Once upon a time, American business school graduates could expect to spend their careers speaking one language, trading in one currency and keeping office hours in a single time zone. Business professionals could retire with nary a stamp in their passport. That is now a fairy tale.
The globalized 21st century marketplace demands graduates who travel extensively, operate efficiently in different cultures, legal codes and languages, and are able to identify commercial opportunities across a constantly evolving international landscape. Sound overwhelming?
“Welcome to the real world,” says Ali Malekzadeh, dean of the Williams College of Business. “The students of today cannot have a superb career if they are isolated from the rest of the world. In fact, I’ll go further. Our graduates will have a hard time finding positions in Cincinnati if they do not have a good dose of international business knowledge and experience.”
Malekzadeh has worked to internationalize the college during his six-year tenure as dean. He started by adding diversity to the faculty, of which 20-25 percent is now foreign-born. “They’re from all over the world,” says Malekzadeh, himself a native of Iran.
The college has also expanded its study-abroad programs. Since the early 1990s, undergraduates have participated in a summer exchange program with the University of Maastricht in The Netherlands. More recently, undergraduates have studied in London, but now options are growing to include France, Spain, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and South Korea.
International programs for graduate students are expanding, too. Three years ago, MBA students had only two overseas learning options during spring break—to China or Latin America. Now students may also choose among trips to Korea and Japan, the Middle East, the United Kingdom and Spain. “The more we open up these trips, the more students sign up,” Malekzadeh says.
These firsthand international experiences are imperative to a global business education, says Jamal Rashed, director of the new Center for International Business. “If you don’t have a swimming pool to dip into,” Rashed says, “teaching an individual to swim is going to be extremely difficult.”
During spring break for the last two years, Rashed has led a group of MBA students on a 12-day tour of Egypt and his native Jordan. Call it a swimming lesson. The group visited companies and banks in both countries. Last year, students met with a former prime minister of Jordan, and were briefed on regional business opportunities by a U.S. embassy diplomat in Amman. In Cairo, where students discovered tubes of Crest toothpaste lining shop shelves, the group visited Procter & Gamble’s offices.
Mary Bidwell, a branch manager at Fifth Third Bank, was among the MBA students that accompanied Rashed to the Middle East in 2008. Bidwell considers it a memorable learning experience that taught her how business is conducted in that part of the world—with an emphasis on personal relationships, she says, and over many cups of coffee and tea. Bidwell says the trip broke down any stereotypes the group may have held about the Arab world.
“These are modern countries,” she says, “and they have economies that are booming.”
Bidwell still keeps in touch with people she met on that trip and is confident that the international exposure has given her a competitive edge. “If it’s between me and someone else with comparable experience,” she says, “it’s kind of a one-up. It’s definitely something on my resume.”
Rashed says the new emphasis on international business is helped by Xavier’s liberal arts emphasis, which gives them plenty of exposure to world religions, languages and history. “At Xavier, we have the right soil for growth, but we have not capitalized on that soil.”
Both Rashed and Malekzadeh agree that there is more work to be done in internationalizing the Williams College of Business. Business schools across the nation have long realized that they need to equip their students to be transnational professionals. So how does Xavier stack up? “Not where I want it to be,” says Malekzadeh. “But we’re making good progress. From one to 10, we’re probably a five now. I’d like us to be a nine or a 10 in the next five years.”