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.”

We’re back from our international trip!

“We’ve returned from our international trip experience to Istanbul, Turkey, and Budapest, Hungary,” said Wendy Lowe, coordinator of the Stetson University Executive MBA program.

“It was an exhilarating experience, and it was fantastic watching Cohort 9 bond. If you want to learn more about our trip, please check out our Facebook page. You can also view trip photos on our Flickr site. Enjoy!”

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 learns about Istanbul’s history

Members of Cohort 9 visit the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul.

Today, Stetson University Executive MBA Cohort 9 explored Istanbul’s most popular cultural sites.

“The city has a fascinating history with the inheritance of Byzantine ruins, splendid palaces, ancient mosques and churches, bath-houses, and exotic bazaars,” said Wendy Lowe, Executive MBA program coordinator. “Istanbul is the only city in the world reaching across two continents, with its old city in Europe and modern Istanbul situated in Asia, separated by the Bosphorus Strait. Modern Istanbul exudes trendy bars and nightclubs, western boutiques, office blocks and elegant suburbs. Today, we visited Hagia Sophia, Hippodrome of Constantinople, the Basilica Cistern, Blue Mosque, and the Topkapi Palace. We enjoyed touring the ancient artifacts, diamonds, empire clothing, paintings and the picturesque gardens and views of the Bosphorus.”

Hagia Sophia is the Church of the Holy Wisdom in Greek, Sancta Sophia in Latin, and Aysofya or Aya Sofya in Turkish. It is a former Byzantine church and former Ottoman mosque in Istanbul. Now a museum, Haghia Sophia is universally acknowledged as one of the great buildings of the world. We enjoyed touring the ancient artifacts, diamonds, empire clothing, paintings and the picturesque gardens and views of the Bosphorus.

The Hippodrome of Constantinople is the largest of the ancient world and the largest stadium of all times with a design that was based on the Circus Maximus in Rome which had a capacity of 250,000 spectators. Initially built at the time of Septimus Severus, it was later enlarged to surpass in grandeur the Coliseum and the Circus Maximus in Rome at the time of Constantine the Great, who moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople, Istanbul, in 330 AD.  The first chariot races were held here!  Today thousands of tourists crowd the area to get a glimpse of life long ago and further understand its place in history.

The Basilica Cistern, or Underground Cistern, was built by Justinian I after the bloody Nika Revolt in 532. During the Byzantium Period, it was used as a reservoir for water storage for the Great Palace and other buildings in the First Hill. During the Ottoman Period, the water was used for Topkapi Palace and watering the gardens of it. However, the cistern had its brightest days during the Byzantium Age.

Cohort 9 enjoyed a traditional Turkish lunch with lavash bread, Turkish pizzas and shish-ka-bobs at the Restaurant Khorasani, in one of the meandering roads near the Topkapi Palace.  After lunch, students visited the Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque.

Students visited the Topkapi Palace grounds today in Istanbul.

Topkapi Palace was first built by Mehmet the Conqueror just after his capture of Constantinople in 1453. His successors lived there for nearly 400 years until they began to take up resident in the Dolmabahce Palace, just across the Golden Horn. This palace is much more enclosed and built around 4 courtyards, vs. the European concept of being more open. Here, the cohort viewed the famous harem and treasury items.

The Blue Mosque was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I as a rival to Hagia Sophia and designed by architect Mehmet Aga. The mosque began construction in 1609 and took seven years to finish. Sultan Ahmet died only a year after completion of his masterpiece at the age of 27. He is buried outside the mosque with his wife and three sons.

The Welcome Dinner tonight was at Restaurant Kosebasi, in a chic neighborhood of Istanbul. Students delighted in tapas style sharing of cold starters, warm appetizers, and lamb, chicken wings, barbecue ribs all marinated in Turkish spices, along with Kunefe, a traditional oven baked desserts with a molten cheese center, syrup and kaymak.

“Suffice to say that Cohort 9’s trip is off to an adventurous and informative start!” said Lowe. “Despite a few adjusting to the time change, one upset stomach and one sprained ankle, we have bonded together like a solidified unit, and we march on with excitement at what’s next!

“Tomorrow, the business visits begin!”

Cohort 9 arrives in Istanbul

Cohort 9 made it safely to Istanbul today!

Students in Stetson University’s Executive MBA Cohort 9 arrived safely in Istanbul, Turkey, at 10:45 AM local time today to sunny and beautiful weather.

“As we traveled to the Titanic Hotel, we had exceptional views of the Bosphorus,” said Wendy Lowe, Executive MBA program coordinator.

The group spent the afternoon exploring the area near their hotel called Taksim Square, or Taksim Meydanı in Turkish. This area, in the European part of Istanbul, is a major shopping, tourist and leisure district famed for its restaurants, shops and hotels. It is considered the heart of modern Istanbul, with the central station of the Istanbul Metro network.

“Tomorrow, we explore other popular cultural sites of the city,” said Lowe.

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):