As business grows ever more connected around the world, a global perspective plays an essential role in professional success. This is why, starting in 2012, the Oregon Executive MBA has included a global studies trip as a required part of its curriculum. The goal is twofold: to improve students' global competencies and to develop awareness of the countries' practices related to a specific business theme, such as opportunity recognition or different countries' responses to the 2008 economic crisis.
Each year the program selects countries and experiences that will provide insights into some of the most important business issues around the world. The 2018 trip was no exception. In September, a focus on cultural and environmental sustainability took the rising second-year students of Oregon Executive MBA Class 33 to New Zealand and Fiji—two countries that in the past decade have found themselves on the front lines of climate change.
Working in partnership with educational student travel organization World Strides, the Oregon Executive MBA curated a set of experiences designed to expose students to the multifaceted issues businesses face in both countries. A central goal of the trip was to provide diverse perspectives on similar issues so that students could gain a better understanding of these by comparing and contrasting them. During the 10-day trip, students visited a range of organizations, including private companies, NGOs, government and state agencies, universities, and more.
While New Zealand is a more developed country than Fiji, both are small island nation-states facing similar challenges, which include preserving traditional culture, growing sustainable tourism businesses, and dealing with the effects of climate change. This mix of similarities and differences led to some very meaningful conversations and learnings for participants.
At the University of Auckland in New Zealand, the students attended a leadership workshop run by Chellie Spiller, a professor at the University of Waikato Management School who is a coauthor of Wayfinding Leadership. Spiller's work looks at how the traditional long-distance nautical navigation skills of the Maori, New Zealand's indigenous people, can bring business leaders and others fresh approaches and new depths of understanding.
After learning about these principles in a classroom setting, the group had the opportunity to see them put into action when they took a trip on a waka, a traditional boat.
"Our students had the option of helping out with the waka crew, and many of them tried their hand at tightening the different sail riggings and other tasks. The waka crew itself was made up of volunteers who were passionate about keeping wayfinding leadership and navigation alive in the Maori and the Pacific-island cultures," said global experience coordinator Katrina Loganimoce, who accompanied the group to New Zealand and Fiji.
The Oregon Executive MBA Alumni Board got a chance to catch up with Joey Hamilton, MBA '19, to hear his perspective on the trip. Hamilton, who lives in Central Oregon, is currently chief marketing officer for the Central Oregon Vistors Association.
What was one of the most interesting learning experiences you had on the trip?
During the leadership seminar in New Zealand, we had a lecture on Maori business values, which was fascinating. We learned about the Maori wayfinding techniques that they use to lead a 3,000-mile ocean voyage and how to apply these as leadership competencies in modern business. The key takeaway was creating leadership by allowing others to lead. Everyone on the boat has one thing they are good at. In our own businesses, we should be thinking about that when we hire. And just as important as it is to hire people who are experts, it's critical to allow those people to lead. Growing the individuals is one and the same as growing the organization.
Another key learning I took away from the Maori wayfinding is what to do when everything is going wrong. The Maori stop. They let down the sails, they stop, and they think. The lesson is to respond instead of reacting. I believe that is something we should all be practicing as leaders in our own businesses.
Going into the trip, what were your expectations?
I didn’t know what to expect. I knew the theme of the trip was about sustainable business, and I knew the businesses we were going to visit. One of the biggest things that hit me right away was the huge differences between the two countries. It sounds obvious, but how businesses and the government are dealing with sustainability seems like it would be standard. But because of the differences in the two countries' economies and cultures, the dynamics are completely different.
For example, in New Zealand we learned about bigger social issues like city planning and getting the population to buy in. They are working to get sustainability practices accepted and more adopted. And we observed the differences between the non-Maori and Maori-owned businesses.
Was there a moment that was particularly impactful for you?
In Fiji we planted mangrove trees at the resort we stayed on. They figured out that the fuel one person uses to travel to the island is the equivalent to planting 18 mangrove trees. By May 2019 the resort will require everyone who stays there to plant 18 mangrove trees. Each one of us took seedlings and planted them in the dirt. To take 50 people to Fiji and visually see what you need to see to offset their trips was incredible. There were almost 1,000 trees. It made me more aware than I have ever been of the impacts of travel on climate change.
Being in the tourism industry, it also made me think about programs I could institute. If this small resort on a tiny island is doing this, it can’t be that hard for bigger organizations, including mine, to make a bigger difference.
What was a lesson in sustainability that you found applicable to your business?
The trip was a great reminder that even though we all live and work in the United States, when we make decisions for our organization, those can have a broader impact. If we decided to use a material or process things a certain way, those decisions can impact people we don’t even know. I think everyone walked away seeing things from a more global perspective.
—Jessica Brandes Kingrey, MBA '15, President, Oregon Executive MBA Alumni Board