Students Domenic Valela and Ryan Kuo in India (all photos courtesy Rotman School of Management)

Have passport will learn: Omnium Global Executive MBA

"Learning how difficult things can be and what kind of challenges business people face in other economies is very insightful."

Hong Kong, Toronto, Shanghai, Mumbai, New Delhi, St. Gallen, Budapest, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Dubai.

It sounds like a vacation itinerary for the very rich, but it’s actually the class schedule for students in the Rotman School of Management Omnium Global Executive MBA.

The 18-month, globe-spanning program began in 1996 as an option in Rotman’s regular MBA program. Since 2004, it’s been offered in partnership with the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. Students not only attend lectures and seminars in the various countries, but they also tour local businesses and meet with their owners and managers.

Recent Omnium MBA graduate Christian Schuhmacher says there’s no comparison between learning about global business while sitting in a classroom and actually experiencing business conditions in countries around the world.

“Reading about issues and learning about them in a ‘normal’ way is one thing. Being in different cultures, talking to people who do business there gives you a whole other perspective.”

Schuhmacher, who is now the CEO of a hospital in Basel, Switzerland, says the program gave him deep insights into different industries in different environments. The chance to see the dynamics in emerging markets was especially useful, he says. "Learning how difficult things can be and what kind of challenges business people face in other economies is very insightful."

No stranger to international business, Schuhmacher and his wife once ran a diving school in the Maldives where they learned firsthand the importance of customer service. “If we let our service standards slip we immediately lost business.”

Ryan Rodrigues, Rotman's director of development and recruiting for executive MBA programs, says there are definitely logistical challenges in running a program offered jointly by two universities, with classrooms in almost a dozen countries and students from all over the world, but “it’s all part of growing and developing our global leaders.”

Students come into the program with an average age of 37 and 12 years of work experience, Rodrigues says. Only one-third are fully subsidized by their employer, and almost half pay the full cost of the program themselves.

Courses in each region have a local flavour. Each of the modules includes a course on doing business in that region. In addition there are courses on international business ethics, global marketing and international accounting.

Joerg Landsch, a vice-president for Deutsche Bank in New York, said the program afforded him excellent networking opportunities. With only about 30 students in each cohort, the program allowed him to forge long-lasting relationships with fellow students.

“I am regularly meeting my classmates in New York when they are in town on a business or personal visit, and we are meeting as a group once a year. In November, we will have a reunion in Mexico to visit some local companies and do some sightseeing.”

(At right:students Megan Wells, Clifford Ogbuagu, Marie Glenn and Christian Schuhmacher riding the subway in Toronto.)

Rodrigues says the program has been evolving since it was created almost 20 years ago. “The program actually started as the University of Toronto MBA for Executives (Global Option) or (GEMBA) in 1996,” he says. “So initially it was run with local Toronto working professionals who would do the core Executive MBA here at U of T and then the second year had modules to Europe and China. We then partnered with a different partner school then we have today and added more modules. We continue to evolve and innovate.”

The chance to actually meet with business people in each country makes the Omnium Global Executive MBA invaluable, Landsch says. “The experiences gained through these courses reached far beyond how to correctly exchange business cards in the various regions,” he says. “It was fascinating and surprising to see how interconnected even smaller local companies in all visited countries are to the global markets.”

Terry Lavender writes about global and international issues for U of T News.


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