. I have tried more food here in Madrid than I would have dared to anywhere else. More than being adventurous, I think a sense of trust has developed with the city and with my fellow classmates. I think trust is the keyword here for me after two months. You visit a new city, a new environment and you try to do it all Wine & Tapas Dinneron your own. It does not quite work that way. One needs to feel the place and trust the place. Developing this trust can be challenging at first. Though, when you have fellows that open up to you from day one and encourage everything there is to experience about Madrid, you come to realize that the people are actually what make your experience in Madrid. Otherwise, your time here just remains a stamp on your passport.”


Stay tuned for more on Swastik’s semester abroad!  To read more exchange program experiences, visit our Semester Abroad blog page.

Information regarding our exchange partners and programs can be found on our website.

10 Must-Do Experiences in Munich

Rebecca Johnson in Munich

This past summer, Rebecca Johnson (USD MBA student) participated in the Munich & Athens study abroad program.  She took advantage of every opportunity to explore the city and experience German culture, and was kind enough to share (in her own words) her list of the top ten things to do while in Munich!

This list will be especially helpful to students interested in traveling to Munich this intersession for the international practicum course!


1.   Visit the Beer Gardens

The Beer Gardens are famous in Bavaria for their fun, easygoing atmosphere. The English Garden (“Englischer Garten”), one of Bavaria’s most popular gardens, is a large public park in Munich. People ride bikes, walk their dogs, lie in the grass, have picnics, swim in the water and drink beer there.

Munich Bike Tour SU15


2.   Do a Bike Tour

On a bike tour, you will experience Munich like a local! Munich is the second most bike-friendly city in Europe (behind Amsterdam). You will learn about the symbolism, customs and traditions while getting some exercise, fresh air and having some fun.



Munich Square SU15


3.   Walk around Marienplatz

This is the center of the city, where many people gather daily to shop, walk around, eat or enjoy the scenery. One of its famous forms of entertainment is the clock in the center of New Town, which has wooden figures that come out 3 times per day.



Munich BMW SU15


4.   Visit the BMW Museum-

This museum gives you the opportunity to see how BMWs are made and what processes are followed to develop a vehicle to prepare it for its intricate inspections before it is released to its new owner. BMW has a long history of developing its quality vehicles. You will learn all about the history and the evolution of their cars.



5.   Take a Tour of Dachau

Dachau is 10 miles Northwest of Munich and was one of the first concentration camps established by the Nazis in Germany. This camp was intended only for political prisoners. A tour of Dachau will give you a close look into the devastating history of concentration camps in Germany under Hitler’s reign.


6.   Tour the Residenz Munchen

The Residenz Munchen is a palace-turned-museum which used to be the Wittelbach residence and was opened to the public in 1920. This visit will give you a glimpse into the lives of former rulers of Bavaria, including apartments, ceremonial rooms and chapels. There are also works of art and sculptures from the 16th through 19th centuries.

Munich Beer Garden


7.   Drink a Beer and Eat a Pretzel at an Augustiner

This is a traditional pass time for locals and tourists alike. Any local Augustiner in Bavaria will have a few varieties of beer, which are commonly paired with a snack, such as pretzels with mustard. There is often live entertainment, such as traditional German music with traditional dancing.



Munich Dress SU15


8.   Wear Lederhosen or a Dirndl

Where else could you get away with wearing leather shorts with suspenders and high socks or a cute girly dress with an apron and braids? This is a fun way to accessorize while enjoying German Culture to the fullest. During Oktoberfest, this dress is commonly worn to celebrate the German way of life. It is especially fun if you plan to do some dancing!


Munich River Surfing SU15


9.   Watch the River Surfers

This is something you might not believe until you see it. River surfing has been an enjoyable activity in Munich for many years. Many famous professional surfers from the U.S. and Australia have visited Munich to experience this unique form of surfing. It is a creative way these athletes are able to experience their sport even far from the ocean’s waves!


Munich Fish SU15


10.   Eat Traditional Bavarian Food

German food is unique and delicious. You must bring an appetite, as this food is not light! Apple strudel, wiener schnitzel (thin, boneless cutlet of veal), spatzel (noodles), wurst (sausage) or bratwurst (fried sausage) are all delicious and should all be sampled while in Munich.




Want to read more student experiences?  Check out our Study Abroad blog page!

Visit our website for information on the upcoming Intersession 2016 Munich Practicum Program.

Two Greek Perspectives on the Financial Crisis

Panagiotis Farmakis and Ioannis Papoutsas are two businessmen and Greek MBA students from ALBA Graduate Business School in Athens, Greece.  This summer, they are taking MBA courses here at USD as part of an exchange program.  The following are their insights, in their own words, into the Greek financial crisis and the important decisions to be made by EU leaders…

Panagiotis Farmakis, Incoming MBA Exchange Student, Summer 2015


Simple “negotiation thoughts” in a Greek’s mind…

There is no doubt that the Greek financial crisis is one of the main topics on worldwide media. Indeed, Greece faces a very difficult situation regarding its debt management.  Since January, the newly elected government of SYRIZA, has been involved in a continuous negotiation process with the aim to bail out the enormous debt and put an end to the tight fiscal policy that has been taking place since 2009. Consequently, Alexis Tsipras (the new elected prime minister of Greece), had only one plan…the one that he PERCEIVED as the only viable plan for the country. However, it takes two to tango…

Unfortunately, a series of wrong decisions, along with bad judgement of the position of the other E.U. partners (about the management of the Greek debt), led the country to the threshold of bankruptcy.  And there are so many critical questions to ask as the Greek situation unfolds…

1. Does Alexis Tsipras have the capacity to bargain hard with the rest of the E.U. partners?

2. Did he frame well enough the position of the other side?

3. Does he have the legitimacy to “steer” the country on the rocks? (Outside the E.U.)

4. Do the other European members have the will to approve a bail-out (and thus haircuts of their money). Even worse, will they approve a new financial program?

Only time (and the results) will give answers…


Ioannis Papoutsas, Incoming MBA Exchange Student, Summer 2015

10259920_10205419694641111_2421736660437801194_nWhat impressed me a lot during my stay in California is that although Greece is located on the other side of the planet, American people are well informed and aware of the financial situation there. In a few discussions I had, almost by chance, compassion and sympathy were present, even concern about what is going wrong in Greece or what is wrong with the Eurozone. To my understanding, the recent crisis in the US economy in 2008 has sensitized the people, and they feel that the Greek crisis is a similar situation or even connected as a consequence of the same crisis. And I fully share this concern.

In my point of view, big private and governmental debts and extreme leveraging of the economy, as characteristic of the western capitalistic system, has overcome the limits. Countries with huge debt become vulnerable against the international markets. In our specific case, Greece is trapped in a vicious cycle, due to the austerity measures applied in the economy. These austerity measures, imposed by the European authorities, drive to strangle the market and consequently result in even lower income for the government and less sustainable debt.

Greece cannot apply monetary policy, as the US did successfully, to get out of the crisis. This is because the Euro is the common currency in different countries with different interests, or even conflict of interests. Therefore, on one hand, measurements that could help Greece are creating problems for Germany and vice versa. On the other hand, Greece must not get out of Eurozone (Grexit) because this would be a catastrophe for the country, leading to uncontrolled default of the country with unknown consequences, even in the global economy.

This means that in parallel with reforming the Greek economy in order to be more competitive (the Greek governments should work more on this), radical solutions should be applied to reduce the Greek debt (haircut) and revamp the market. We must not forget that similar problems are facing the whole South of Europe, even in countries with strong industrial bases. Therefore, a solution is crucial and of utmost importance to all the western society, not only Greece.

Read more on our exchange students and their experiences!

For more information on exchange programs coordinated by the Ahlers Center, visit our semester exchange website.

The Eurozone & the Greek Crisis: Strategies for Global Innovation & Competitiveness

By Philip Sheridan, MBA student

Due to my interest in strategic planning and innovation management, I participated in the 2015 Munich & Athens study abroad program with the intent to study strategies for global innovation, and how the political, legal and ethical climate can impact a country’s corporate and economic development. Despite the improving economic climate for a number of states within the European Union (EU), the tensions created by the current Greek crisis provided a unique (possibly historical) opportunity to learn first-hand how each country’s respective business and economic environment is impacting the health of the EU.

Munich plaza SU15

Plaza in Munich, Germany

The EU consists of 27 member states (countries), of which Germany is considered Europe’s economic engine, with a longstanding record of high employment and productivity. Kicking off our studies, two lecturers (Dr. Richard Hofmaier, University of Applied Sciences Munich; Alexander Lang, Tu Munchen) described how the main driving forces (~99%) behind Germany’s economy are small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs; up to 500 employees), referred to as the ‘German Mittlestand’ or ‘hidden champions’. Roughly 95% of Mittlestand firms are family-owned businesses, of which >54% have launched an innovation onto the market, contributing almost 52% of Germany’s economic output within the EU (~27% of EU GDP). Dr. Hofmaier and Mr. Lang eluted to how most successful German firms (large or small) try to capture the spirit of these ’hidden champions’ to drive innovation, and integrate knowledge of consumer-demands into their innovation management and product development practices and processes.

BMW Manufacturing World Headquarters

BMW Manufacturing World Headquarters

The innovation practices discussed by Hofmaier and Lang provided a great international context for our course studies in global innovation management, particularly as it relates to ideation, opportunity identification, option development, synthesis and analysis. Together with Dr. Zimmermann, we discussed these topics and relevant case studies used by global organizations trying to establish and sustain innovative cultures. These class discussions and experiential exercises provided great exposure to practices and contextual tools that I can leverage in my strategic planning and business development activities.

Our time in Germany culminated with site visits to the BMW Manufacturing World Headquarters, as well as the Strascheg Center for Entrepreneurship (within the University of Applied Sciences). At BMW, we observed how a large enterprise marries customer-focused development with innovative production methods to maintain their competitive edge and increase manufacturing efficiency.

At the Strascheg Center, we learned how the German government invests resources to establish entrepreneurship programs and seed university business incubators. We had the unique experience to hear from two start-up cofounders as to the resources provided by the center to help them develop and deliver their innovative products to the market.


Winning culinary team relaxing after the Athens Sensations Tour

Following our acclimation to Athens through a program sponsored ‘Athens Sensations Tour’, we started our studies in Greece with an orientation by Dean Nickolaos Travlos from the Athens Laboratory of Business Administration (ALBA). Dean Travlos framed out key financial events that led to Greece’s current economic crisis, which today is characterized by excessive debt (debt to GDP >170%), an over-bearing public sector (>50% public companies), non-competitive government policies (low government efficiency, 56/59), and a significant ‘black economy’ (>30%). As a result, the Greek government faces overwhelming pension obligations, extremely high unemployment (>25%; >50% for youths), a deflated private business sector (low business efficiency index, 53/59), and significant lost tax revenues due to the black economy.

Visit to Apivita, a natural cosmetics company

Of particular interest was a presentation by Prof. Babis Mainemelis (ALBA) who emphasized how Greek businesses could leverage their worldly traditions and heritage to spur innovation and differentiate its products on a global business stage. We visited Apivita, a family-owned company that specializes in using natural organic oils, plant extracts and beehive products to formulate holistic cosmetics. We toured their production facility and botanical gardens, including a hands-on experience as to the beekeeping practices used to maintain their hives for generation and collection of natural product ingredients. We also toured the Papagiannakos Winery and enjoyed a history lecture on wine in Greece by food consultant and sommelier Chrissa Giatra. It was interesting to hear how these two family businesses were leveraging their unique success in Greece to expand within the European market.

Athens ruins flag

Ancient ruins in Athens, Greece

It will be interesting to follow future economic developments within the EU. Will there be a Grexit (Greek exit from the EU)? Could this lead to a contagion where other countries (Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy) also exit rather than continue to institute painful austerity measures (such as labor and market reforms). And what global impact could such developments have on international markets and economies?

While we wait to see what the future holds for Greece and the EU, I can say that the immersive nature of the Munich & Athens program provided direct exposure to these contrasting business environments, and cultures as a whole. The team–based course content and exercises fostered collaboration between individuals from various university programs, and together with lectures by international faculty and company site visits, delivered a unique and exceptional professional learning opportunity every student should have the good fortune to experience. Lastly, it was extremely stimulating to learn about these historical cities and their overall place in the world, from an economic as well as cultural perspective. Most important, it was great fun to meet new people, expand my professional network, and establish new friendships.


Read these other blog posts detailing student experiences in Munich & Athens:

Experience Munich and Athens Through the Eyes of a Student

Summer Sojourn to Europe: An Academic Fortnight in Munich & Athens

What Students are Saying About Munich & Athens


Check back soon for more student experiences abroad!  

For more information on Ahlers Center opportunities, visit our study abroad webpage.

How Making a Positive Difference in Society Can Grow a Business and a Big Brand Like McDonald’s

One of the world’s most recognizable brands, McDonald’s is not just a multinational corporation: it’s an eleven-figure global entity with over 34,500 restaurants worldwide in 120 countries. Bob Langert, retired Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability at McDonald’s, spent 32 years within this brand and has learned just what sustainability means in the face of such a global colossus like McDonald’s. On April 9, 2015 Mr. Langert presented on the challenges, opportunities, and risks inherent in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability, including providing insight into how large corporations can form partnerships with non-governmental organization (NGO) activists to make progress in its sustainability.


This journey began with McDonald’s trying to figure out to to have a “sustainable” hamburger, a feat not easily achieved as McDonald’s had no prior experience in such a venture and is highly decentralized with over 80% of its restaurants being franchised. “We were willing to take a chance at figuring out how we can make a difference with beef and how we can be influential towards changing the industry to be more sustainable,” said Langert. However, this was a necessary step for McDonald’s as the sheer size of its operations — with 1.8 million employees serving over 70 million people around the world every day — affects so much of the world’s population on a daily basis that it warrants real corporate social responsibility.

Langert’s experience at McDonald’s with sustainability started in 1990 with a much-criticized collaboration between the premier environmental entity of the time, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and McDonald’s (which was going through its own PR setbacks) to phase out the company’s use of polystyrene Styrofoam hamburger containers; McDonald’s saw a cost-free packaging waste reduction of 70-90% and 30% reductions in its restaurants. Moreover, the initiative led to the recycling of over 100 million tons of corrugated boxes. Langert reflected, “More than anything, I learned a lesson that applied to everything I’ve done since then. You can come up with practical solutions, that are economical for the business, on tough societal issues if you: get smart people together, work with a partner [like the EDF], work with a company that wants to do something, work with your suppliers, you base your work on science (which is not easy to do), and you allow yourself time.” Since 1990, McDonald’s has embarked on 30 more sustainability partnerships.

Besides reducing packing waste, McDonald’s has, in conjunction with animal welfare specialist Dr. Temple Grandin, pioneered the globalized transformation of animal welfare into animal agriculture. “Most businesses don’t have a supply chain structure like McDonald’s… We’re very long-term with our suppliers. A lot of our competitors are day-to-day and they price shop, but we pick suppliers out for the long-term… Our culture is one of relationships, trust, and openness,” said Langert. He approached McDonald’s’ suppliers in 1997 about mutually agreeing on an animal welfare program, and because of the relationship McDonald’s has with its suppliers, they agreed and the animal welfare program was established. Through it, McDonald’s helped implement solutions to such issues as electrical cattle prodding, which McDonald’s did away with, and now cattle are guided by strategically-directed gates and flags.

In addition to animal welfare, criticisms by the NGO Greenpeace of McDonald’s’ European branches (specifically British) using soya in their suppliers’ chicken feed that is cultivated in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Langert did research into this environmental issue and turned to such organizations as the World Wildlife Fund for information.  He came to the conclusion that although their placing the blame solely on McDonald’s was disproportionate, their accusations were true. Langert worked with Greenpeace on getting to the root of the problem: getting those who are involved in the soy production and sales to agree with them and collectively work together on finding a solution. Within three months, they were able to successfully announce in 2006 that Brazil’s soy traders, Greenpeace, and retailers that there would be a moratorium on any further soy farming that would harm the Amazon; this agreement has been renewed every year since with increased tracking to make sure it is being enforced.


A few years ago, the new McDonald’s CEO saw the work Langert and his department were doing and was equally as enthusiastic, but saw that it was unorganized and unclear to those both inside and outside the company. He therefore saw the need for McDonald’s to place CSR and sustainability more prominently and strategically within McDonald’s management. They then created the CSR and Sustainability framework which has the goal of “Growing our Business by Making a Positive Difference in Society.” The five pillars of this framework are: Food, Sourcing, People, Community, and Planet. This framework effectively finds the “middle ground” between business values and social values to created a shared value model that is used by McDonald’s.

Looking towards the future, McDonald’s, like other successful MNCs, has created a set of sustainability goals. For 2020 McDonald’s’ goals are: set global criteria for sustainable beef production and begin purchasing verified sustainable beef; verify 100% of its coffee, palm oil and fish as being sustainably produced; and creating fiber-based packaging made from 100% certified or recycled sources.

If you missed this exciting International Speaker Series presentation or would like to to watch it again click here.  All International Speaker Series videos are available in our video gallery.

Patagonia: Why Business is Good for the Planet

What began as founder Yvon Chouinard’s desire to create stronger and more durable gear for his own recreational hiking in 1957 in Southern California has now morphed into a multimillion-dollar global corporation that is actively involved in environmental conservation and protection efforts while still being able to admit to past corporate environmental downfalls.

Rachel Cantu, Vice President of Global Supply Chain for Patagonia, spoke on March 26, 2015 on “Why Business is Good for the Planet.” She began by discussing Patagonia’s products, which are available on almost every continent. The company creates clothing and equipment for everything from climbing to surfing to skiing, as well as clothing for everyday casual wear. On creating a great quality product for their customers, Cantu says, “It will continue to be job #1 at Patagonia. It’s not the best product at a price point, it’s not the best product in its class: it’s the best product for what it’s intended to be used for, and that’s core to what we do everyday.” Their clothing contributes to their environmental goals: one of their best-selling pullovers is largely made from recycled polyester while still performing its function of keeping people warm and protected from the elements, and their best-selling Wayfarer board shorts were one of the first ever created from recycled nylon. In additional recycling steps, the company accepts used Patagonia products from customers, which are then categorized and then sorted to be either re-purposed or recycled; this saves products from going to landfills that greatly harm the environment. They also invest in innovations and research for new recycled fabrics that they use as much of as possible in their clothing to maintain its performance ability.

Patagonia region in Argentina, where much of wool used in base layer products is produced. (photo courtesy of

Patagonia region in Argentina, where much of wool used in base layer products is produced (photo courtesy of

In addition, the company works to not only eliminate unnecessary environmental harm from their production but also to eliminate all unnecessary social harm to their workers, including ensuring that all of their employees are paid fair wages and are working in comfortable and safe conditions. In 1988 Patagonia faced a moral dilemma when unknown chemicals in some of the Patagonia cotton apparel caused various minor health problems in its employees in a Boston store. After doing a study that led to the discovery that formaldehyde (commonly used to keep cotton from wrinkling) off-gassing and pesticide use in some of the cotton apparel was what caused the symptoms, the company began the transition to using organic cotton; in 1996, Patagonia finished the transition and has only uses organic cotton in its cotton products ever since. “We decided to take back responsibility for understanding what was going on throughout our supply chain that we had delegated to other people at that point and time, and we made a commitment to know what was going on in our supply chain,” Cantu said. Patagonia uses a four-fold approach in its supply chain management: business capabilities, quality, environment, and social.

Photo courtesy of

Patagonia factory (photo courtesy of

Another management aspect of the company is a commitment to transparency: on their online store, each of their products’ pages includes information about that product, including the factory it was made in, the mill that made its fabric, the organic cotton farms, etc. As of 2004, their down fabric is also 100% traceable and certified, meaning that none of their down comes from geese that are live-plucked and/or forced fed. Their wool is not left out of their efforts: through a conservancy organization, they have a partnership with sheep ranchers in the Patagonia region in Argentina that helps them restore and heal their grasslands, producing a high-quality wool that is used in many of the company’s base-layer products.

Besides using recycled and organic fabrics, Patagonia’s main form of being environmentally conscious is building their products to be extremely long-lasting. Cantu comments, “One of the most important things that we can do as a company is to make high-quality product that lasts years and years and can be repaired so that you don’t have to buy as much of it. That is probably the single-most important factor in environmental impact and foot printing for a product: its overall lifetime durability.”

Photo courtesy of

Reclaimed wool to be used in Patagonia products (photo courtesy of

Outside of their products, Patagonia is committed to investing in grassroots environmental efforts that disrupt current harmful social and business norms in diverse types of sectors ranging from unnecessary dams to unnaturally-produced foods. Add in a venture capital fund focused on investing in environmentally like-minded companies, formal certifications binding the company to these values, and a formal alliance with various other outdoor apparel companies, and Patagonia has consistently worked to not only pursue environmental efforts but to spread that mindset around the world.

Patagonia’s mission statement is: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Cantu’s presentation of Patagonia shows that the company has used its mistakes and struggles as learning experiences, and it has continually worked to improve their environmental efforts, minimize future mistakes, and help other businesses to do the same.

If you missed this exciting International Speakers Series presentation or would like to to watch it again click here.