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Friday, December 2, 2011

SHU Luxembourg MBA Students Tour Middle East and Asia

SHU Luxembourg MBA Students 
Tour Middle East and Asia
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Sacred Heart University)

There’s textbook learning and then there’s the experience of being directly immersed in the subject matter. The latter is what 18 students enrolled in the MBA Finance program at Sacred Heart University’s Luxembourg campus experienced this past summer when they took a whirlwind tour of the Middle East and Asia to take an economic temperature reading.

Don Molner, an American who lives with his German wife and three young children in Trier, Germany, where he was once stationed, was one of the 18. Molner retired from the air force in 2009 after 27 years and was looking to transition from military to civilian life. “Sacred Heart’s was the only English MBA program in the region,” he discovered after an online search.

Molner started classes at SHU in Fall 2010 with a goal of learning more about corporate finance. Every two years, that campus offers an overseas trip as an elective. “The Middle East and Asia are emerging economies,” he said. “When studying global finance, these are key areas.”

Led by Professor Alfred Steinherr, the two-week trip took place July 2-16. “What was interesting about our group is that they were from four different continents, 11 different countries and many different career backgrounds,” Molner said.

The first four days were spent in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. “They have a big problem in the housing industry there. The financial crisis of 2008 left a lot of vacant real estate inventory,” Molner said. “There’s also a big discussion about what to do after oil.”

In Dubai, the group visited DP World, the largest global marine terminal operator, with facilities that are 15km long, and the Dubai Chamber, which is trying to expand its financial services to attract clients from Abu Dhabi, the source of a majority of Dubai’s GDP. They also visited the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and the Burj al Arab Hotel. “The Burj al Arab is supposedly the world’s only 7-star hotel,” Molner said. “When they build something here, it’s going to be the biggest and best. It’s not about money, but country pride. They’ve always lived in the shadow of Saudi Arabia.”

In Abu Dhabi, the capital of the U.A.E., the class toured the Mall of the Emirates, the world’s largest mall, which contains a ski slope. They also visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. “It accommodates 40,000 people,” said Molner. “We had to take off our shoes; the women had to cover up.”

Molner remarked that 90% of people in the U.A.E. are ex-patriots and the other 10% are mostly young natives who are given a free house, free utilities and a monthly stipend. The endowments have created problems in that, not surprisingly, the young don’t want to work. “Twenty-three percent of the young are unemployed; 34% haven’t completed high school,” Molner said.

A four-day stay in Beijing brought more insights, with tours of the Bank of China, where the group got a briefing on banking policy, and the U.S. and Luxembourg Embassies, among key sites. “A major portion of the discussion was about protection of intellectual property,” he said. “When a company wants to start production in China, they have to provide in-depth details about their operations and products. By the time the approval comes in, a Chinese company is already making your product – they’ve stolen the idea. They believe everyone should have access to it.”

The next stop was Bangkok, Thailand, with visits to the Asian Development Bank, focused on regional enhancement, and Chulalongkorn University, where international business professors explained how the country weathered the financial storm.

The final leg of the journey was Mumbai, India. The most impactful takeaways there were the “grotesque” poverty, extreme pollution and a service called Childline, which functions as a 24/7 emergency helpline for children in need of care or protection. The latter are in great jeopardy: “Six to seven million kids are sexually abused, 72 million ages 5 to 14 have no basic access to education,” Molner said.

Reflecting back on the trip, Molner concluded, “The entities we visited provided just a small snapshot of the current happening within each country. The trip cemented the learning experience.”

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