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 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.”


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?

Cohort 9 to visit Istanbul and Budapest

The Blue Mosque is one of the top tourist destinations in Istanbul.

Last weekend during class, members of Cohort 9 of Stetson University Executive MBA program finally found out where they would be going on their international trip: Istanbul and Budapest!

In June 2012, the students will travel abroad for eight days in Istanbul, Turkey, and Budapest, Hungary, to experience the local culture that supports international business activity. The cohort will meet with a variety of international business leaders, learning first-hand how business practices differ.

“This is going to be a trip of a lifetime,” said Duane Trumble, a student in Cohort 9. “I can’t wait to experience the educational exposure of businesses in other countries.”

Trumble’s classmate Lindsay Swantek agrees. “Just the idea of this trip has already brought Cohort 9 closer together as we’ve done our research and discussed (and debated!) where we hoped to go,” said Swantek. “As someone who has only experienced Florida and the midwest United States, I cannot even begin to convey my excitement. I already know that our excursion to Istanbul and Budapest will be an invaluable life experience, both professionally and personally. Only seven more months to go — and yes, I’m eagerly counting down the days!”

The trip focuses on issues that managers face while directing their organizations, such as cultural perceptions; the effects of culture on human resource management, international accounting and financial systems; marketing in an international environment; and organizational structure.

“Given the global nature of today’s business environment, Stetson University’s executive students need to be exposed to the differences in international business practices, processes and strategies,” said Wendy Lowe, program coordinator for Stetson’s Executive MBA. “If previous trips are any indication, the cohort will return to the classroom on July 13 with a clear understanding of the impact of our global economy and the importance of appreciating the differences in international business practices.”

Budapest will be Cohort 9's second stop on the international trip in June.

Students will leave Orlando June 15 for Istanbul, go to Budapest on June 20, and return to Orlando June 24. Classes will resume July 13.

Companies the cohort may visit include Accenture, Sabanci Holding, Mercedes Benz Turk A.S., Turkish Tourism Investors Association, Nokia, Onlinet, Heiref, Hungarian National Bank, Vodaphone, Bosch, Goodyear, International Finance Corp., IBM, Turk Telekom and Siemens.

Want to learn more about Istanbul and Turkey? Here are a few sites that may help:

Budapest Travel Guide

Photos of Budapest

Modern Istanbul Photo Gallery

Istanbul’s Top 10 Things to Do (video):