Community / February 1, 2012

Smith Students Travel to Australia 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 Australia with faculty advisor Dr. Mark Wellman in the words of Smith School undergraduate student Douglas M. Kletter.

The Australia global immersion course gave students the opportunity to see some of the key differences between doing business in the United States and Australia. The major learning objective was to better understand the key economic drivers that are stimulating Australia’s economic growth. In mid-2008, the Australian Dollar to U.S. Dollar conversion rate was as low as 0.6175; however, during our time in Australia, the conversion rate hovered between 1.02 - 1.05. The Australian Dollar’s strength is just one sign of how Australia’s economy is growing rapidly and catching the attention of the world.

Professor Mark Wellman took a group of 45 students to Australia to gain an appreciation for the political and economic history, as well as the culture and business practices of the region. An important outcome was to develop an understanding for the opportunities and challenges faced by global business professionals managing and operating business enterprises in a global environment. The global immersion experience included: 1) preparatory activities that covered cultural, economic, and political issues in the region; 2) an 11-day trip to the region; 3) assessing the impact of the experience by requiring students to submit a journal reflecting on the course events; and 4) evaluating students understanding of the region and different business concepts through written examination. The reflection assignment requires students to utilize their experiences from visiting a broad array of firms to strategically analyze key organizations and the Australian economy. In addition, the final examination requires students to read several papers and answer questions regarding competitive advantages, SWOT analyses, Porter’s Five Forces, economic and internal challenges, and future strategic initiatives for specific companies and the Australian economy.

The experience began with pre-trip activities including company research and presentations so the students could develop preliminary knowledge to build upon during the in-country company visits. The research covered many different industries including industrials, software development, airlines, and the performing arts. The students also had a briefing delivered by John Koln, the CEO of Team Results USA, who has extensive experience with doing business in Australia. Through classroom lectures, speakers, and presentations, students became familiar with the Australian news issues and concerns, challenges and opportunities of doing business in Australia, and its business environment.

The in-country component of the course included organizational visits to the Reserve Bank of Australia, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Google, Foster’s, Australian Football League, State Emergency Services, BHP Billiton, Circus Oz, Parliament, Port Waratah Coal Services, Coal Industry Centre, McGuigan Winery, Ernest Hill Winery, Qantas Airlines, and Atlassian. Cultural visits included the National Museum of Australia, Australian Institute of Sport, Great Ocean Road Tour, Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, attending a cricket match at Etihad Stadium, as well as visiting the Great Barrier Reef and Fraser Island.

Despite the fact that Australia is the same size as the continental United States, its population is only about 20 million people, roughly one-fifteenth that of the U.S. Most Australians live along the coastline, particularly in Eastern Australia. We were able to visit three of the largest cities in the country: Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

While in Melbourne, a visit was scheduled to the AFL or Australian Football League. The presentation was given by Jamie Williams, a Manager in the Business Analysis & Projects division. Ian Anderson, the CFO, was also in attendance and students were able to inquire further about the strategic financial decisions that are required to run a professional sports organization. Australian football, or "footy," as Australians call it, is similar to rugby, and is the most popular spectator sport during the winter months, cricket being the most popular during the summer months. The AFL pours AUD$3.4 billion annually into the economy. Ticket prices are relatively inexpensive at $20, which spurs many loyal spectators to regularly attend. Sponsors make profits as well, by earning 15% profit on sales of jerseys, or “jumpers,” on which their logo appears. AFL has enjoyed 8% revenue increases in the past 10 years, but recent capital expenditure projects have hurt their bottom line. At the conclusion of the visit, Mr. Anderson was kind enough to get the entire group free tickets to a cricket match at Etihad Stadium. It was a new experience for the entire group and many of the students learned a lot about the rules of the game.

The next visit was to Foster’s to learn more about the brewing business and the advanced logistics systems involved with the process. Foster’s Group specializes in beer, wine, and spirits and includes brands such as Carlton, Carlsberg, Victoria Bitter, Kronenbourg 1664, Penfolds, Lindemans, Beringer, and Chateau St. Jean. Throughout Foster’s history, they have expanded their offerings by buying companies all over the world such as vineyards in Napa Valley. Although their Australia group focuses only on several of the beers and wine selections, the company as a whole caters to varying markets across the world, in the U.S., New Zealand, Asia, and Europe.

The State Emergency Services was a very unique visit, as SES is a volunteer-based organization that helps across a wide variety areas from helping a cat down from a tree to disaster recovery. George Katris, one of the unit managers, gave a great presentation demonstrating the many different functions the SES serves. He also portrayed some of the difficulties the organization faces as a volunteer organization from both a personnel and financial perspective.

To learn more about the energy industry, the students had the opportunity to visit BHP Billiton. BHP Billiton is a global mining, oil and gas company headquartered in Melbourne, Australia and with a major management office in London, United Kingdom. It is the world's largest mining company measured by revenue and as of February 2011, was the world's third-largest company measured by market capitalization. BHP Billiton was created in 2001 through the merger of the Australian Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited (BHP) and the Anglo-Dutch Billiton plc. The presentation was very informative and touched on a variety of topics including futures hedging, operational efficiency, and government affairs. BHP is constantly looking for new potential sites, but students quickly learned that finding a profitable land area was just the beginning of the process. Working with the governments of many different countries is extremely important and a necessary part of their business model.

The visit to Circus Oz was one of the most unique visits on the trip. Circus Oz was the amalgamation of two already well-known groups, Soapbox Circus and New Ensemble Circus, and had their first performance in March 1978. To begin, students were split into four groups to learn different technical skills - juggling, hula-hooping, stunting, and tumbling. Second, a presentation was given on the history and culture of Circus Oz. The founders wanted to create a modern circus without animals, but instead with elements of rock'n'roll, popular theatre and satire. The company has an ongoing social justice agenda and has generally been open about supporting humanitarian causes. Over the years this has included women's rights, land rights for indigenous Australians and strong feelings about the plight of asylum seekers.

The next city visited was Canberra, Australia's capital. The first visit was the Australian Parliament, which allowed students to see the political sphere of Australia. The tour guide explained the various function of the government, many of which are similar to those in both the United States and well as the United Kingdom. For instance, their House of Representatives and Senate systems function similarly to those in the U.S.

The students got to experience and learn more about the materials and industrials industry through two visits: Port Waratah Coal Services and Coal Industry Centre. PWCS operates two coal terminals, Carrington and Kooragang, which are located in the Port of Newcastle. Carrington Coal Terminal has a shiploading capacity of 25 million tonnes per annum (‘Mtpa’) and Kooragang Coal Terminal has a shiploading capacity of 108 Mtpa. Drawing from over 30 mines which provide a diversity of coal types and using sophisticated blending and quality control techniques, PWCS is a world leader in coal handling. The Coal Industry Centre allowed students to experience the mining process, power generation and port loading facilities through models, static, audio-visual and interactive displays within the center.

On a tour of a few Hunter Valley vineyards, students received a lesson on wine making and cheese making from vineyard owners and sommeliers. Students visited McGuigan Winery and Ernest Hill Winery and saw the difference between a larger corporate winery compared to a smaller family-owned business. Differences among how the wines were made and each unique specialty increased the students’ appreciation of the wine industry within Australia's Hunter Valley.

On the company visit to Qantas Airlines, the students split into three smaller groups, with each group focused on a different aspect of Qantas’ functions. The three areas of discussion were engineering operations, crisis control, and business strategy. Engineering operations portrayed the vast complexity involved with maintaining a fleet of aircraft and keeping up with different regulations and other company-mandated maintenance. The Crisis Control Room was similar to the one in the White House and one of the risk managers described the intense protocols involved with any emergency. Qantas Airlines has been an industry-leader in crisis control and students witnessed first-hand how the company is setting the example for competition. The business strategy group went over the finance and different strategies implemented by Qantas. They disclosed that they were developing a low-cost carrier that would handle short distance flights ranging from Southeast Asia to Australia.

Although Australia is rarely thought about as the cutting edge center for technology or software development, Atlassian is a thriving software development company with a very unique culture. With values such as “Open Company, No Bull****,” Atlassian is a down-to-earth and open company that has top-of-the-line talent. The company culture definitely reminded students of companies such as Google and Facebook , companies which are revolutionizing the typical “corporate culture.” Mike Cannon-Brookes, Co-Founder and CEO, open spoke with students about the struggles and benefits of starting a company at a young age. Atlassian now has over $100 million in revenue and over 26,000 customers including eBay, Ford, DuPont, HSBC, and Xerox.

In order to become more familiar with the Australian economy, we visited the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), where Richard Finlay, a senior economist, shared his knowledge on monetary policies and the economic outlook for the Australian Federal Reserve. Some of the RBA's responsibilities include monetary policy, the stability and efficiency of the payments system and the financial system, issuing Australia’s currency, acting as a banker to the government, and managing foreign exchange. Students quickly learned that Australia’s vast natural resources are propelling not only their own economic growth, but most of Asia as well. Australia’s fundamentals continue to be strong with tight fiscal policy from the Reserve Bank of Australia, low unemployment, government budget surpluses, strong financial institutions, and an efficient Parliament.

Students got to meet a recent Smith alumnus, Stephanie Borgman, who now works in the Human Resources Department at Google. A sales manager also joined Stephanie as they shared their experiences, as well as their advice, for students in their future careers. Afterwards, students were led on a tour of the facilities, which embodied the mission of Google, “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.” The facilities featured unique decor reflecting Australian culture and personality, and offered a cafeteria with a wide range of free food selections, snack cafes throughout the offices, a game room, nap room, and many uniquely themed conference rooms. The glass-topped footed bathtub serving as a conference table was definitely one-of-a-kind. Googlers share an open office environment, but volume is not usually a concern because most communication is performed via the web.

The last organizational visit was to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia which is one of Australia's largest banks. The meeting was led by George Robinson, a University of Maryland alumnus, who invited many highly ranked managers to speak. The presentations were extremely informative and covered topics ranging from the Australian banking industry, Asian growth opportunities, the financial crisis effect on CBA, and CBA’s financial information. CBA demonstrated a new app that they created that is capable of connecting mobile payments with mobile banking. The app impressed the students who wanted to know when the technology would be making its way to the United States. Since the app was still very young, expansionary information was limited. To conclude, the director of recruiting decided to utilize forty-five hard-working and ambitious college students to brainstorm ideas for CBA’s recruiting. The students enjoyed giving their feedback and CBA greatly appreciated their efforts.

The first activity was the Great Ocean Road Tour where students got to see the beautiful southern Australian coastline just southwest of Melbourne through a guided bus tour. Consistently listed as a “Top 10 Activity to Do in Australia” by many travel organizations, students saw many great sites such as the 12 Apostles rock formation, the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village, and Seafaring past. The tour was also very educational as the historic Great Ocean Road unveils Australia’s unique history and heritage. The students got to learn about the heritage of Aboriginal Victoria from Wathaurong country in Geelong, to the Gunditjmara people of the west. The tour was also filled with native wildlife from kangaroos, to koalas, to emus, and why these animals are important to Australians.

The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) was created to train Olympic medalists in 34 sport programs in 26 sports. Guided by a BMX racer, the group toured the facilities, which houses most of Australian’s Olympic training facilities, as well as a multi-use arena, shared by eight sports and used for public performances. Subsidized by the government, the AIS was created after Australia did not win any gold medals at the Olympic Games in 1976.

Some of the more leisurely activities included cultural visits to learn the heritage of Australians at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra and a guided tour of the Sydney Opera House. One of the most recognizable buildings in the world, it was a miraculous feat that helped energize the nation’s economy during the Great Depression. The work instilled hope in the heart of Australians and the architect was considered a creative a mathematical genius, albeit one surrounded by controversy. In order to get the world involved in its creation, the design of the building was a competition, in which Danish architect Jorn Utzon dazzled the world. By taking parts from a single sphere, he discovered how to engineer the majestic arches.

Likewise, the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge gave hope to millions of Australians during the Great Depression. Held together by five million rivets, the bridge took over fifteen million men to build over the course of a decade. Students were able to climb 450 feet above Sydney Harbor by participating in the bridge climb, which involved extensive safety training and instruction. From the top, they were able to see a 360-degree panorama view of the city and beyond, even reaching the Blue Mountains.

One of the favorite activities on the trip involved a visit to Fraser Island and the Great Barrier Reef. Fraser Island is an all-sand island off the eastern coast of Australia that is home of protected wildlife and beautiful scenery. Students enjoyed a guided (and bumpy!) tour of the island as specially-made buses navigated their way through the beautiful terrain. There were many stops including the Maheno shipwreck, Lake McKenzie, EH Creek, Wanggoolba Creek, and 75-mile beach where the guide told us the historic significance of each site. The following day, students had the opportunity to snorkel and take scuba lessons on the Great Barrier Reef, and see the crystal blue water beautiful sea life. Students also had the opportunity to fish for a small additional fee. Fishing was conducted with simply fishing line and a hook, a similar method used by the Aborigines people. The Fraser Island Tour and Great Barrier Reef visit was a great way to conclude the trip as students reminisced on their unforgettable cultural experience.

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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