Spring 2010 | By Suzanne Yonker
On February 27, 2010, the Chilean countryside ruptured in an 8.8-magnitude earthquake, dropping buildings and killing 400 people. While the ground in Chile soon stilled, the economic aftershocks were quickly felt as far away as Cloquet, Minn., where Robert Fulghum, Bethel MBA learner, works as a maintenance manager at Sappi Fine Paper.
“Our pulp and paper mills compete head-tohead with mills in every part of the world,” he explains. “The earthquake damaged the Chilean infrastructure, including three pulp mills, which has contributed to a shortage of pulp on the world market. This has significantly increased the price of pulp creating a challenge for paper manufacturers around the world.”
How seismic activity in Chile has affected the paper industry trans-globally is just one example of the world economy’s interrelatedness. Learning the intricacies of this complex system has profound implications for business students today. Bethel is helping unravel the issues of globalization to help business women and men succeed and respond effectively to global aftershocks.
For undergraduates in the College of Arts & Sciences (CAS), the business major continues to be the most popular with nearly 500 students during spring semester 2010. In the College of Adult & Professional Studies (CAPS), 157 adults are business management learners, and 235 are currently enrolled in the MBA program in the Graduate School (GS).
At every level, instructors strive to keep these students informed about the most current global issues. In CAS, students taking courses such as International Business, Global Marketing, and International Trade and Finance become more culturally aware and learn about the global economy, gaining a solid foundation on issues they’ll face in the working world.
And the MBA program has increased the global content of its courses every year since it began in 2005, says Duke Fuehrer, MBA program co-director. “Our instructors with past international assignments are continually adding global business practices content,” he says.
Fulghum, who decided to go back to school to increase his business skills, is reaping the benefits of this. Halfway through his MBA program, he’s become more familiar with concepts that apply both in Cloquet and abroad. “The core principles taught at Bethel are applicable across borders and around the world,” he says.
Globalization particularly affects the financial arena, says Harold Wiens, Bethel trustee and former executive vice president of industrial markets for 3M Company. “All of us depend greatly upon the degree to which countries manage common interests to maintain our stable lifestyle,” he says. The strength of the Chinese yuan versus the dollar, for example, directly influences job gains or losses in the United States.
The explosion of technology, especially wireless communication systems and access to the internet, is another factor that has forever changed how business is conducted around the world, says Chuck Hannema, chair of the Department of Business and Economics (CAS). He would know; he’s been teaching at Bethel since 2002. “The flow of capital happens instantaneously in today’s market,” he explains. “This makes markets more efficient but also accelerates panic because of the instantaneous flow of information.” Hannema has seen an increasing need to address these issues in his classes.
One key to conducting business globally is cultural competence—becoming aware of one’s own attitudes toward other cultures and building skills in working with other peoples. “The workplace is becoming increasingly diverse, and global engagement is imperative,” explains Leon Rodrigues, Bethel’s chief diversity officer. “It is no longer possible to be a competent leader without cultural competence.”
This means learning about specific cultural mores and practices and getting to know individuals. Holding the same values isn’t necessary, but respecting different values is. “Respect the culture, even if you don’t embrace it: you can be in the culture but not of it,” says Tom Judson, program director for the CAPS Business Management program and MBA co-director. In strengthening their cultural competence, Bethel business women and men learn to behave appropriately in certain environments and avoid cultural taboos.
“Today’s leaders must have extensive knowledge of different population needs, worldviews, and conflict,” says Rodrigues. “When managers practice culturally competent leadership, they will ensure much more responsive work environments and improved human relations. This increases productivity and enhances worker and customer satisfaction. We must be proactive rather than reactive.”
For Bethel, part of being proactive means holding reconciliation—the honoring of everyone’s worth and dignity— as a core value.
Anthony Pekarek, who graduated from Bethel in 2009 with a bachelor of arts in business, now works as a human resources professional at Cargill in Texas. He’s brought the reconciling skills he learned at Bethel into his workplace. “If you are in business, it is imperative not to allow one’s self to be ignorant to diversity,” he says. “Bethel allows its students to develop as leaders with integrity.”
Knowing a second language is another critical skill for global business success.
“Communication is key,” says Carol Chang, associate dean of international students and programming. “In the next 10 years, if you want to do business in China, you will need to learn Mandarin, China’s national language. Bethel will equip students better if we teach them the language.”
And Bethel is. Starting in fall of 2004, Bethel began offering Introductory Chinese (Mandarin) along with five other modern world languages. Bethel also offers a spring semester in Guatemala, where students in any major can improve their Spanish language skills and become familiar with the culture. Students work with a tutor, studying Spanish for Business I and II or other Spanish language courses. Throughout the semester, participants serve in a community-based ministry in Antigua and nearby villages, integrating learning experiences with formal study.
Business people also need to know the “language” of industry jargon. “Both the national language and industry jargon are important,” Judson relates. “If you are doing business in the textile industry, you need to have the common language of those in that industry.”
Many faculty members in the adult undergraduate business program work in international business corporations and speak the common language of their trades while offering real-life experiences to the classroom and teaching principles that students can immediately apply to their own work situations. “Our instructors are able to bring relevant variables to life because they have experienced it,” Judson says.
While course work incorporating both cultural competence and language skills helps develop a framework for understanding the intricacies of global economics, traveling internationally has become an increasingly important—and popular—way for Bethel to offer hands-on experience to business students.
Some trips require students to prepare for their overseas travel by learning about the country they will visit—its culture, history, politics, and level of technology. The 19 MBA learners who traveled to Hong Kong in 2008 for the Leading in a Global Environment: International Travel course attended lectures and completed reading assignments to better understand Chinese culture before traveling.
Undergraduate business students have several opportunities for international travel. In fall 2009, Tom Johnson, businessand economics professor (CAS), took 26 students to Europe for a semester. Among other locales, they studied at the German Goethe Institute, a famous language-learning institution. The group also spent a week in France in the homes of families connected to a private business school in Brittany. In all, the group visited 15 businesses across Europe, including Skoda Automobile in the Czech Republic and Deloitte Touche in London, where they went on a tour hosted by Susan Johnson Corcoran ’04. She is now a manager in the company’s Global IFRS & Offering Services area, employing the very skills she learned as a Bethel business major. January interim trips are also offered. In January 2010, a group of 29 students spent 22 days traveling in Amsterdam, London, France, Germany, Austria, and Italy, visiting BMW, Cargill, and other international corporations.
Europe provides a unique opportunity to see many diverse cultures in a small geographical area, explains Bethany Opsata, business and economics professor (CAS) who helps chaperone interim trips to Europe. It can also be an eye-opening first step in understanding foreign travel for those used to a more homogeneous culture.
“What is revealing for students is how businesses operate under different standards,” Opsata says. “They begin to realize a wider perspective on what to value in business operations, viewing business from a faith lens and not only a business lens.”
While traveling in India for the course Globalization in India in January 2009, Pekarek felt his ability to embrace diversity increase, a life-long change that still affects his work. “Traveling to India impacted not only the skills I need in approaching different cultures, but it also gave me the ability to merge business and social levels of differing lifestyles,” he explains. “It made me somewhat more marketable to the companies to which I applied upon graduation.”
While understanding business and economies on a comprehensive scale is important, ultimately businesses are managed by women and men. Deals are made or broken based partly on the quality of interpersonal relationships.
“Handling more relationships on individual and regional bases is key,” says Wiens.
In China, successful business is conducted because of “guanxi”—interpersonal relationships, or connection. “Chinese cultures emphasize harmony,” Chang explains. “People in business and in life can connect when they have a relationship.”
And this belief is incorporated into the mission of the Department of Business & Economics: to increase the well-being of humankind by serving, by being creatively involved with God and His creation, and by pursuing the principles of love and justice in a diverse and complex world.