As part of the Denver MBA program, students have the opportunity to travel internationally for the Global Challenge, tackling a cross-cultural business issue alongside participating corporate partners. This year, teams of students traveled to Japan, India, Poland and South Korea to gain on-the-ground research for their projects and glean essential insights about local business markets. To get an idea of what the students experienced abroad, we sat down with the team that traveled to India. Here’s what they had to say:
Tell us a bit about the challenge. What company did you work with and what was the goal?
Our team of five (Madeline Brooks, Harlan Chumley, Erin Everett, Brent Troxell and Teddy White) traveled to India with Doug Allen, associate professor of management. Our corporate partner was Bona, a Swedish-based wood flooring chemical company that was looking to expand sales in India. Our team selected India knowing that all interpretations of the moniker “Global Challenge” would be invoked during this trip. But what made it appealing was what India offered. We had the opportunity to experience both the business and personal sides of:
- The largest democracy in the world
- The second-largest country by population in the world
- The sixth-largest economy (and poised to become the third-largest within years) in the world
- The most polluted country in the world
- Rapidly-changing demographics: high upward mobility into the middle class, one of the youngest large countries, expanding and leapfrogging technology access
Where did you travel and what was the highlight of the Global Challenge?
The team left a Thanksgiving week snowstorm in Denver to land in the tropical heat of Mumbai, where we spent the first week. With flights landing throughout the night, we scheduled one day to adjust and prepare ourselves for the full schedule ahead.
Throughout our two weeks in the country, we spent most of our days talking to relevant industry contacts and exploring the retail options in each city. During the first week, we were able to spend significant time with our primary Bona contact and Bona’s Indian distributor, who both flew in to meet us for the week.
To end the week in Mumbai, we held a focus group of local Mumbaikars that was facilitated through a business partner of a personal connection. This was a unique experience and we were able to put into practice the marketing interview skills we learned during the Denver MBA’s Enterprise Challenge.
Over the weekend, we flew to New Delhi, where the air pollution was as bad as advertised, reaching levels considered off the charts on our last day. Being the capital city of India, we found ourselves much more aware of, and immersed in, the social, economic and political events of the country. Experiencing all of this, while continuing our research by talking with both business owners and students from two universities provided context and perspective for our project as well as illuminating some juxtapositions that are uniquely Indian.
What was one big learning moment for you?
Some of our most interesting experiences came through connections of Dean Vivek Choudhury and professors at Daniels. We were able to speak to the president of Jio, which has become the country’s largest telecom provider over the last three years. For this, we ventured to the suburb of Navi Mumbai, where we entered the highly secured campus of Reliance, Jio’s parent company. We passed autonomous campus transport vehicles as we arrived at Jio’s building before being ushered by golf cart to the Experience Center, where we learned how Jio is actively working to transform multiple verticals by connecting the country, delivering content and gaining the trust to win online commerce.
Anything else you’d like to share?
One of the cultural highlights of the trip was a day visit to the Taj Majal in Agra. It was remarkable to see the structure in person that is so often seen in photographs. The intricacy of the stonework and the engineering feats in construction are astounding today, let alone for a 400-year-old monument. Throughout the trip we also spent time in the Chor Bazaar (Mumbai’s “Thieves’ Market”) and Old Delhi, which were culturally fascinating.
While the Taj was an expected cultural highlight of the trip, other cultural collisions were much less anticipated, but all were equally enjoyed. An example of this was our university visits. We were treated like dignitaries, and it was apparent to us that American higher education is clearly admired. It was interesting to see the distinct hierarchy in place from the students up to the Chancellor. As laid-back Coloradans, it made us a little uncomfortable to have students standing up for us.
The influences of British colonialism can still be felt in many aspects of the daily hustle and bustle of both of the India megacities we visited. At nearly every meeting, even a pop-in to a home improvement showroom, we were offered tea. We also tried to eat as much Indian food as possible and ended up at four of the top 15 restaurants in the country throughout our visit. Our stomachs went through varying levels of adjustment but we found a way to push through.
We talked daily about how our experience exceeded expectations, in terms of what we were able to accomplish during the trip and in how the experience challenged our business and personal global perspectives. Thanks to Daniels for incorporating this unique experience into our MBA program. Thanks to Professor Doug Allen for his support, guidance and education throughout the trip. Special shoutouts to our local guides Santosh and Aanurag. Without them we would still be lost or stuck in traffic in Mumbai!