The Chile Connection

Trip teaches leaders to turn obstacles into opportunities


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After organizing the students into teams, Oktay Sekercisoy gave them Chilean pesos and set them loose. “They had a list of things to do, not just take photos of themselves,” he says. “They had to do some local shopping and spend that money and learn on their first day how to use the subway system. If they couldn’t figure something out, they had to communicate with the locals to get to the city’s highlights and prove they had been there and had interacted with locals. They learned the city themselves.”

Sekercisoy, director for international partnership development, created the syllabus and taught the course, Doing Business in Emerging Markets, as part of the 19-month Executive MBA in Manhattan program. This was the school’s first entry into the South American business arena — and the first trip abroad for the Executive MBA program — but the School of Management has established connections in India, China, Australia and Europe at the undergraduate level over the past several years.

Chile proves to be a good “teacher”

Chile trip
Chile trip

Most of the trip to Chile was all business. Clockwise, from top left: Oktay Sekercisoy, wearing a protective yellow gown, tours a Chilean Commission of Nuclear Energy facility with the students. To learn about the marketing of Chilean wine in the United States, students visit the Kingston Family Vineyards in Valparaiso.

“An overseas trip is a mandatory part of the program,” says George Bobinski, associate dean. “To be a successful person in the business world, you have to have a very good understanding of global business. Decisions people are making in other countries affect your business even if you don’t do business outside of the United States.”

Originally, the class was headed to Turkey. But with concerns about ISIS, organizers sought another option. They found a company called the Austral Group, based in Santiago, that was able to customize the trip for the program and its students.

Chile’s economy is very interesting, says Bobinski, and its free-market policies have resulted in an export-driven economy that has grown significantly over the past decade.

Sekercisoy had students study Chile before the trip so they would learn about the history, politics and culture of the country and how it became the most developed nation in South America. “They couldn’t have gotten this experience in another country,” he says. With its unique and, some would say, unfortunate history, Chile has been able to develop a thriving economy and provide the foundation for an exceptional learning experience.

Two visits a day to businesses including financial, IT, healthcare and nuclear operations made for a jam-packed schedule and laid the groundwork for students to not only experience a different country, but network in their individual career areas. “The opportunities to meet with senior executives gave them great insight,” Bobinski says.

One student with a background in healthcare systems started a conversation with a Chilean hospital chain about their healthcare records and is now talking about a startup, Sekercisoy says.

Jilliane Conway, a financial analyst at BAE Systems in Endicott, N.Y., with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, might not have thought about other career paths before, but does now. While writing a paper about what she learned during the trip, she struck up a conversation with a BAE development director about a potential opportunity there.

“When I told him I’d gone to Chile for this class, he was intrigued and impressed because that’s similar to what he does [in Europe],” she says. Though her background is in finance, the experiences she gained in Chile have already opened the door to conversations about other roles at BAE that she would not have considered — or been considered for — in the past.

Students make connections

Patricio (Pat) Cahue works in management information systems in the healthcare insurance field and had an edge over his fellow students — he’s a native of Chile. However, he’s been in the United States for more than 40 years.

“Chile has changed a lot for the better, and I’m proud to see the changes,” he says. “It’s become contemporary — like the United States — by learning from other markets and countries and applying it to Chile.

“I saw it with different eyes and got to see multinational companies and government agencies,” Cahue says. “It was a treat for me and great to see others in the cohort see today’s Chile, which they tend to think of as a Third World country. I think they were impressed.”

One speaker from a bank was particularly memorable for Conway. “He gave his view of the history of Chile and how it plays a part in their economy and why they are where they are today. It was really interesting to hear how a regime shaped their future, how their economy was doing so well and the strategic decisions that had been made by a dictator [Augusto Pinochet, who ruled from 1973 to 1990]. It gave me a perspective I wouldn’t havegotten if I hadn’t gone there.”

Pinochet actually worked with economists from the Chicago School of Economics to establish the free-market principles that have helped make Chile an economic powerhouse. “There’s a term called the ‘miracle of Chile’ about how the economy rose,” Sekercisoy says. “There was a dictatorship, and you don’t expect a country with that history to have this
kind of economic growth.”

The only time Cahue inserted himself as a Chilean was when the others asked for some typical Chilean food, and he took them to an authentic restaurant not frequented by tourists for empanadas, seafood and vegetables that only Chileans would eat — and, of course, red wine. “I enjoyed that dinner so much because we were all together, not in a classroom, just sharing a nice moment and meal together. What it all boils down to is we’re from all over the world, and yet, that day, we were all the same and it didn’t matter where you were from.

The whole program was that way.”

The trip was a tremendous learning experience, Bobinski says. “Some of the students will say it added value to them beyond developing a better understanding
of what it’s like in another country. They made connections. Some people they met took off their ties and said, ‘Here’s how it is.’”

“If Binghamton can have this connection around the world, it’ll make these programs so much better and appealing to anyone looking for international studies,” Cahue says. “Business is becoming the global village, and what you see in Chile, you see in the United States.”

OPPORTUNITIES FOR UNDERGRADS

The School of Management is looking to extend the success of the Executive MBA program’s Chilean experience to undergraduates in a one- or two-credit course — the first time the school’s winter session trip for undergraduates will be offered for credit.

“We’re in the process of developing an undergraduate study-abroad course to Santiago with our university partner there [Duoc UC, part of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile],” says Oktay Sekercisoy, director for international partnership development.

The program would pair Binghamton students with Chilean students in a kind of small-scale internship, Sekercisoy says. “They will have a cross-cultural communication experience and exchange for a three-week period, hopefully in January 2016. We already have six students signed up.”