The Thunderbird Emerging Markets Practicum (TEM Lab) is the perfect laboratory and capstone course to challenge the education and skill set of a Thunderbird MBA candidate in a way that adds tremendous value to the client and host country, the students involved, and the school.
The education that I have received during my last two years at Thunderbird has been second to none. The school’s #1 ranking in international management is entirely warranted. Thunderbird has been able to recruit top tier professors and educators, who have provided challenging material and experiences that have changed the way in which I understand and do business. To maximize my learning at graduate school, I decided to split my focus into the study of marketing/brand management and consulting/leadership coursework. Doing so has provided me with access to some of the greatest intellects within these disciplines. In marketing, Professor Baer cemented my desire to pursue brand management and provided me with a tool kit and frameworks which will enable me to take on any challenge and add value to any firm. Professor Ettenson’s courses built upon this foundation, and in turn tapped into his network to provide for his students to be taught by industry leaders in branding across virtually all sectors of business. These learning experiences have been priceless.
It was a good thing that I was able to garner a top notch and applicable education in branding as my coursework in consulting has demanded my all. Professor Finney has connected with exciting companies in order to develop challenging projects that allow for real world application. During his course: Organizational Consulting, I was able to work for one of these firms (Net Documents). This practical experience allowed me to meld the consulting process with my newly honed branding skills. The hours and hours put forth for our client were both incredibly strenuous and rewarding. It was amazing to be able to present to the management team and then to see our strategy quickly adopted and implemented.
Having learned and achieved so much during my two years at school, I thought that the TEM lab course in Vietnam would be simple. We had put together an amazing team with diverse yet complementary experiences and backgrounds. The project was to be built around developing a brand strategy for a popular province in Vietnam and each team member had been around the world many times over and knew a few things about attractive destinations. Additionally, each of us had taken courses in cross cultural communication and excelled in global negotiations. So, this project should be a no brainer, right? Well, it turns out that balancing the complexity proved to be extremely challenging. This project has demanded that we fully utilize and enact the skills learned in Organizational Consulting, while balancing and infusing the proper marketing/branding strategies. An extreme layer of complication has been added with the political dynamics of working for a command structured government and the ensuing culture differences associated including the language, culture and education gaps.
The first few weeks were spent in the discovery phase of the consulting process. Previous posts have discussed some of the challenges we faced during this process. These challenges continued through weeks three and four for the rest of the team, but as the two members of the group with branding experience, Dave and I switched gears in order to scrutinize the market research, execute a brand audit on the province and develop a strong strategic marketing analysis and plan. With the marketing research in hand and with a little branding creativity we honed in on building a plan that would highlight differentiation and core competencies in order to create strong brand equity. We identified the brand essence of the province and discussed the need to be clear, concise and consistent in brand building. We worked on segmenting and targeting the market and the importance of social media in regards to our targeted segments. In others words, we geeked out on branding and somewhat forgot the consulting side of the coin.
After meeting with a few of the stakeholders and government officials who should be in charge of implementation (“should” being the operative word as the ambiguity and buck passing within the system is extremely high) we were quickly brought back down to earth (Vietnam). We realized that no matter how good our strategy was, we could not implement any of it without a great amount of buy-in from our stake holders. We also realized that the language, cultural and educational gaps were major obstacles and in order to be successful, we were going to have to find a way to be authentic without offending, and simple and clear while utilizing anecdotal types of examples as per cultural preference in understanding a subject. The final two weeks of work certainly seemed cut out for us.
Ultimately, this practicum has provided intense learning, and forced our team to apply knowledge from all aspects of our Thunderbird education. I can not imagine a better experience prior to reentering the work force. It is real global business exposure and has rendered the opportunity to gain authentic branding and consulting experience in an environment that is fraught with obstacles and challenges.