Stetson’s Cohort 9 visits Budapest, Istanbul

Published in Celebration News

Stetson University Executive MBA students floated between two continents as they sailed down the Bosphorus Strait between the European and Asian side of Istanbul. Astonishing views of architectural jewels like the Dolmabahce Palace, the Ortakoy Mosque and Bosphorus Bridge were glowing in the distance. Twenty-five students embarked on the trip of a lifetime as they experienced global business practices and explored the historical and cultural influences of the Middle East and European region over the course of nine days. We had a similar delight in Budapest when we sailed down the Danube River with views of Parliament, Chain Bridge and the impressive Vajdahunyuad Castle. Each year the Executive MBA program, as part of its coursework, travels to a different destination to engage with entrepreneurial and well-established companies in marketing, finance, hospitality, operations and manufacturing. Immersion in these destinations increases the students’ understanding of international business and its application to their own corporate careers.

General Electric Co., Divan Hotel Group, Budapest Bank and Koc Holdings, all profitable and expanding in this region, shared their unique goals for Istanbul, their strategic ties as business partners, and the economic opportunity with tourism growth, leveraging best practices, expanded marketing efforts, or as a “safe haven” for those wishing to escape volatile zones.

Students were provided a bird’s-eye view of lean and “just in time” manufacturing processes at both Mercedes-Benz Turk and Nokia. Just fascinating to witness a motor coach and a cell phone being assembled from parts in a very methodical manner.

Pozitron (mobile applications) and IND Group (internet banking), entrepreneurial companies, were similarly initiated by their founders during their late college days and feature a very young staff with an average age younger than 30. Both started with family financing, and now fewer than 12 years later generate huge revenue growth and sales. Pozitron reports 80% growth each year, and IND Group has revenues that top $12 million Euros with more than 220 employees in 15 countries.

The business visits were incredible, but even more significant was the appreciation we discovered for their traditions and culture by exploring the various mosques, castles, governmental buildings, and cathedrals. As we walked the pedestrian streets each night, the breathtaking architecture, community spirit and importance of maintaining traditions are evident.

To culminate our International experience, the executive students wanted to “give back.” We partnered with a local university and adult volunteers from Hakosz and treated more than 20 children in “state care” to a morning at the Budapest Safari Park. In six teams, we escorted these children, ages 4 to 12, through the various animal exhibits while playing interactive games which involved the executive students learning basic Hungarian words and the children learning some English words (by jones). The adult volunteers served as translators.

“Despite the language barriers, the walls came down with smiles, sharing of local snacks and with the help of the volunteers,” said Wendy Lowe, assistant director of the Executive MBA program. “Stetson students felt proud to be able to give these children a field trip away from their everyday surroundings and into a natural habitat where we could join in their excitement. During our three hours together, we shared more than just fun and games; we truly made a significant impact on one another’s lives! The children helped our students realize that the motto “work hard, play hard” is definitely rewarding, and as we learned at Nokia, ‘living adventurously’ is possible. We will take away numerous life lessons from our time with these loving children.”

Cohort 9 learns an Internet banking success story

Cohort 9 students take a photo at the IND Group headquarters with CEO Balazs Vinnai.

Today, members of Stetson University Executive MBA Cohort 9 visited technology leader IND Group at its headquarters in Budapest, Hungary.

IND, which stands for Interactive Network Design, is an Internet banking company. It was founded in 1997 by Dr. Balazs Vinnai and two friends. Vinnai, the CEO, led the presentation during today’s visit.

When Vinnai and company launched IND Group, they did so with the equivalent of $159 euros (U.S. equivalent: $200). Now IND’s revenues top $12 million euros. Through growth and acquisition, the company has expanded to include 220 employees serving 15 countries in Europe and the Middle East.

Cohort 9 students Christina Boncela, Glorimar Hefner, David LaRocque, Gwen Schaefer and Lindsay Swantek served as the student business team for this business visit. They were prepared to discover the behind-the-scenes operations and future direction of this innovative company.

IND Group is a young, entrepreneurial company. Its goal is to provide a fresh, simple and engaging online banking system. It provides its technology to the banks so that they can differentiate their services to prospective members. Vinnai has a clear vision and understanding that this financial data must be a mobile channel with anytime, anywhere, secure access and with complete transactional data funneling back to the user immediately.

Vinnai said he believes the keys to IND’s success are building online banking for the future, focusing on innovations, using deep customer insight, making the product “sexy” (attractive appearance/graphs) and having simple views and graphs so clients can see and understand their personal financial situation. Vinnai added that compliance is huge and needs to be considered at all times.

Vinnai shared that one of the challenges is building a strong corporate image. This is very important because banking is so conservative and IND must gain respect and credibility. IND is a young team (average age lower than 30 with less than 10% turnover), especially within the Eastern Europe region, so the company must earn trust — and professionalism is a must!  IND also must always keep in mind its competitors.

Business team members Christina Boncela, Lindsay Swantek, David LaRocque, Glorimar Hefner and Gwen Schaefer had questions for Vinnai.

Swantek asked what the average age user of IND is, adding that dealing with dollars and banking usually impacts an older customer and the younger ones are the experienced technology users.  Vinnai said that, as an example, the average age user in Iran is younger than 25, mainly because government has given all students Internet free, so they are comfortable with technology and moving this new generational tool forward.

“Is IND focused on the banking or retail space?” asked Hefner. Vinnai explained that the tool is for anyone, has import and export capabilities and was developed as a business-to-business concept.

LaRocque asked how IND Group keeps its employees innovating. Employees maintain their innovative spirit by working on teams, spread throughout the countries. A lab serves as a hub to drive creativity, innovation and collaboration. Vinnai added that the employees spend 60% of their time on current maintenance and customer issues and the other 40% on innovations.

Schaefer knew that customization was important in IND’s technology tool, but she asked Vinnai how IND is able to keep pace. IND works with local partners, he said, and about 60% is made by these alliances.

Vinnai mentioned that he wasn’t sure that IND Group was the best name. Christina Boncela asked if he had considered rebranding? Vinnai said that company officials had considered doing so but didn’t feel the return was there. Instead, the company attends targeted conferences and worldwide shows as a form of advertisement, regularly hosts effective innovation breakfasts for banks and bankers, and presents webinars. He said these methods have proved to be the best way to market IND Group.

Cohort 9 student Toshimasa Mastsumura asked Vinnai to explain IND’s business model. Vinnai said IND receives a license fee immediately and then an ongoing annual maintenance fee.

In closing, Vinnai shared that selling IND’s solution is a long-term sale, for one year or more. It can remain competitive and flexible because its products can run on any platform and work closely with selective partners. Visualization and usability are key to make their product “sexy.” IND uses college students to test products, which is helpful in the development process and keeping it current. “Even young kids today don’t understand why TV doesn’t swipe like the iPad,” said Vinnai, “and this is where we are headed!”

“Our entire group enjoyed the CEO sharing his wisdom, experiences and fresh approach to where online banking and tools are moving toward,” said Wendy Lowe, Executive MBA program coordinator.


Cohort 9 International Trip itinerary

In just a few more days, Stetson Executive MBA Cohort 9 students will depart for their trip to Istanbul and Budapest! Here’s what’s on their plate after they arrive Saturday, June 16:

Sunday, June 17:

Cultural Day in Istanbul

Students will take a guided tour of Roman & Byzantine Era and Ottoman Istanbul, seeing such sights as the Hagia Sophia Museum, Hippodrome of Constantinople and the Underground Cistern. Then they’ll go to Topkapi Palace and the Sultan Ahmet Camii-Blue Mosque. Students will also have their Welcome Dinner on this evening.

Monday, June 18:

Business Visits and Bosphorus Cruise

Travelers on the Alumni/Guest trip will take a cruise on Istanbul's Bosphorus. Photo courtesy of GoToTurkey

Students will meet with executives from General Electric, Pozitron and Koc Holding. Ibrahim Gokcen of GE will give students an overview of Turkey and discuss the country’s role in the world economy. Firat Isbecer of Pozitron, a mobile and alternative communications company, will teach students about entrepreneurship in Turkey and the role of government in Turkish businesses. At Koc Holding, Funda Gundor will talk about holding companies in Turkey’s private sector.

After the business visits, students get to go on a cruise down the Bosphorus for astonishing views of the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus Strait.

Tuesday, June 19

Business Visit and Dancing

Executives from Divan Hotels will meet with students to discuss Turkey’s tourism and hospitality industries. Later, students can visit the Grand & Spice Bazaar and enjoy a show at Turkish Dance Night at Hodjapasha.

Wednesday, June 20

Business Visit and Travel

Executives from Mercedes-Benz Turk A.S. will explain why such a world-renowned car manufacturer chose Turkey for its operations. The students will then travel to Budapest for the second part of their trip.

Thursday, June 21

Business Visits

Students will learn from executives at Nokia and IND Group. Yrjo Eskola, director of operations at Nokia, will discuss the company’s strategies, both global and local. Later, Tamas Braun and Adrienn Barath of IT company IND Group will teach students about the marketing strategies of a company that’s expanding within Hungary.

Friday, June 22

Business Visit and Budapest Tour

During a trip to Budapest Bank, students will learn about the impact of the financial crisis on the local economy and compare it to the situation in the United States. Later, they’ll tour Budapest, with stop-offs at the Parliament, the Royal Castle, the Fisherman’s Bastion and the Citadel, followed by a river cruise.

Saturday, June 23

Budapest Safari Park

The students’ final day of the trip will be spent participating in a philanthropic effort. Students will take children who are in state care to the Budapest Safari Park and help them solve animal-related tasks at stations throughout the park. Solving the exercises will involve cooperation of the children, volunteers and cohort members.

Who’s ready for the trip?