The International Consulting Project and Trip takes place at the end of the Program. It enables candidates to apply a global perspective. Here is what Harry Webster takes home from this experience.
As I look back over the past six months I am astonished at what an amazing, engaging, and life-changing experience the Vietnamese project was for all of us. I, along with my peers of Class 2013, have just returned from the Telfer Executive MBA International Consulting Trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Five teams spent one week within the South-East Asia region wrapping up our respective projects we have worked on around the clock in Canada since late 2012. Our intentions and expectations were high on delivering on objectives set forth in our various projects. The projects focused on delivering compelling business value for five client organizations.
Each of the five teams represented different sectors, which created unique barriers that each team needed to address before arriving in Vietnam. We also encountered common challenges. The most obvious one was trying to establish relationships on the other side of the world. Even though most major companies in Vietnam are English-speaking, most government institutions are non-English-speaking, especially cities away from Ho Chi Minh City. Additionally, the 12-hour time difference meant that we would be conducting phone interviews between Ottawa sunset and sunrise. I remember setting my alarm for 2AM on more than one occasion. In the end, the best solution was using LinkedIn. A thorough and well-targeted search of LinkedIn helped identify critical figures in Vietnam. We had remarkable success connecting to them by presenting ourselves as keen students from Canada, who were heading to Vietnam in April. While we expected to face large cultural differences in this phase, it seemed that those who were part of the ‘LinkedIn revolution’ were generally very warm and welcoming to our unsolicited introductions. In a short time, we managed to build a rich network of professionals across various industries in Vietnam.
The barriers were often larger for our specific client. When ‘Vietnam’ is mentioned in a conversation, the first thoughts likely would not be theme and water parks, or even experiential retail and hospitality. Our task as a team was to make it a topic. We were tasked with research to identify opportunities with the Vietnamese tourism and hospitality sectors for a client who is a world-leader in the development of entertainment projects. Given that our project focused on assessing Vietnam’s market relevance by region, we identified significant stakeholders who happened to be outside of Ho Chi Minh City. We learned quickly through research that much of development in Vietnam is driven by government policy. The team’s goal was to meet with the central government, which is based in Hanoi instead of the class’ destination, Ho Chi Minh City. With support from the program, we were able to travel to Hanoi to meet our objectives. We were pleased with the support we received from the program, which recognized the objectives of the project could be compromised if we were not able to meet the policy-makers in Hanoi.
Our team, comprised of Joanne, Johnny, Joseph, Casey and I, quickly realized the value of networks and relationships. After securing full engagement of our client, the team began the process of building a network within a wide range of industries in Vietnam - from banking, legal, accounting, hospitality to tourism. The team also focused on identifying contacts that could bridge the team to Vietnam's central government. With the market experiences of our Telfer project mentors and our relationships with AIESEC members, we were able to build a useful network and a significant amount of work before landing in Vietnam. In the month leading up to our arrival in Vietnam, the team was focused on refining project hypothesis based on the knowledge gained through secondary findings and by building a tight logistics plan. The plan would see us meeting with on-the-ground experts who could provide invaluable insight to shape and validate the project findings.
On April 20, after a 32- hour travel time, the class arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, a city with a population of just over 7 million residents. The coach ride from the airport to the hotel set our adrenaline pumping as we got our first glimpse of the hustling and bustling streets which were filled with more than 6 million motor scooters, some of which were carrying up to four passengers each. All of the reading and preparation I had completed did not prepare me for what I saw; Ho Chi Minh City is truly a modern city
The week was a marathon and all of us had to cross the finish line together. This dictated us to have a well-organized plan of action. After a day of rest, Johnny and I caught a flight to Hanoi early Monday morning while the other three members of our team had a roster of meetings in Ho Chi Minh City with major financial institutions such as KPMG and Sumitomo Capital. The team was able to cover a lot of ground in a short period by working in two sub-groups. We took good notes of each meeting so we could effectively brief one another when we reconvened upon our return from Hanoi.
The meetings in Hanoi proved to be of incredible value. Johnny and I met with the Vice Chairman of the Administration and his Executive Team in an hour-long meeting conducted by a translator. The Vice Chairman emphasized the government's pleasure in having representatives from Canada demonstrating strong interest in the development of tourism in Vietnam. We were able to profile our client organization to the government officials, who offered to co-author a press-release featuring an emerging partnership with us.
The rest of the week the team continue the tag-team approach for generating relationships with major local/multi-national institutions and consultants. A representative of our client organization joined us several times throughout the week. He observed the dedication and commitment of the team to the project as well as embraced the relationships we had established for his organization. His attendance proved conducive as the team easily transitioned the project back to the client organization at the end of the week. With a smooth transition, the organization could continue to engage the various relationships we had established in Vietnam for them.
With only 24 hours left before submitting our final report, we met late Thursday to feverishly formulate the final conclusion and our recommendations of the project. Our action plan saw us integrating learnings from respective meetings into the final report. Therefore, the last 24-hours were allocated to putting final touches and to formatting the report.
While we worked hard during the weekday, Telfer leadership made sure that we had time to let our hair down. One of the absolute highlights of the trip was an evening social excursion to the award-winning Chill Skybar atop the 27th floor roof of the AB Building. Under a full-moon, complete with a cool breeze, the entire class sipped cocktails while taking in the views of the night skyline. We, collectively, shared a poignant experience that marked one of our final evenings together as a class.
The week culminated in the delivery of our final report to our project mentor at six o’clock on Friday evening. With the click of the 'Send' button, we had submitted the product of almost six months of preparation and execution. This also marked the completion of all of the Telfer Executive MBA Program requirements. Clicked and it was official. We officially completed the intensive 21-month graduate program.
Our final hours in Vietnam were spent at the stunning and chic rooftop Shri restaurant to celebrate our achievements together. The tone of the evening was surprisingly somber. I think the finality was visible and we realized that this evening marked the conclusion of something greater than we had all imagined when we enrolled in the program two years ago. It wasn’t just about celebrating the action-packed International Consulting Project. It was the celebration of the entire program itself. The Class of 2013 had become a family. We had spent 10 to 20 hours weekly with one another for 21-months. We had been through so many enlightening moments. We learned, grown, suffered, laughed, fought celebrated, and lived together. All of those experiences created an affinity and a bond that is difficult to describe. But we can definitely feel it.
Today as I write this, I am still adapting to life after Vietnam. Personally, the experience of the International Consulting Project has totally changed the way I view everything I have learned within the program. It has definitely changed the way I view my own future in business. There were so many highlights for me; having created and executed such an amazing project with four of my best friends, working within a country I might have never otherwise had the chance to discover, meeting with such high-ranking and influential figures, delivering tangible results to an international organization and achieving excellence all at once - this has been a Game-Changer for me. This is what makes the Telfer Executive MBA program truly unique from any other professional or academic pursuit.