The Rotman Review: How trade missions teach MBAs to think internationally


Dubai International Financial Center

Embarking on an international experience can be one of the most exciting aspects of an MBA program. By going abroad, you not only gain a new perspective, but also an opportunity to venture outside of your comfort zone by exploring a new country.

Bernardo Blum

At Rotman, students can participate in exchange programs with business schools around the world. Here they will tackle overseas business issues through global consulting projects or learn export strategy through trade missions.

FROM ROTMAN TO DUBAI

In an elective course called “Independent Study Project: Global Affairs Canada” led by Professors Walid Hejazi and Bernardo Blum, students have the opportunity to learn about export strategy through workshops organized by the Toronto Board of Trade. Then, through partnerships with Canadian companies that are expanding into international markets, students help develop strategies for those companies to be competitive abroad.

Walid Hejazi

This year, the objective of this course was to bring the team to the universal exhibition organized in Dubai. In order to better prepare companies and students to perform in the UAE market, the Toronto Board of Trade brought foreign affairs officials to Dubai to give a briefing on the culture and expectations of businesses in this region. This included valuable points on areas such as proper dress and etiquette to aid in the mission. Another series of workshops was held with trade experts to provide the team with an overview of the market.

I was part of a team with MBA peers Kevin Thom and Sophia Lin. Ultimately, we partnered with John Gaya, President of Nature’s Mix, a Canadian company providing fresh granola products to customers in North America. Nature’s Mix had been successfully developing for several years and planned to enter the UAE market.

A COMPLEX STRATEGY

Sophie Lin

As MBA students, our job was to identify overseas opportunities and provide recommendations on how Nature’s Mix should navigate this new market. One element that I found really unique was the strong preference for sweets by UAE consumers. However, these preferences can lead to health problems, prompting authorities in the United Arab Emirates to add taxes on products like sugary drinks. After touring the Nature’s Mix factory and tasting their granola, we found that the Nature’s Mix products would fit perfectly as the granola was both delicious and healthy. This could really appeal to the UAE market.

Another selling point of Nature’s Mix products is that there are no added preservatives, salt or sugar. This was useful in supporting the message on providing healthy yet tasty snacks to consumers in the UAE. The rest of the work was to identify messaging strategies and platforms that would best raise awareness of the health benefits of granola, especially when used as a substitute for other sugary foods.

I was also impressed when I saw that Nature’s Mix went above and beyond to satisfy consumer preferences. One of their new flavors was the “Date Square Granola”. Dates are a staple in the UAE and Nature’s Mix moved quickly to leverage its flexibility in creating new flavors as an internal strength to support its overseas mission.

A display of Nature’s Mix granola products

WHY MISSIONS ARE IMPORTANT

Like many international activities planned during COVID-19, travel can never be guaranteed. With the rise of the omicron strain, the in-person stream has unfortunately been cancelled. Nonetheless, the project continued with the team finalizing recommendations to best prepare the company for ongoing and future export efforts in the UAE market.

For students interested in international trade, trade missions provide an opportunity to receive training in export strategy and immediately put it into practice in a practical setting. Through corporate partnerships, the stakes rise when MBA students engage in the project as if it were an internship.

For future leaders of multinational companies, an international perspective will be essential to success. Opportunities such as trade missions provide MBA students with an introduction to the future ambitions of global management. As students make decisions about which electives to take and how best to get the most out of their degree, be sure to keep an eye out for these unique opportunities abroad.

Dr. Peter Zhang, PharmD is a hospital pharmacist and MBA candidate at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Through the unique combined Doctor of Pharmacy/MBA program, he explored the intersection between life sciences and business strategy. In addition, he has published research in peer-reviewed academic journals and opined in national media in Canada.

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