I traveled to France two years ago for the international field study (IFS) component of my MBA program. I recently found some bits I’d written about the trip, but never shared with y’all.
Some thoughts of the trip follow below. I must confess it errs on the drier, more academic note as I’d written this for the program. Hopefully soon a more cohesive (and sassy) post that’d do the trip justice may follow too.
As a cohort, we traveled to France for a 10-day international field study, spending most of our time in Bordeaux and a few days in Paris. We had the objective of studying business environments in France on site to gain a better understanding of the complex framework—political, economic, legal and social—in which small and medium-sized firms as well as large multinational enterprises operating in France conduct business.
Continuing the tradition of leveraging relationships that St. Mary’s has established with universities in other countries, the University of Bordeaux School of Management (IAE) assisted our Greehey School of Business with organizing lectures, company visits, and cultural activities in and around Bordeaux.
We learned about several booming industries in Bordeaux including aerospace/aviation, manufacturing, shipping, technology, and of course—wine.
Francois Courtot, former CEO of Safran, and Alain Brodin, vice president of EADS, shared their experiences and insights with the French aerospace/aviation industry. We also heard from Christophe Poulain, vice president of sales and marcom at WorldCast Systems—a highly respected provider of professional, reliable and innovative solutions to the radio and TV industry worldwide.
A crowd favorite was learning about entrepreneurship from Laurent Bozzoni of Socatra who spoke about his family-run global shipping company. We also had the opportunity to visit and tour the facilities of Acteon, a group that designs, manufactures and distributes medical and dental devices and is internationally known for its expertise in electronics and micromechanics.
Of course, no visit to Bordeaux would be complete without learning and understanding the famous wine region. We learned the nuts and bolts from Anne Jourdain, an attorney whose clients are primarily in the wine business. Furthermore, we learned about the marketing and distribution of wines from Patrick Bernard, founder and managing director of Millésima, Europe’s leading fine wine mail order merchant, and also had the opportunity to tour the company facilities and warehouse.
And of course, we visited two châteaus—Château du Taillan and Château Siaurac—for an authentic learning experience, from vine to glass.
We also had the opportunity to visit the gravesite of Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, founder of the Society of Mary, and toured his office and residence at the Chapel of the Madeleine in Bordeaux.
Finally, we ended our trip with a weekend in Paris to explore the cultural sites in the famous city.
The visit to Acteon was an eye opener. Because Acteon is a medical device manufacturer, I assumed we would see a large warehouse with a plethora of automated machines. For a well-known multinational company operating all over the world, this was not the case. There was a lot more human labor involved than I had expected. Each piece of equipment was assembled by real live persons. Pierson did comment on the quality of Acteon products being superior to U.S. quality and also attributed the design excellence to their competitive advantage and success.
Visiting Millésima was an absolute treat. The exterior of the place didn’t seem like much, but when Bernard took us further into the facility, we were greeted with what I like to call the Home Depot cellar of wine. Row after row, filled with cases of wine. In all, there were over two million bottles of wine with a net worth of almost $60 million.
Christophe Poulain of WorldCast Systems visited us at IAE and discussed the dynamics of international expansion as well as well as other factors to consider when conducting business outside of a home country, including: cost of transportation, time zones, quality, corruption and safety. Poulain also shared two strategies for companies to utilize to move forward with success: win an award every year and regularly conduct satisfaction surveys.
Prior to the trip, several of the cohort members got together and had the opportunity to hear from an acquaintance who works for a wine and spirit distributor here in Texas. Liz was very knowledgeable and taught us a lot of valuable information about the wine industry, and specifically that of France and the Bordeaux region. Having had the opportunity to learn the basics of the Bordeaux industry, Anne Jourdain’s class was a bit redundant for me. I would have liked to hear more about cases she may have worked on as an attorney instead of Wine 101.
The visits to Chateau le Taillan and Chateua Siaurac were fabulous experiences. Taillan was smaller than Siaurac, but it was nice to visit a smaller-scale, more intimate winery. Taillan was unique in that the cellar was essentially an underground cave from centuries ago, utilized by monks who used to own the property.
Our visit to Siaurac was a great way to end our day trip in St. Emilion. After a day of walking around and exploring the historic town above and underground it was refreshing to just take a pause with the cohort. The picnic lunch on the Siaurac lawn was a fantastic cultural experience, and one that I’ll remember for a long time. It was an added bonus to have such a knowledgeable guide at Siaurac who was very passionate about the art and business of growing grapes and producing wine.
This trip was engaging, enlightening and enjoyable. The discussions and experiences shared on this trip really got me riled up about life and seeing more of the world, learning how other cultures live, conduct business and function as a society.
From conversations with other cohort members, the international field study was really, simply put—awesome. It’s difficult to put into words how exactly this field study has made an impact. To take an international trip and share ten or so days with twenty of your peers—it does something to you. We bonded and navigated our way through unfamiliar waters (really more like subways and French streets), and made it an unforgettable experience.
Certainly throughout my other courses and throughout the rest of my time in the Greehey MBA program, I’ll pull from the discussions and experience we had from this trip to better formulate ideas and projects; looking at the bigger picture, not just what question, problem, or sheet is in front of me.
It has always been a dream to create a business in the Philippines, in the village where my mother grew up. A village remote from a large city, commerce is rare in this area. I’d like to find a way to stimulate business and self-sufficiency in the area. Having grown up with parents who immigrated from the Philippines, I was always told I had the best of both worlds. I was living and growing up in the United States, but had cultural roots in a country thousands of miles away.
After this trip, the desire is stronger to make that dream into a reality. It is possible to conduct business in multiple countries, but it’ll take work.
I plan to make the most of the rest of this program absorbing as much knowledge as I can and making meaningful connections to help or inspire me, and reach these goals. The field study was a great way for me to get out of my comfort zone, and take risks.