UTEP MBA Group Takes European Challenge

May 6, 2009

Robert Gray / El Paso Inc

UTEP MBAsHe is not Donald Trump, but it could have been reality TV.

Robert Nachtmann, dean of the College of Business at the University of Texas at El Paso, recently led 30 students from UTEP’s MBA program on a trip to Eastern and Western Europe.

There were no booming declarations of “You’re fired!” but the UTEP students were paired with German team members from the European Business School in Frankfurt to complete three challenges.

“What I wanted to do was get students in two different environments that would surprise them, but in which they could operate successfully, whether they knew it or not,” Nachtmann said.

The 10-day trip in March was a new opportunity for students in the accelerated MBA program to experience business overseas, Nachtmann said.

“The course is first and foremost a comparative analysis of business practices of firms in the United States and firms abroad,” he said.

The teams were given three hours to complete a challenge and prepare a report on topics based on the subprime mortgage meltdown. The best presentation won.

Nachtmann said the results of the trip were “ridiculously successful.”

“The faculty members there were just stunned by our students. By the end of the evening, they wanted us to promise to do the same next year and they want to integrate the visits into their program,” he said, “So we’ll be going back to the business school every year now.”

While in Frankfurt and Prague in the Czech Republic, the students also researched and toured firms that were relevant to their areas of study.

Topics ranged from discount airlines and tourism to the video game industry and labor unions.

Musette Bracher, 51, vice president of marketing for GECU, was part of a team that studied credit unions.

In Germany, the birthplace of the modern credit union, they found the level of financial literacy to be much higher than in the U.S.

“In Germany, if you don’t have the money to buy something, you have to save for it. That is a given,” she said.

Credit cards have to be paid off every month, she said, and there is no option to make a minimum payment.

They talked with two teens who were already saving 20 percent to 30 percent of their paycheck, Bracher said.

The teens were surprised to learn that wasn’t typical in America.

“It was a tail between your legs sort of feeling,” she said. “It gave us a heightened sense that our mission here (in El Paso) is not done.”

Edgar Montiel, 31, started his own residential home building company in El Paso in 2007, Palo Verde Homes.

“We were able to visit several single-family home job sites. It was great to observe their construction practices and see what kind of materials they use,” Montiel said. “It is gratifying to know I am on the right track and am doing the same things that these huge firms are doing.”

According to Nachtmann, the new program, which is tentatively called the International Research Seminar, is indicative of the major changes going on at the College of Business.

“We’re putting a lot more managerial talent on the MBA programs, paying a lot more attention to it and, quite frankly, delivering on our promises,” he said.

The students paid for their own travel, lodging and food but, Nachtmann said, they are currently applying for an International Business Education Grant from the U.S. Department of Education so they can cover some of the student’s expenses and extend the program to other students.

“We are a little isolated in El Paso,” he said, “Even though we see ourselves as being on the border, we are not as global or international as we think.”

He added, “There are a lot of foreign companies right across the river but nobody interacts with them. Part of this is to say: ‘you know, it is time for us to pack up and start interacting with people abroad.’”

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