Smith Students Travel to Singapore and Malaysia for Global Immersion Experience
Each January dozens of students from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith
School of Business use the winter break to their best advantage and embark on global
immersion study trips around the world.
Read about the January 2012 trip to Singapore and Malaysia with faculty
advisor Dr. Mark Wellman in the words of Smith School undergraduate student
Douglas M. Kletter.
Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary, Singapore
With a population of only five million people, Singapore is just a small dot
on a world map. However, for those who look for models of success in public policy,
business, education, community development, crime control and urban planning, Singapore
is a role model. In less than 50 years, Singapore transformed from a tiny port on
the southern edge of Malaysia into one of the most developed Southeast Asian nations.
Forty-four students visited Singapore and Malaysia in January 2012 to gain an
appreciation for the culture, customs, and practices of the region. An important
outcome was to develop an understanding for how Singapore has emerged from a backwater
third world economy into a world financial, urban planning and educational leader.
The global immersion experience included: 1) preparatory activities that covered
cultural, economic, and political issues in the region; 2) a 12-day trip to the
region; and 3) assessing the impact of the experience by requiring students to submit
a journal reflecting on the course events and completing a final examination that
requires application of the assigned readings.
The in-country component of the course included organization visits to companies
such as the Media Development Authority, Corporate Executive Board, Housing Development
Board, BBC, Economic Development Board, Exxon, Asia Pacific Brewery, Singapore Airlines,
Marina Bay Sands, Universal Studios, Discovery Communications, Petronas, and Air
Asia. Students also had the opportunity for many cultural visits including Singapore’s
Parliament, School of Hard Knocks, Singapore Zoo and Night Safari, Port Discovery
Tour, National Museum of Singapore, Singapore Flyer, Titanic & ArtScience Museum,
Kuala Gandah elephant sanctuary, and Batu Caves.
The experience began with a visit to the Media Development Authority where the
group met with the Deputy CEO and University of Maryland alumnus, Michael Yap. He
was a very insightful speaker that stressed the importance of creativity and entrepreneurship
within the economy. By reflecting on his career path, students could easily grasp
that hard work, determination, and passion can lead to success. Before joining the
MDA, Mr. Yap was a Managing Director for Oracle and Vice President of Business Development.
He also started many of his own business including Commerce Exchange, a software
product company that now has a strong regional presence in more than 30 countries
At Nanyang Technological University, students met with Melissa Bailey, a Managing
Director at Corporate Executive Board Asia. Melissa graduated from the University
of Maryland with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Engineering and immediately
joined Accenture after graduating. In 2005, she joined Corporate Executive Board
where she helped launch CEB’s Asia Pacific headquarters in Australia and the recently
opened office in Singapore. The students were able to gain an understanding some
of the difficulties of starting an office in a completely new country. Melissa explained
that many programs offered by the CEB needed to change, including the actual educational
teaching lessons. It was very interesting to hear how Melissa helped bridge a corporate
strategy working in the West to the very unique region of Southeastern Asia.
Since being founded in 1960, the HDB has been providing affordable housing for
a large percentage of the Singaporean population. The visit began with a presentation
and tour led by a representative of the HDB who described the mission of the organization
and its structure and policies. During the Q&A session that followed, he addressed
many of the questions the students had regarding the affordability of the housing,
financing policies, ethnic distribution, and future expansion. It was interesting
to hear that over 80 percent of Singaporeans receive their housing from the HDB
at a great annual deficit to the government. The presentation was followed by a
tour of model apartments that were exact replicas of HDB flats.
To learn more about the broadcasting and network business, students had the opportunity
to meet and talk to a BBC anchor and University of Maryland alumnus, Sharanjit Leyl.
Ms. Leyl is responsible for the Asia Business Report and Newsday for BBC World News.
BBC World is one of the world’s most trusted news sources offering unmatched, impartial,
in-depth analysis of breaking news and events from around the world. The channel
is a trusted source of international news to viewers in more than 200 countries
and territories. It is broadcasted to around 300 million households worldwide. Ms.
Leyl explained her career path, the day-to-day activities of her job, and also offered
great insight into the different developing economies of Asia. Students were very
interested to hear how the financial crisis of 2008 had resounding effects across
the world, even in the small country of Singapore, and how dynamic the broadcasting
industry can be.
Students were able to better understand Singapore’s economic success through
a visit to the Economic Development Board. The Singapore Economic Development Board
(EDB) is the lead government agency for planning and executing strategies to enhance
Singapore's position as a global business center. EDB dreams, designs and delivers
solutions that create value for investors and companies in Singapore. The EDB’s
presentation stressed three main elements: (1) attracting investment in manufacturing
and services from both local and foreign investors, (2) expanding and extending
existing industry verticals by exploring new growth areas, and (3) enhancing the
business environment through feedback to other governmental agencies.
The visit to ExxonMobil, the largest foreign manufacturing investor in Singapore,
provided an opportunity to visit the world's largest integrated chemical and refining
plant. The class was received by Christabel Tsai who gave a tour of the chemical
gallery which provided students a panoramic view of the operations. The tour then
moved on to the control room where every facet of the operation was monitored through
sophisticated computer programs and cameras. Plant Manager Derk Hartgerink, along
with two other managing directors, gave presentations to the group regarding the
manufacturing site and energy outlook until 2040. Students asked many questions
and had the opportunity to learn from some of the highest ranking executives in
the Singapore plant. By 2030, ExxonMobil expects energy demand to be 35 percent
higher than it was in the year 2005, driven primarily by higher standards of living
in developing nations. The presentations increased the students’ awareness of the
dual challenge facing energy companies of meeting the world’s growing energy needs
while reducing the environmental impact. The tour concluded with a guided bus tour
of the plant through which the students gained an appreciation for the vast size
of the operation.
Asia Pacific Breweries, producer of Singapore’s award-winning Tiger Beer, is
ranked as one of the top companies in Asia with a reputation for being a top value
creator for its customers, consumers, and shareholders. The students learned about
the steps of the brewing process and the natural resources that are utilized. The
Tiger Beer brewing process incorporates approximately 250 quality control checks,
which is 50 more than most other beers, to ensure the smooth and consistent flavor.
The storage facilities were so well organized, automated, and technologically advanced
that only four to five people were needed to monitor them at one time. In addition,
the logistics involved with bottling and distributing the various products are very
complex, as the students were able to witness first-hand. The tour guide was very
informative and knowledgeable about the entire process and provided well thought-out
responses to all of the students’ inquiries.
The visit to Singapore Airlines was hosted by Nicholas Ionides who is the Vice
President of Public Affairs and extremely knowledgeable on the airline industry
and Singapore Airline’s strategic positioning within the market. The visit started
with a tour of the facilities where flight attendants are trained and licensed.
Learning about how each type of plane and each seating class had a separate curriculum
was very interesting. In addition, students learned that business class and first-class
flight attendants are given that privilege only through years of experience. In
fact, first-class service often require over ten years of flight experience. Nick
led the presentation on Singapore Airlines and the airline industry around the world.
Students were interested in how Singapore Airlines achieves strong customer service,
manages costs effectively, fosters innovation, uses information technology to create
a competitive advantage.
The course also provided an opportunity to interact with several Robert H. Smith
School of Business graduates, including Vickum Nawagamuwage and Ivan Szpakowski,
who started a private equity fund and work for Credit Suisse analyzing the commodities
market, respectively. Vickum also brought a friend who worked for a company that
seeks young talent for large accounting firms. Over dinner, students were able to
network and socialize with three highly successful individuals from different areas
of business. Additionally, they addressed the living conditions of American expatriates
in Singapore. It was interesting to hear about Singapore from a different perspective
and the students learned a great deal about the treatment of expatriates, their
living arrangements, and their financial condition.
Marina Bay Sands was developed by Las Vegas Sands and is billed as the world’s
most expensive standalone casino property at S$8 billion. With the casino complete,
the resort features a 2,561-room hotel, a 1,300,000-square-foot convention-exhibition
centre, an 800,000-square-foot The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands mall, an iconic ArtScience
museum, two large theatres, seven “celebrity chef” restaurants, two floating Crystal
Pavilions, an ice skating rink, and the world’s largest atrium casino with 500 tables
and 1,600 slot machines. The complex is topped by a 340m-long SkyPark with a capacity
of 3,900 people and a 150m infinity swimming pool, set on top of the world's largest
public cantilevered platform, which overhangs the north tower by 67m.
Several executives led an extensive visit of the awe-inspiring complex and students
were exposed to the complex operations of such a huge resort. Joe Malnerich, Vice
President of Casino Marketing, led the presentation and was extremely informative.
Students were split into two groups based on age (21 was the minimum age to see
the casino) to view the different aspects of the resort. All groups toured the hotel
and rooftop, but more importantly, learned about the techniques and strategies imposed
by management to maximize profit. The presentation covered many different areas
such as VIP players, hotel management, risk management in casinos, and rewards programs.
The topics were very unique and included information that is not easily assessable
to the public or business students. To conclude, the group visited the Titanic and
ArtScience Exhibits, which were fascinating and showed why Marina Bay Sands is one
of the best leisure resorts in the world. With such a unique visit, many students
thought this to be the best organizational visit of the trip.
To learn more about the entertainment and leisure businesses in Singapore, the
group visited Universal Studios and met with John Hallenbeck, the Vice President
of Park Operations. Students were able to learn about the extensive amount of planning
and strategy involved with making a theme park. Each theme has to be thought about
from many perspectives including financial, demographic, corporate expectations,
etc. In addition, John explained some of the steps that go into deciding on new
rides and exhibits. For example, the students were given a free ride on the new
virtual reality Transformers ride and were later told that the ride cost over $150
The class gained a unique perspective regarding how the world's top nonfiction
media company, Discovery Communications, adapts its programming to suit local markets.
Tom Keaveny, Executive Vice President & Managing Director of Discovery Networks
Asia-Pacific, provided an informative overview of DNA with a focus on how Discovery
has emerged as the leading channel in the region. The regional and global strategies
of Discovery were outlined. DNA has developed an impressive broadcast infrastructure
that allows for customization of over 30 Asian countries. Catering to individual
market needs, programs are broadcasted in nine different langauges on 18 unique
feeds, with a cumulative reach of over 439 million subscribers across Asia-Pacific.
DNA’s portfolio includes Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, Discovery Travel & Living,
Discovery Home & Health, Discovery Real Time, and Discovery Science.
The journey to Malaysia provided some memorable experiences including a visit
to the Petronas Towers - one of the most well recognized symbols of Malaysia. The
steel and glass facade of the twin buildings is an iconic part of the city's skyline.
Students had the opportunity to visit the company for which the towers are named
- Petronas. Wholly owned by the Government of Malaysia, the corporation is vested
with the entire oil and gas resources in Malaysia and is entrusted with the responsibility
of developing these responsibilities and adding value. It is also the most profitable
company in Asia and thirteenth most profitable in the world. During the organization
visit, the students learned about Petronas’ organizational strategy and values.
Arif Mahmood, Vice President of Corporate Strategic Planning, portrayed some of
Petronas’ strategy moving forward along with the importance of the company to the
The last organization visit of the trip was to AirAsia. AirAsia is sometimes
referred to as the “Southwest” of Asia because the airline is a low-cost carrier
with a very light-hearted and nontraditional culture. The group was given a tour
of the offices and then a presentation by Ahmad Faizul who works as an assistant
to the CEO, Tony Fernandes. The office spaces have no walls or doors, including
the CEO’s office, to help promote open communication throughout the company. The
AirAsia group operates domestic and international flights to over 400 destinations
spanning 25 countries. AirAsia won the Skytrax World’s best low-cost airline award
in 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011. It had the world’s lowest operating costs at USD
0.035/seat-kilometer in 2010 and is also the first airline in the region to implement
fully ticketless air travel.
The visit to Singapore’s Parliament gave students a glance into the political
system of Singapore. Students took a tour of the building in many areas that are
usually blocked off to the public. It was interesting to see the similarities and
differences in government structure between the U.S. and Singapore. The Singapore
Parliament is modeled after the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy where
Members of Parliament are voted in at regular General Elections. The leader of the
political party that secures the majority of seats in Parliament will be asked by
the President to become the Prime Minister. The PM will then select his Ministers
from elected MPs to form the Cabinet. They also stressed the importance of Sir Thomas
Raffles, the “Father of Singapore,” in its economic and political development.
When visiting the world’s largest pewter maker, Royal Selangor, the students
heard the story about the company from its founding in Kuala Lumpur over 100 years
ago to its current success with a presence in over 20 countries. With a factory
tour, the students had a chance to witness the various steps that are involved in
the creation of pewter products, including casting, shaping, and polishing. The
visit concluded with an interactive experience at the “School of Hard Knocks” where
everyone made their own pewter dishes using traditional methods and tools.
No trip to Singapore is complete without a visit to the award winning Singapore
Zoo. The Singapore Zoo was truly unique in that it took the effort to completely
re-create the natural habitats for each animal that is hosts, allowing visitors
to have an all-encompassing experience which resulted in an excellent learning opportunity
for the students. In addition, the Zoo is involved in interesting conservation,
rescue, and research efforts that were described to the group on the tram rides
available within the facility. The experience at the Zoo concluded with the Night
Safari, which is rated as one of the top sights to see in Singapore. The students
boarded a tram with a knowledgeable tour guide who took the group around the dark
Zoo that had scattered exhibits of various animals including gazelle, deer, tigers,
hippos, and elephants. The guide discussed the nightly habits of all these creatures
and the students were able to see the animals interact within their natural environment
at night. This was an unforgettable experience and an excellent conclusion to the
Singapore Zoo visit.
The Port Discovery Tour was a multi-facet tour where students had the opportunity
to learn more about the history of Singapore while witnessing the massive development
the country has accomplished. The tour started with a guided Chinese Bumboat ride
along the Singapore River where the students could see Singapore’s origins.
A bus tour showed different aspects of Singapore’s port. The Port of Singapore
is the world’s second largest container terminal hub and handles one fifth of the
world's container traffic. In addition, it has earned the best container award in
Asia for 20 years. Lastly, students were able to oversee Singapore in a cable car
ride. The sights were breathtaking and the group was intrigued with the amount of
construction still occurring in the city. Even with Singapore's rapid expansion
in fifty years, the country continues to find ways to improve and enhance their
offering to the world.
The National Museum of Singapore tour provided important information regarding
the history of Singapore, from its early settlers to the more recent developments.
An entire exhibit was devoted to Sir Stamford Raffles - a 19th century British politician
who is considered the founder of Singapore. The tour assisted in providing a historical
and culture perspective to address how Singapore has defied the standard models
of economic development and political structure. Despite the single-party government,
the island-nation has remained free of corruption for nearly half a century, while
developing its industrial capabilities, infrastructure, and education. To this day,
the country attracts billions of dollars of reign investment annually, and provides
its citizens with one of the best educational systems in the world and ranks in
the top 20 countries based on its GDP per capita.
At night, the students took a ride on the Singapore Flyer, the tallest Ferris
wheel in the world at 541 feet. Constructed from 2005-2008, the Singapore Flyer
offers some of the most beautiful views of Singapore. From the financial center
to housing clusters, students could see how Singapore utilized the limited physical
space to create a thriving country with a growing economy envied by most of the
To better understand the local culture of Malaysia and experience the rural lifestyle
of Malaysians, the group visited the Kuala Gandah elephant sanctuary led by Mr.
Zali. The students learned about the rapidly decreasing Malaysian elephant population
and the many different ways to help rescue them. Mr. Zali explained the different
techniques used to rescue the elephants and how poachers are to blame for brutal
murders of elephants. Throughout the day, the students helped the sanctuary with
different tasks including feeding and bathing elephants, making sandbags, painting
the security house, and preparing the food. It was a truly unique experience that
the group will never forget.
The last event of the trip was a visit to the Batu Caves. The large limestone
formation formed many caves which contain temples and sacred Hindu sites. In order
to reach the caves, the students had to scale 272 steps. All visitors to the Caves
are greeted by a 140-foot gold-plated statue of Lord Muruga - the Hindu deity of
war. The Caves serve as a pilgrimage site for the annual Hindu festival, Thaipusam,
which celebrates the birthday of Muruga. Students had the option to explore the
cave through crawling, climbing, and sliding their way to the end through the adventure
package. Even though the adventure ended in a muddy mess, everyone had a huge smile
on their face as they reminisced on the 12-day cultural journey they had just completed.