Inaugural Success Part 1: Americas MBA for Executives

The new Americas MBA for Executives program opens global doors for students throughout the hemisphere.

From the Winter 2013 edition of Vanderbilt Business

When Owen wanted to expand its global perspective, the school turned to its alumni and corporate clients to discover what their needs were. What they found was right in their own backyard: the Western Hemisphere.

Juli Bennett
Juli Bennett

“We spoke with alumni and recognized that they have made their operations go across the Americas. We saw a need to give people a perspective of how it is to operate across North and South America,” says Juli Bennett, MBA’93, executive director of the Executive MBA and Americas MBA for Executives programs. “We responded to a business need.”

The Americas MBA is a focused, optional track in the Executive MBA program. Participants spend their first year in step with students in the traditional program. The second year, they focus more heavily on international business, working on international capstone projects and attending 10-day residential immersions at participating schools: Fundação Instituto De Administração in São Paulo; Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México in Mexico City; and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C. The students from those programs join the Owen students for another nine days at Vanderbilt. When the students graduate, they have a deep and relevant understanding of international trade, particularly within the four largest economies in the Americas: Brazil, Canada, Mexico and the U.S.

Americas MBA class
The inaugural Americas MBA class consisting of 52 students representing 10 countries spanning the globe from Brazil to Vietnam.

“Mostly when you look at executive MBA programs, they do the same thing we used to do: take their students and their faculty and go to a different location,” Bennett says. “With this model, when you go to Simon Fraser you’re taught by the top cross-cultural experts at Simon Fraser. The four schools’ faculty are experts at things like family businesses in Mexico. They know the people who are excellent at emerging markets in Brazil. It’s not us trying to be everything to everyone. It’s leveraging the expertise of those four schools.”

It’s also leveraging the expertise of their peers. Working across borders with students from the other schools, Americas MBA students benefit from their peers’ insights and experiences—something that will be invaluable in their future careers.

Americas MBA students
From left, Mark Mathiasen, Luciano Greggio, Beth Bernier, AMBA’13, Paulina Villasana and Agustin Eugenio Caballero Ortiz Rubio at Nashville’s Entrepreneur Center during their 10-day residency.

Have Americas MBA, will travel

A dozen students graduated in 2013, comparable to those who are expected to earn their degrees in 2014. Bennett believes the ideal student is one who is “looking for an expat assignment, looking to expand ability to communicate across cultures, who has always had an interest in different ways of thinking.”

Americas MBA students in Tennessee
Students came from top companies and organizations, including American Express, Bridgestone Americas, BMW, Citi, Embraer, Johnson & Johnson, Mars Petcare, Siemens, Schneider Electric, Tennessee Valley Authority and Unilever.

Jon Haworth, AMBA’13, was vice president, plant operations and innovation at Des-Case. His company, which manufactures contamination control products for industrial lubricants, does about a third of its business outside the United States. That led Haworth to consider gaining international experience. He consulted with Des-Case President and CEO Brian Gleason, who earned his Vanderbilt Executive MBA in 1997.

“I remember asking for his opinion on which one of the programs I should pursue and him saying I should do the Americas program,” Haworth says. “I want to do more in emerging markets. That program was perfect for that. The other side is that I’ve lived in South America and am fluent in Portuguese.”

Across time zones and cultures

Des-Case also was used as a yearlong Americas MBA capstone strategy project, which the students must complete while working with counterparts at the three other universities.

“We’ve already seen nice growth in Latin America,” Des-Case’s Gleason says. “As well as we’ve done there, we all recognized there was a tremendous upside that we’ve not come close to tapping. Jon and his group did a nice job in shaping an argument for what we ought to be doing and creating a framework by which we’ll make future decisions in other markets globally. We’ll make the same kinds of decisions for Europe and for Asia at some point.”

“They have to figure out how to work virtually…to get through the cultural and language barriers and to figure out how to get it done. ”—Juli Bennett, executive director, Executive MBA programs

The cross-cultural experience of the project teams provides excellent preparation for the future.

“They have to figure out how to work virtually, through different time zones, to get through the cultural and language barriers and to figure out how to get it done even though they’re not at a table and face to face,” Bennett says. “That is the most challenging part of the program, but if you can figure out how to do that, you will be the one targeted as a leader in these organizations.”