Business ventures across the pond: MBA students visit London and Ireland

The intricacies of international business, and Maine’s interactions with the UK and Ireland were the focus of University of Maine MBA students who traveled to London and Dublin last May as part of BUA 596.

Nory Jones, UMaine professor of MIS, and Richard Borgman, professor of finance, led the BUA 596 trip that included 10 graduate students. Using their professional contacts and personal connections, Jones and Borgman planned an itinerary that explored aspects of the cultural, political, commercial, and technological issues in the two countries.

“Each stop added an increment to the students’ knowledge about business in London and Dublin,” says Borgman. “The students learned about iconic institutions like Harrods and Lloyds, about internationally known firms like State Street, about young firms through the Guinness Enterprise Center, and about new behemoths like Google.”

At State Street Financial, students learned about international markets from one of the most well-known financial management companies in the world. Visits to Lloyds of London and RKH Specialty provided insight into insurance markets. Other business stops in London included Harrison’s Real Estate and Harrods department store, where the group made time for high tea.

“We want our students to understand and appreciate the complexities of international business that drive trade and world development,” says Jones.

A short flight across the Irish Sea delivered the group to Dublin for the second half of the trip. While there, students visited Guinness Enterprise Centre, a startup and small business incubator, and the Dublin headquarters of Google.

Trey Stewart III ’16, MBA ’18 viewed the trip abroad as an excellent “capstone” to his business studies.

“As technology evolves and the entire world is connected, you can truly ‘do business’ from anywhere,” Stewart says. “I think that this is a point that’s mentioned in passing in some of the MBA program, but it’s much easier to understand when you’re actually able to see first-hand the significance of the global economy.”

The itinerary was not solely focused on the industry side of international business. Jones and Borgman also wanted to emphasize the interconnectedness between business and politics.

While in London, the group visited the United States Embassy to meet with representatives from the U.S. Department of Commerce. With their direct involvement with American commercial policy, commerce officials discussed strategies for Maine companies to enter UK markets, specifically tourism, aviation, and advanced composites.

Perhaps the most pertinent political issue during the trip was, and still is, Brexit.

“We had Brexit discussions in each country,” says Borgman.

In London, students met with Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, House of Commons. MacNeil, chair of the International Trade Committee, noted that “the Department for International Trade has been tasked with nothing less than making a success of Brexit.”

Over in Ireland, visits with the Lord Mayor of Dublin, the CEO of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, and with Enterprise Ireland, a government agency that supports Irish small business, also led to discussions of Brexit and its unavoidable widespread effects.

Coincidentally, a bit of Maine history has found its way into the impending bloc exit.

“One of the thorniest issues in Brexit is the border between Northern Ireland, part of UK, and the Republic of Ireland, which will continue to be part of the EU,” Borgman says. “Having an open border is part of the Easter Treaty, which was brokered by Maine Sen. George Mitchell. Brexit and an open border are not compatible.”

Stewart, who, in addition to completing his MBA studies, is currently serving his second term in the Maine House of Representatives for District 147, enjoyed the confluence of business and politics.

“As someone who is very involved in Maine politics, I found the exposure we had to their political process and government leaders to be fascinating,” Stewart says. “We were able to view foreign political processes ‘in motion.’”

Even with most of their schedule full of insightful meetings and presentations, the students still made time to take in the storied histories and landscapes of England and Ireland. Landmarks visited include Buckingham Palace, Westminster Cathedral, the River Thames, Stonehenge and countless rural Irish castles.

And if you’re an MBA student on the fence about taking a trip abroad, “do it!” says Stewart. “It will likely be the best experience of your entire MBA program.”