A new programme preparing managers for the global market

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The Independent Online

Rishabh Dudheria, 25, from Bangalore, India, wanted to complete an MBA within a year. He also wanted the international exposure that Britain offers. "But I didn't want to be in London, with all its distractions," he says.

The answer was a new MBA in global operations from Bristol Business School. It was piloted last year in response to a growing demand for managers with international business expertise.

In anything other than small businesses, multinational operations are now standard. But traditional MBA courses, with their bedrock teaching in finance, marketing, human relations and strategy, did little to prepare managers for complexity and diversity.

British business schools have been quick to plug this gap. At the top end, they offer the chance to study abroad for long periods on global executive MBAs in partnership with other schools. On the Trium programme at the London School of Economics, students split their time between London, Paris and New York. On London Business School's global executive MBAs (EMBAs), a period in Hong Kong is now an option as well as New York.

Such courses, however, come at a price. The 16-month Trium programme can cost up to £80,000. For Dudheria, the cost of the Bristol MBA (£15,754 this year) was an incentive. "It was good value for money," he says. Its accreditation by the Association of MBAs (AMBA) also helped.

Bristol is a good example of a British business school which is not as well known internationally as its larger rivals, but which nonetheless offers a range of reputable courses with a hands-on approach and an international class.

The school is part of the University of the West of England (the more highly ranked Bristol University teaches management but does not have its own business school). Based on an expanding campus at Frenchay, on the outskirts of the city, it competes locally with Exeter, Bath and Cardiff.

"Bristol was a nice place to study," says Dudheria. "In India, I was working as an engineer in a big steel plant, so management theory was fresh to me. And at Bristol, it was a completely global class. It was a learning experience every day, finding out about integration, diversity and politics. It certainly teaches you to communicate more clearly."

But it was the two global operations modules, in project management and risk and sustainability, that were key for him.

"They were a mixture of theory and practice, so you could really relate to them."

Svetlana Cicmil, a social scientist from the former Yugoslavia, set up the course with Derek Braddon, a specialist in defence economics. She says her ideal student is working in his or her own business or for an operation that crosses borders. "Either their team is geographically dispersed, or they themselves move around. The course is for people who understand that leading and managing in a global world is full of challenges. They will understand tensions and key drivers."

Cicmil's words are heartfelt. She trained as a civil engineer, and has worked on international projects all over the world, experiencing at first hand what it means to have a multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural team on a construction project.

"I have seen how decisions are made - not always rationally - and how power and professional background and human aspects of interaction actually play a part," she says. "Engineers, architects, politicians: they all have own agendas."

She learnt a lot when young from project managers. "Their skill was not textbook knowledge, but social and political action. I have seen what it means to plan for the future - and to realise that the future cannot be planned."

Students on the Bristol MBA have to complete a 20,000-word dissertation. Dudheria chose to study the evolution of partnerships at a housing association.

A highlight of the year is the four-day field trip to Austria, which combines traditional lectures and seminars with site visits to tackle the issue of sustainable development.

"Austria gives us a good example of sustainability and risk, the balance between society and nature," Cicmil says. "We take students to our partner institutions there, and they can see how they deal with renewable energy and waste. When you want to build a big hydro-power plant on the River Danube, for example, you will have to destroy some of the environment. The question is, how do you deal with that?"

The electives come only after the students have finished their six compulsory modules. The school has invested time in making these trans-disciplinary, to reflect the way business really works.

"We don't have marketing, for example - we have delivering customer value," says Cicmil. "Then we have managing in a complex world, managing business resources, and so on. Developing these courses was a big challenge for us." It was, however, just what much better known schools, such as Yale and Stanford in the US, have done recently. Bristol seems to have been ahead of the international game.

'Managing uncertainty is complex'

Susannah Parry is taking a part-time MBA at Bristol Business School, and opted for the global operations modules which were piloted last year.

"I'm a control account manager working for a global company on a flagship defence project, and these courses were a good fit with what I do.

When you're working in one country, you tend to think just in terms of what's around you. This course broadens your horizons to the world-wide level. You start to understand external factors on a global scale.

One of the key things is you can be good at managing risk but the more complex issue is trying to manage uncertainty - and life is very uncertain in the defence industry. I work in a male-dominated world, and the course has given me tools for now and the future. I hope it's given me the means to get one step ahead."

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