Smart Moves: How to learn in a global classroom

Today's Tuesday, this must be Hong Kong. No, not the bemused mutterings of a jet-lagged traveller, but the words of an international executive on a business management course.

Our German manager from Lufthansa will have flown in to the former British colony on whistlestop tours of LG, the Korean conglomerate, and Standard Chartered Bank, as part of his international training programme. After that, the next stop could be Brazil to see how ABB, the international engineering group, adapts its working practices to local conditions.

The globetrotting executive is already a well-established figure in the international picture. But he is now being joined by the global executive on a management training course. Why hold dry in-house study programmes, regurgitating old ideas, when the environment that today's top-flight executives operate in is global? Business schools have responded by offering courses in which the international element is the linchpin. At London Business School's Global Business Consortium, for example, a senior manager each from ABB, BT, LG, Lufthansa, SKF and Standard Chartered Bank come together each year to learn about how different global businesses operate.

Each of the regions of Europe, Asia and South America are represented in the operations of these six blue-chip multinationals. The emphasis is on participants learning from each other.Insights into cultural pitfalls and practical guidance are also part of the package.

But the only way of getting a feel for the special considerations of operating on the ground in another country is to visit the region itself and meet local leaders, academics and senior managers. Here course participants will aim to get the low-down on the relationship between global strategy and regional characteristics. Each of the participating companies acts as host to the other five as part of the module-based learning programme. On site they will work in a cross-country team analysing various aspects of the host company's strategy.

The Ashridge European Partnership MBA has been running since September. Three German companies - Lufthansa, Deutsche Bank and Merck - have formed a consortium enabling employees to study for an MBA with Ashridge Management College, in Hertfordshire.

"The English learning atmosphere is different from the German," said Dr Peter Weicht, director of personnel and organisational development at Merck, the international chemical and pharmaceutical group. "It is good for team building, which will be very important between different cultures. In England there is a more relaxed relationship between lecturer and student."

Ashridge, in particular, holds great store on recruiting its faculty from all over the world

Dr Martin Moehrle, head of management development for Deutsche Bank, also favours global training. "In Germany we are too domestically oriented and internationally it is a must to be exposed to the English language and to other industries."

He was impressed, too, by the "modern approach" of the MBA compared with its more technical, accounting-led German equivalent which is less concerned with leadership issues.

Another plus for organisations embracing the international element in training is that it will help them to attract those ambitious men and women who want to continue their studies. These training add-ons enable high-flyers to carry on with education without leaving the company.

DeutscheBank, in particular, has felt the sting of talented employees leaving to carry on learning, only to join another company later.