Appreciating the new core 8,000 miles away

April 15, 2007

For the international experience in January (part of the new curriculum), I went to South Africa and Tanzania with 35 of my classmates, Professor Jim Baron, and Dean Podolny. It was one of the most rewarding trips I have taken, and the fact that we escaped the arctic weather in New England was an added bonus. During our time in Johannesburg and Dar es Salaam, we met with CEOs, nonprofit leaders, entrepreneurs, and government officials. Many spoke about the challenges they face in building sustainable organizations. In the U.S., it is easy to take for granted the foundations of a fertile business environment: political stability, a skilled workforce, and paved highways, to name a few. Learning about the intractable problems these countries face (e.g., the AIDS crisis, rampant unemployment) underscored the danger of applying familiar business tools and frameworks in unfamiliar places. The conversations we had with business leaders were also a validation of SOM’s new core curriculum. All of the people we met with spoke about their work in an integrated and holistic fashion and spoke of challenges that span functional areas and modes of inquiry. An example: when we met with executives at SAB Miller, the second largest brewer in the world, they described the challenges that shape the company’s acquisition strategy, interweaving themes from SOM’s new courses. Issues included grasping the cultural context of a target firm (State and Society), maintaining brand loyalty across a growing product line (Customer), achieving scale economies through consolidation (Competitor), sharing process improvements across acquisitions (Operations Engine), and easing the demands placed on country-hopping managers (Employee). This comprehensive perspective was present at Citigroup, at Sasol, at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, at the Tanzania Investment Center – indeed, at each organization we visited. The trip confirmed that SOM was giving management education a much-needed facelift, and I left Africa with a better grasp of what was unfolding in New Haven.

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Jonathan Gruber