It's never too late to learn by doing. And for people planning to make a career in global business, spending time abroad can be an essential prerequisite.

“Working with a team of 3-6 classmates for five weeks in another country, advising a real client, is invaluable cultural and professional immersion.” – Click to tweet

At Thunderbird School of Global Management, our applied learning courses are a little like study abroad... for grownups. These courses take Thunderbird master’s students and alumni around the globe to put classroom theory to work in the real world. Participants align learning objectives to academic and career goals. Bottom line, they learn by doing. And that's a pretty big deal, considering that in a recent survey of executives, 80 percent said that it is very important for recent college graduates to demonstrate the ability to apply learning in real-world settings.

Here are two such stories.

Modernizing an automotive die manufacturer in Romania

[[{"fid":"10447","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"T-Bird Nate Flake","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"T-Bird Nate Flake"},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"default","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"T-Bird Nate Flake","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"T-Bird Nate Flake"}},"link_text":null,"attributes":{"alt":"T-Bird Nate Flake","title":"T-Bird Nate Flake","width":"400","style":"float: left; margin: 10px;","class":"media-element file-default","data-delta":"1"}}]]A team of four Thunderbird students consulted in 2017 with Montana MG, a Romanian manufacturer that designs and creates tools and dies (forms and shapes) for automotive application. The T-birds’ work may end up helping the 40-year-old company find new life.

After five weeks of in-depth interviews with department heads and shop floor workers, the Thunderbird students advised company leaders on ways to boost productivity and cut costs. They identified ways to improve performance management and partnered with the local management team to implement a performance review that focuses on KPIs and SMART goals.  

One of the students on the project, Nate Flake, said his big takeaway was learning how Romanian millennials see their own country. The younger generation wants to turn the system on its head and take the country in a new direction – the kind of new direction that Nate and his teammates ended up recommending. Montana MG eventually wants to move away from manufacturing the dies in house – instead focusing on building robots, first for themselves and then to sell to other factories.

For Montana MG, that new direction means getting ready for a large number of skilled staff retirements in the next five years. As well as upgrading 60s- and 70s-era machinery. Those changes are essential, but they must go hand-in-hand with the kinds of new performance management processes the Thunderbird team implemented.

It seems like an obvious lesson, and it might indeed seem quite boring in the classroom, but in the field, it was profound. And that’s exactly the kind of difference that emerges outside of the classroom environment.

Read more about this team's experience: Self-Disrupt or Be Disrupted, The More You Learn the Less You Know, Passion Always Conquers Reason, Blue Is the New Black, Pepperoni Pizza & Corruption: Our First Week in Romania

Expanding a Romanian furniture supplier

[[{"fid":"10449","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Touring a new facility in Romania","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"Touring a new facility in Romania"},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"4":{"format":"default","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Touring a new facility in Romania","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"Touring a new facility in Romania"}},"link_text":null,"attributes":{"alt":"Touring a new facility in Romania","title":"Touring a new facility in Romania","width":"400","style":"float: left; margin: 10px;","class":"media-element file-default","data-delta":"4"}}]]Upon arrival in Romania in the summer of 2017 the Thunderbird students in Team Taparo found out that they were going to have to be quick on their feet. The four students originally thought they would be performing a general market analysis and creating a business plan for a start-up textile business being launched by Taparo, one of Romania’s largest Ikea suppliers. Their focus soon switched to analyzing an existing plan and helping the company prepare to find investors.

Team Taparo delivered a business case to present to investors and provided the company with market analysis to potentially expand its product offerings down the road.

The T-birds learned firsthand the importance of being open to change and new ideas in both business and social relationships. Thunderbird Gloria (Youfeng) Pan, from China, assumed her sole focus in Romania would be to advance Taparo’s business with strategic market entry recommendations. She researched Romania’s history before she arrived, but wasn’t able to fully comprehend how it would impact business there until she spent time in the country.

Gloria now calls Romania her second acasă (home). After five weeks learning about business and people in the eastern European country, she left understanding what is at the heart of Romania – a spirit of never giving up, the mentality of never forgetting history, and the courage to rise from ashes. That kind of understanding is essential for success in global business, and impossible to get from a textbook.

Read more from the story: T-birds Consult for IKEA's Romanian Furniture Manufacturer, Rising up after the Fight, Communism and the Road to Capitalism, Romania: Weddings, Gardens and Communism, Navigating Cultural Borders,

“In a recent survey of executives, 80 percent said that it is very important for recent college graduates to demonstrate the ability to apply learning in real-world settings.” – Click to tweet

Applied Learning at Thunderbird

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