Cohort 6 students reach new heights in Dubai

A group of 20 Stetson University MBA students took an uncommonly long commute in July 2009 to learn about business practices taking place east of their Central Florida classrooms — almost 7,800 miles east, in the constitutional monarchy of Dubai.

“The Dubai experience has gone beyond everyone’s expectations,” Dr. Stuart Michelson said in an email from the Persian Gulf state just before the field study trip ended. He is director of the Executive MBA Program and is Roland and Sarah George Chair of Finance.

“Nakheel was unbelievable. It set the bar,” said MBA student Mark Snider of Ocoee after a discussion with Nakheel Development leaders and a tour of the company’s $3 billion Palm Jumeirah, a 25-square kilometer island created in the shape of a palm tree, a “trunk” and 17 “fronds” of world-class luxury high-rise hotels, shopping destinations and thousands of residences. But the bar may have been passed later that day with a tour of Jumeirah’s Burj Al Arab Hotel, the second-largest hotel in the world. The group met with the hotel’s executive committee for a question and answer session and then toured the palatial presidential suite of the hotel, which soars more than 1,000 feet from an artificial island on the coast.

“This was the ultimate experience,” said student Andre Hale of Orlando. “This was exactly what we hoped for; meeting the top management team and the executive board.”

The EMBA students visited and met with leaders of financial institutions and industries such as medicine, hospitality, marketing and finance that operate in the multicultural and multilingual United Arab Emirates state where the largest contributors to the economy are real estate, tourism, construction, trade and financial services. This is the farthest any EMBA International Field Study group has traveled in the program’s history.

“We’ve met top executives with some of the largest firms in the world,” said Michelson. “We’ve toured their facilities and experienced how Dubai has addressed hospitality management issues, and how Emirate companies deal with huge construction projects with very short timelines on a grand scale. Even with distinct cultural and religious differences, the people of UAE have worked together to create a huge metropolitan city in a little over 10 years.”

Michelson and EMBA coordinator Wendy Lowe accompanied the students. In former years, EMBA students studied commerce in Ireland, Austria and the Czech Republic. This Middle Eastern academic experience broadened students’ views of how a diverse people with unique challenges can be successful by thinking creatively and developing new ways of doing business, said Michelson.

Self-discipline pays off for Cohort 6

EMBA’s Cohort 6 -- Back row: Anne Hamilton, Brian Sward, PJ Baro, Andre Hale, Shawn Byrd and Eileen Bowe. Middle row: Abdullah Qasim, Kelly Long, Damaris Jimenez, Mark Snider, Carlos Escobar, Doug Steele, Derrick Guss and Melissa Emley. Front: Bryan Tabler, Deborah Gustafson, Jennifer Small, Melania Lavezzi, Shibani Kyani and Melissa Holycross.

Consider this business proposal: Build a luxury hotel resort condominium on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast that will have rapid initial sales and maintain high occupancy rates. Call it the Tropical Sands. Give it 84 two-bedroom units with many amenities, including balconies with views of both ocean and jungle. Build it in the country’s hottest destination, easily accessible and environmentally rich.

Or what about selling cars online, or operating an adult daycare center or selling wine or developing and selling smart phone apps?

They are all entrepreneurial ideas of students in Stetson University’s Executive MBA Cohort 6, who graduated from Stetson University in May 2010. The detailed business plans, some of which may become reality, are a critical exercise that comes at the end of 19 months of rigorous study.

Awards, surprises, friends and good food made a festive finish for a cohort that went a long way together — all the way, in fact, to the constitutional monarchy of Dubai on the Persian Gulf, 3,700 miles east of the cohort’s classroom, for the international field study element of the group’s studies. In Dubai, students met leading financiers and managers of businesses with a global reach. They also walked the sands of the Arabian Desert and met a few camels.

Students voted lecturer Peggy Stahl of the Management and International Business Department as their “Distinguished Professor.” Jennifer Small was voted “Top Student Overall.” The award for best business plan, decided by Drs. Monique Forte, Ted Surynt and Stuart Michelson, dean of the School of Business Administration, was Tropical Sands, developed by Anne Hamilton, Melania Lavezzi, Abdullah Oasim and Doug Steele.

Among other accomplishments, Cohort 6 left its mark on Stetson by developing a Code of Ethics for future cohorts.

The EMBA program is designed for students with years of real world experience. Cohort 6 is a combination of regional residents, employees of Celebration area businesses, and some who traveled more than two hours to attend class every Friday and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

But that wasn’t the hardest part, said PJ Baro. “Making the decision to obtain a graduate level degree was the most difficult part,” Baro said. After that was merely a matter of “great discipline and focus to balance family, work and school responsibilities.” The reward, he said, has been meaningful relationships, a wide professional network, advanced business knowledge and acumen that will “make a lifelong impact.”

Baro was one of six Cohort 6 members tapped to join the honorary society Beta Gamma Sigma. The others are Eileen Bowe, Melissa Emley, Jennifer Small, Doug Steele and Brian Sward.