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From Ohio To Africa: Fisher MBAs Gain Real-Life Consulting Experience Outside The US

Fisher’s Global Applied Projects (GAP) program sees students embark on international consulting projects for real firms

In today’s business world, MBA employers are looking for grads with a global focus and the hands-on experience to show it.

At The Ohio State University’s Max M. Fisher College of Business, MBA students get just that. On the Fisher MBA’s 10-week Global Applied Projects (GAP) program, students gain unique business experiences outside of the US.

“GAP is not a case study or a case competition,” says Heidi Eldred, the program’s director. “It’s a real-world consulting project that addresses a real need of a paying client.”

From generating social impact in Ethiopia to strategizing a market entry into China, Fisher MBAs on the GAP program work in teams on real-life consulting projects for a wide variety of international corporations, non-profits and even governments.

In the past, students have worked on projects for Western Digital in Malaysia, DHL in Germany and Philips Healthcare in China. In Kenya, Fisher MBAs worked to raise awareness for a pioneering safe water transportation and storage device.

“Students are transformed by their GAP experience,” Heidi continues. “I see it in the work that they produce, I read it in the personal reflections that they write, I hear it from job recruiters.

“My vision - that every Fisher MBA student have the opportunity to take what they’ve studied in the classroom and apply it in the global workplace - happens through GAP.”

Fisher MBAs on the GAP program generally leave the US in May and spend three full weeks in their project country. Travel costs and visa fees are covered by the college.

We spoke to four Fisher MBA students to find out more about their GAP program experiences; what they did and what they learned.

Carrie Kiesel, part-time MBA ‘17

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In addition to her studies, Carrie works full-time in supply chain at a Fortune 500 healthcare services firm based in Ohio. She took three weeks off work to participate in Fisher’s GAP program.

My group worked for One Health, a non-profit organization that partnered with Ohio State, to try to develop healthcare infrastructure in Ethiopia.

The client wanted a report on what was going on at hospitals, pharmacies and manufacturing facilities in Ethiopia; to look at environmental, health, safety and quality procedures, and identify where there was room for improvement.

Before we travelled to Ethiopia, we compiled a list of 100 different facilities to visit. That was actually pretty difficult; there’s not a lot on the internet about hospitals in Ethiopia! We narrowed it down and, in Ethiopia, we visited facilities, took pictures, interviewed people, and put together a 50-page report on our findings, providing recommendations for each place we visited.

I’ve travelled a lot, but Ethiopia was really an experience that I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t at Fisher. Working together in a team of six for three weeks straight, made me realize how important it is to work in a diverse group to achieve the best results.

The GAP program is a chance to put a full consulting experience on your resume. We didn’t have any professors with us, we were organizing all the travel ourselves; we were really out there on our own doing the project.

Lucy Jingchen Liu, MBA ‘17

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Lucy has a background in nutrition and food service management. She started an online recipe book and platform for nutritional advice during her MBA.

My team and I went to three cities in China - Shanghai, Nanjing and Beijing - to explore the possibility of bringing RG Barry, a US-based fashion company, to China.

The key for this project was to find a reliable distribution channel. Our research started well before the travel date and, upon arrival, we finished the research with more consumer surveys, observations and interviews, as well as prepared materials for meetings with potential partners.

While meeting with potential partners, I realized that Chinese rely heavily on personal networks, and doing business in China is much more intimate than in the US. Language and cultural differences were and will remain a challenge, but the GAP program certainly provides us with a starting point.

More and more companies are branching out to other countries for business. Through this program, you have an opportunity to see what it’s actually like.

Biswajeet Panigrahi, MBA ’17

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Indian full-time student Biswajeet previously worked in engineering and aims to go into management consulting after his MBA.

This summer, I spent three weeks in China working on a consulting project with US-based air filter manufacturing company Columbus Industries.

Our client had traditionally done B2B manufacturing and selling in the US. They wanted to understand the feasibility of entering the Chinese market and selling directly to the consumer. The catch was that they had their manufacturing facility in Mexico.

There were 12 of us subdivided into three teams: legal, marketing and supply chain. I led the supply chain team, looking at the feasibility of getting those air filters from Mexico to China. And together, we came up with a go-to-market strategy for our client. The last I heard, they’re looking at entering the Chinese market by the beginning of 2017.

I would definitely recommend the GAP program. In most MBA classes, you start with a case discussion and you have all the data you need for analysis. The GAP program shows you how business works in the real world where data collection is a huge challenge. It took me two weeks to schedule a first meeting with FedEx to get some information on what we wanted to do.

Plus, I’d always wanted to visit China, and through the GAP program I got the opportunity to experience the culture first-hand. In Shanghai, we climbed the Oriental Pearl Tower where you can have an entire view of the city. And from Beijing, we visited the Great Wall.

Jeffrey Martin, MBA ‘17

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Jeffrey (center left) is a former US Marine with a background in fitness and healthcare. He interned at Johnson & Johnson this summer.

For the 2016 GAP Program, I worked on a project for the Global Water Institute (formerly the Global Water Initiative) in Tanzania.  The purpose of our project was to evaluate the feasibility of a private franchise model for maintaining wells in rural Tanzanian villages.

Traveling to Africa to work on a project with real-life implications for everyday Tanzanians was an incredible rewarding opportunity that allowed me to grow professionally and personally.  I had the opportunity to apply business concepts learned in the classroom to an area that could greatly improve the everyday lives of Tanzanian citizens.  I experienced a culture very different from my own and gained a greater appreciation for the lifestyle I enjoy here in the United States.  Furthermore, I gained a greater understanding and appreciation for the everyday struggles of those living in underdeveloped regions of the world.

Finally, I had the opportunity to explore one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen, interact with the Maasai people, snorkel off the coast of Zanzibar, and witness the great migration in the Serengeti.

GAP is a truly wonderful experience that I would encourage students in the future to take advantage of.

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