Cohort 9 visits Safari Park with disadvantaged children

Cohort 9 visits Budapest Safari Park for the group's outreach effort.

Cohort 9 participated in a safari park excursion with children from Budapest “State Care” (orphanage). With the help of many local volunteers from Hakosz (Students in the Community Service), students had the exciting opportunity to meet more than 20 children ages 4 to 12 at the Budapest Safari Park, located 30 minutes outside of the city.

“It was an enjoyable time of sharing laughter, interactive games and diverse languages,” said Wendy Lowe, coordinator of the Stetson University Executive MBA program.

The cohort was broken into six teams, each with three or four children assigned to it. Along with the volunteers from Hakosz, the groups toured the park, seeing animals such as bears, deer, birds and wolves in their natural habitats while team members played interactive games with one another.

“One of the games was each team would build a sugar cube castle while blindfolded,” explained Lowe. “While we gave the Hungarian children directions in English, they gave us directions such us up, down, left and right in English. We also learned to turn over a rug together using logic and teamwork as we all stood on the mat.

A bear was part of the park tour.

“Despite the language barriers, the walls came down with smiles, sharing of local snacks and with the help of the volunteers,” said Lowe. “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 in their lives!

“Wayne Rigsby became a human jungle gym as the kids climbed on him and enjoyed his spirit. Christina Boncela immediately bonded with a little girl that looked up to her like a sister. Joe Chatterjee had running races with several boys who found his energy contagious. These children perhaps made a more significant impact on us! They helped us 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.”

The trip to the Budapest Safari Park was Cohort 9’s last organized activity together on the international trip.

“We ended our trip with farewells and hugs,” said Lowe. “About a quarter of the group will be extending their trip and traveling elsewhere in Europe and beyond. As these students travel by planes, trains and automobiles, we will have lasting memories of our time in Istanbul and Budapest.”

Cohort 9 visits world-renowned auto maker

Cohort 9 students Brian Smith, Brad Schoeneberg, Bonnie Spivey, John Huang and Joe Chatterjee served as the Mercedes business team.

Today, students from Stetson University Executive MBA‘s Cohort 9 focused on the automotive and manufacturing segment for the group’s last business visit in Istanbul before heading to Budapest. Students Joe Chatterjee, John Huang, Brian Smith, Bonnie Spivey and Brad Schoeneberg led the Mercedes-Benz questions and answers for the cohort through their extensive pre-meeting company research.

During the cohort’s three-hour visit and factory tour, students learned all about the Mercedes-Benz mission: engage in the sale, service, manufacturing, and marketing of Mercedes-Benz and Maybach products. The company offers sedans and coupes, sport utility vehicles, convertibles and roadsters, super cars, wagons and crossovers, as well as parts. The Mercedes-Benz cars division set a new record with sales of 1,381,400 vehicles in 2011 (2010: 1,276,800). Mercedes-Benz posted record unit sales with an increase of 9% to 1,279,100 vehicles. In 2011, Germany had 21% of unit sales; other markets include Western Europe at 24%, the United States at 18%, and China at 16%.

Dr. Michael Nicklas, CFO, shared the history of Mercedes-Benz, which started in 1886 in Stuttgart, Germany. He shared that Turkey’s diversity in lifestyle, transportation habits and employment varies greatly. He added that the young population in Turkey definitely drives future business strategies in the country.

Mercedes-Benz employs more than 500,000 people (51% are engineers, 28% are female, and 81% speak a foreign language). It is the 11th top provider in Turkey and the 15th-biggest employer. Turkey is considered as having a strong economy and in 2011 was among the top producing countries in Europe, ranking #6. Daimler is the largest shareholder at 67%.

According to Nicklas, there are many cost advantages in terms of engineering, labor and access to the already existing qualified suppliers. Additionally, Mercedes-Benz can leverage the facts that every brand is in Turkey, infrastructure is in place, and it has a strong educated base to pull from.

Goals are to be in the Top 10 in total product sales in the world, Top 3 in total products in Europe, and Top 3 in research and development. Currently 20% to 30% of the company’s sales are domestic. Chatterjee said he was fascinated by the fact that manufacturing costs are 40% cheaper to produce vehicles in Turkey vs. Germany.

Brad Schoeneberg asked the CFO about taxation. Nicklas pointed out that Mercedes-Benz has modified products based on the tax situation. Different size engines in a vehicle drive the tax cost.  This further challenges the company to deliver a smaller engine vehicle but keep the same high quality standards of the brand.

Dealer facilities all over the country have exclusivity with control over their operation; however, they make their money through service, parts and maintenance and a bonus from the headquarters if targets are met.

Mercedes-Benz remains competitive and productive because of its low sick leave, aggressive hourly wage, paid vacation and legal working-hour limits, all which keep the production cycles extremely flexible.

The students asked about the loss of market share in city bus sector. Nicklas explained that this loss is because of competitive bids based on price only, driven often by elections, and the fact that there is more local competition in this category.

Nicklas said the most important thing is to listen to the customer needs and how much they will pay, and build products that align with those findings. An example would be the new A class that has a smaller engine.

During the tour, students saw this antique Mercedes vehicle.

“Mercedes-Benz gave us the confidence that it will continue to create innovative products to be responsive to local and national trends,” said Wendy Lowe, coordinator for the Stetson Executive MBA program. “That was evidenced by our factory tour, where we witnessed different versions of the company’s buses being manufactured. Mercedes-Benz uses fishbone, real-time and kaizen processes to create efficiencies. It has a straightforward, uncomplicated sales model. Deals are not complex, and dealers are motivated to secure you as a buyer.”

Cohort 9 student Nelson Silva was extremely impressed by Nicklas’ wealth of knowledge. “It was my favorite visit so far,” said Silva. “His mentality from working in different countries and corporate connections give him skills that he can leverage in Istanbul.”

Student Crystal Koepke said she enjoyed the innovative business practices which gave Mercedes-Benz a framework, efficiencies and cost savings to build products of longevity.

Change in transportation habits is driving the company’s production; Spivey noted the significance of such change. Smith said he was impressed by the manufacturing plant tour and the fact that the Mercedes-Benz flagship bus takes 23 days to build. “Mercedes-Benz runs a very lean process and is focused on quality and results,” said Smith.

“After we finished the manufacturing tour, Mercedes-Benz invited us to its corporate canteen for lunch,” said Lowe. “The entire corporation made the Stetson Executive MBA students feel welcome, and their stimulating conversation created lifelong memories for our cohort.”


Disney background helps Cohort 9 understand Divan

Cohort 9 students visited Divan Hotel Group today in Istanbul.

The Walt Disney World Parks & Resorts background that many of Stetson University Executive MBA program’s Cohort 9 students have came in handy during today’s visit to Divan Hotel Group.

Selin Karaosmanogn, Divan’s director of marketing and communications, greeted the cohort with a sincere smile and some of Divan’s famous pastries. She explained that in 1980, Turkey began to see the increase in tourism because of its unique history, long coastline, and fantastic weather and food. Today, 15% of Turkey’s GDP is tourism.

Divan Hotels, part of Koc Holding (which students visited yesterday) since 2000, set up its first Turkey hotel in Istanbul. The founder couldn’t find an adequate place to stay when in town for business and hence the Divan Hotel Group emerged. Now, with three hotels in Turkey, and with expected growth to 25 hotels in this region before 2016, Divan has a bright future in store. Divan Hotels in Istanbul is known for its “Hospitality School,” its sincere service and its relationship with Koc Holding.

According to Karaosmanogn, the hospitality market is not saturated in Istanbul. She said she believes there will continue to be outstanding growth. In addition to keeping its five-star brands, it will launch Divan Express in fall 2012. The Express version of its hotels will be at a lower price point and accommodate business travelers looking for a safe, friendly, high-quality place to stay that doesn’t have a spa or full restaurant. In addition, Divan Hotels launched its first international hotel in Northern Iraq two months ago. The company will continue to open hotels and/or greet guests at their various locations to cater to the Middle East market based on the unrest in the area.

Karaosmanogn said Divan forecasts growth using various indicators, and it relies on its partners, such as Turkish Airlines and local Preferred Hotel Associations, to drive both tourist and business clients.

Cohort 9 student Joe Chatterjee asked Karaosmanogn what challenges Divan Hotel Group faces in the future. Karaosmanogn answered that rolling out Divan Express while expanding and maintaining Divan’s brand and culture, communicating clearly to the public and keeping investors happy at the same time will be a major challenge. Another challenge is finding just the right partner that will build the hotels in a preferred location with a shared vision. “Those are not always easy to find!” said Karaosmanogn. She said Divan hopes to expand to New York and Prague, for example. She added that social media will be a challenge for Divan Hotel Group as it expands on a more regional and national level with more importance on the messaging that has an international approach.

Students gathered at the end of the presentation for Divan Hotel Group's renowned pastries.

Edwin Alvarado, a Cohort 9 student who is also a guest services manager at Walt Disney World Parks & Resorts, was curious about Divan’s peak periods. Karaosmanogn said that in Istanbul, peak times are mid-March through June with a slow period in the winter months, at which time Divan offers extended-stay incentives.

Cohort 9 student Brian Smith, who works for Disney Vacation Club, asked about Divan’s occupancy. Karaosmanogn shared that Divan has an average of 80% occupancy with a three- to four-night stay in Istanbul, and that it’s made up of 50% tourists and 50% business people.

Cohort 9 student Toshimasa Matsumura, who works at Disney’s Shades of Green, was interested in Divan’s yield management.

Karaosmanogn shared that a new area for Istanbul is “health tourism,” or travelers who come and stay while having medical procedures done at a much reduced cost, such as Lasik’s or plastic surgery. This is a growing trend among Divan’s wealthy clients.

The Spice Market was the next stop for students, for lunch and souvenir shopping.

“After the business visit, we had a wonderful tour,” said Wendy Lowe, program coordinator for the Executive MBA program. “We ended up in the pastry shop where we enjoyed various samples and even made some purchases for our family and friends back home.

”We look forward to monitoring Divan Hotel Groups expansion on the coming months and years.”

Students later went to the Spice Market for lunch, and several bought souvenirs such as spices that are unique to the region. They then went to the Grand Bazaar for additional shopping for scarves, leather, silver and other valuables. After the shopping excursion, some went to the Turkish Dance Show, others went to the Turkish Baths, and some enjoyed a night on the town for free exploration on their last evening in Istanbul.

“Tomorrow, we head to Mercedes Benz and then to Budapest!” said Lowe.

Cohort 9 visits GE

Mr. Ibrahim Gokcen of GE spent time with members of Cohort 9.

General Electric Co., GE, sees such potential in Turkey that the enormous company just announced a $900 million investment in the country.

That was the first thing Ibrahim Gokcen, GE’s chief information officer for the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, told students in Cohort 9.

“The cohort remained engaged from that moment on,” said Wendy Lowe, coordinator for the Stetson University Executive MBA program.

The students learned about GE’s entry into Turkey in 1948 when it launched its first industrial joint venture in Turkey with Koc Holding and when it moved its international operations base to Istanbul in 2008, thus covering 80 countries.

“The cohort was most impressed by the ambitious vision for 2023,” said Lowe. “Integration, participating in global arenas and determining GE’s role in international affairs are all components. We learned about the impact that renewable energy, portable healthcare and infrastructure will have in the country. The cohort was intrigued by the young population — 70% under 35 years old.

Gokcen helped the cohort understand that GE realizes that to be competitive, it must have superior technology, margin expansion, smart capital allocation, leadership in growth markets, and service and customer relationships. He discussed the opportunity companies have to build products for underdeveloped markets that can then be useful in developed markets to continue to grow and prosper. In 2011 alone, $5.4 billion was vested in developing intellectual content to respond to the needs of a particular market.

Cohort 9 student and Japanese citizen Toshimasa Matsumura asked Gokcen if expatriates are brought to Turkey or if GE uses local people. Local people are definitely preferred and hired, explained Gokcen, because the focus is on the local pipeline and local growth.

Joe Chatterjee, Cohort 9 student and an engineer who understands the complexities of business units introducing new products and services using legacy systems, asked Gokcen about GE’s migration from legacy systems to more current systems. Gokcen said this is an ongoing challenge that GE addresses with each new initiative because of its corporation size — which is more than 300,000 employees and $147 billion in revenue.

“Mr. Gokcen left us with one of his guiding principles,” said Lowe. “Companies must have market potential, a sustainable talent pool and incentives. Talent and partnerships will also drive success.”

And why Turkey? “We see performance and we are growing,” said Gokcen.

Glorimar Hefner said she was very impressed with the professionalism, attitude and knowledge of this influential leader in Turkey and surrounding countries.