MBA: Chile reception from UK firms

MBA students from Strathclyde targeted Chile to boost British exports, but they encountered little interest from British industry.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Exploring new markets in Chile for British exporters proved a tough - and in some ways disappointing - challenge for a team of MBA students from Scotland's Strathclyde Graduate Business School.

Each year for the past 10 years the school's director has challenged students to form a voluntary team to undertake their final project overseas. The country must be distant, non-English speaking and have markets which are less developed than those in Western Europe.

Mark Haddow, one of those who accepted the Strarthclyde International Team Challenge this year, explains: "Everybody has to complete their MBA by doing a project - which can be individual or team.

"In the team challenge people have to set themselves up in a group, organise sponsorship and develop links with companies, and then go out and investigate the market for them. We also get a market view for ourselves and we also compare cultures," he adds.

Strathclyde's director issued this year's challenge in late February. A number of students were interested in the overseas project and a group of six finally signed up. The group chose Chile and began to look for sponsors.

"We contacted various institutions, chambers of commerce and the British Embassy in Chile - and asked them what sectors they thought may be of interest to British companies. But we didn't get the greatest response from that.

"So we looked at the Chilean market. We tried to identify sectors in which Scottish and British companies might be interested and in which they had expertise or products which might go into the market. "

The group set themselves up as management consultants and decided to give themselves the name of Condor International Consultants. They approached as many companies as they possibly could.

The team also set up a web site (www.sgbs.strath.ac.uk/condor): it'll be open at least until Wednesday (15 September).

"We eventually got three sponsors: United Closures and Plastics (UCP) based in the Bridge of Allen, and two whisky companies - Gordon & McPhail, and London and Scottish Spirits Ltd. The first came from a newspaper article and the other two through the Internet.

"We had looked up the Scottish Whisky Association, targeting independent and quasi- independents and tried to interest them in the Chilean market. These two responded by sending e-mails attached to the association's site.

Initially the group expected to go to Chile for four weeks. But because of the poor response to the sponsorship appeal they decided to halve the time and go for two weeks only.

"Towards the end of June the group had a crisis meeting. They were faced with three options. They could walk away and start another project. Or they could do something about why the project had failed. Or they could persevere with it. They chose the third.

"We didn't want to let our sponsors down. We wanted to repay their faith.

"We decided to put pounds 2,500 of our own money into the project. We had to squeeze in as much business as we could, so we lost a bit of the fun part. To cut down on our expenses, two of us stayed behind preparing part of the thesis, maintaining communications and trying to raise more sponsorship."

With the benefit of hindsight Haddow says the project has been a great experience. It was interesting and worked out well. The group is working on the thesis and beginning to see where everything fitted into place in the MBA programme.

Before his MBA, Mark was a criminal solicitor in Glasgow. He wanted to change direction.. "One reason for taking the MBA was to show employers I was committed to changing. Second I wanted to learn about the business world. You also start to understand what transferable skills you have." Having been exposed to agencies promoting Scottish and British exports, Haddow would like to stay involved in that. He got quite a buzz out of going to Chile, meeting people there, and finding out how keen they are to do business with people in Britain.

However, the challenge has also left him with a worry. His class of 95 people was drawn from 44 nationalities and all had a highly international perspective. "I'm concerned that many will go back to their own countries with a bad impression. The negative responses we got from British industry suggests companies aren't interested in exports," he says.

Two of the party of four spoke Spanish - so they worked in two teams - Mark working with Antonio, a Peruvian.

"The impression Antonio got when he was in Chile, and the impression he started to form because of this lack of interest in sponsoring us, was that the majority of UK companies are not taking the business opportunities in South America seriously enough. They are missing out a lot. The British Embassy commercial section also believes that British firms are too complacent, particularly towards South America."

The team hopes for further sponsorship from firms interested in the Chilean market. Call 0141-553 6194

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