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Global Confectionery Industry Leaders Sweet on Advice from Undergraduates

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As part of a pilot program to provide undergraduate students with global business experience, a new elective course at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business recently took a group of 20 students to Barcelona, Spain, to meet with global confectionery industry leaders and make recommendations on the future of the industry for four international companies.

This course builds upon the school’s tradition of providing global consulting experiences for all of its graduate students, an idea pioneered by Georgetown McDonough 20 years ago. As a first for the school’s undergraduates, the course creates an opportunity to gain an international perspective, access to global industry leaders, and first-hand knowledge of global business.

“There is no way to replicate this transformative experience on campus,” said Norean R. Sharpe, senior associate dean for undergraduate programs. “Students expand their traditional business skills by meeting with industry leaders, presenting research to a panel of experts, and experiencing the Spanish culture and economy first-hand.”

The program was established as a collaboration between the undergraduate program and the school’s Global Business Initiative with a gift from alumni Joseph (B ’93) and Abigail (SFS ’96) Baratta.

“Georgetown has an opportunity to really define what is unique about its undergraduate business education,” Joseph Baratta said. “It’s not just to study accounting and finance – exposure to different business cultures is important to be a really successful business person. Giving that kind of exposure at a young age is beneficial and unique to Georgetown.”

According to students in the program, the new course met its goal of creating an innovative opportunity for students to gain international experience and build a global mindset.

“The experience was absolutely incredible,” said junior Chris Onorato. “I gained valuable exposure to unique challenges faced by multinationals and had the opportunity to develop key communication and presentation skills with the help of industry executives.”

Last semester, juniors were invited to apply for the pilot course, and they have been in class learning about operations and global logistics since January. Ricardo Ernst, who is professor of operations and director of the school’s Global Business Initiative, designed the curriculum to focus on the Spanish economy and the effects of the global financial crisis within Spain and the European Union.

According to Ernst, the class addresses how to balance the challenges of a globalizing world with the requirement of local needs. “Our students have been learning how to leverage globally, structure regionally, and manage locally,” he said. “We chose to study the confectionery industry because it exhibits great complexity in doing all three things.”

Working in groups of five, the students were assigned to a major global confectionery company – Mars, Hershey, Nestle, or Mondelez – and were tasked with providing an overview of the structure and mission of each one, as well as strategic recommendations for improvement.

Panelists including Konstantin Eckes, director-general of Lindt & Sprungli SA Spain, were impressed with the quality of the students’ work. He said he was pleasantly surprised to see the students exhibit “senior management skills already at the age of 20.”

Before leaving for Barcelona, the students attended a talk by Ramón Gill-Casares, ambassador of Spain to the United States, to learn about the cultural, political, and economic environment of his country. While they were in Barcelona, Xavier Mir de la Fuente, former CEO of Affinity and Joyco, met with them to discuss strategic trends, mergers and acquisitions, and a historical overview of the confectionary industry. They also visited executive offices of Lindt and Wrigley/Mars in Spain.

“Top executives from global firms like Lindt and Danone worked closely with us through the preparation of our project in Barcelona,” said participant Diego Bacci. “Such an international experience put into play the global business education that the McDonough School of Business has offered me.”

After combining the research they completed both in the United States and in Spain, each student team presented their final projects to a panel of executives from the confectionery industry.

After the presentations, several panelists commented on the promise exhibited by the group of juniors who represent the world’s next generation of business leaders.

Jordi Fabregas, former managing director at Lindt and Sprungli Spain, said “I have seen hungry people getting ready for a better world and, listening to them, I am sure they will make it happen.”

Jordi Constans, former CEO of Louis Vuitton, said “I’ve seen conviction, values, hard work, energy, assertiveness, team spirit, and a lot of passion. Congratulations, keep going, and thank you for making me feel reassured and happy about our future.”

- Photo by Casey Reinhart