Helping expand MBA education while fostering growing business with South America.
BY CHRONICLE STAFF
Who said MBA studies were just about the numbers and theories? Thanks to a Chile-based company, MBA students from the United States and other countries are able to see first-hand how successful local and foreign companies operate in South America. The Austral Group organizes trips to Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Peru for MBA students after carefully researching the student's curriculum and needs.
"Many MBA programs are already offering travels, but a lot of them are focused on China," says Shaun Sheffield, executive director of The Austral Group. "We're trying to offer an alternative in [the US] backyard."
The Austral Group works closely with the universities to tailor-make the visits in accordance with the student's curriculum. "We work closely with universities so that the content they receive in the study is consistent with content they receive in the classroom," says Sheffield.
In addition to U.S. universities, the Austral Group counts among its clients universities from Canada, the Caribbean and soon expects to add Europe as well.
During the visits, students learn more about the companies through various alternatives, including internships and meeting key executives from various prominent local companies. Students receive an in-depth perspective into the economy, social environment, and how to do business in the region, as an extension to what they are learning in the classroom. "We work with leading companies in the region," he says.
The Austral Group also works closely with universities and professors in South America, so foreign students can get a brief idea of MBA studies in the region.
For the companies, those visits are a welcome opportunity to meet talent. "That's something they are always looking for," Sheffield says.
And the students often get something more than just new contacts. One group of students started a company that is now a successful US importer of Brazilian exotic flowers as a result of their trip earlier this year, Sheffield says. Other students have imported wine, food and beverages, musical instruments, and other interesting items from the region, based on contacts they made during their trip.
Meanwhile, some of the students returned after their MBA studies to work in South America. Even The Austral Group itself has hired some of the past participants.
STARTED AS MBA PROJECT
The Austral Group is itself the result of MBA studies. "The Austral Group started as part of the course," Sheffield says "MBA's do pay off."
It was started in 2004 and has been operating as a business since 2005. Sheffield himself has been dedicating 100 percent of his time since May last year, when he left Business News Americas, a Chile-based site specializing in business news. Sheffield had worked as the site's business development manager.
The Austral Group is seeing good demand for travel to all four countries where it operates. "More and more trips [are going] to Brazil," Sheffield says. And Peru is seeing more interest. "There's a lot of business opportunities [there]," he says.
Sheffield decided to set up shop in Chile due to a combination of reason, including a stable economy, and a fairly transparent and well-respected economic system. Added to that, Chile is drawing international attention for everything from its pioneering private pension system to its vast natural resources (it's the world's largest copper producer).
Apart from making a profit, The Austral Group also aims to boost knowledge about South America to many first-time visitors. The firm spends a lot of time with the students introducing them to the region’s rich cultural and tourist offerings – including the Andes Mountains, rain forests and national parks, museum tours, private visits to wineries, and leadership seminars at Patagonia ranches, Sheffield says.
And when they become smitten? "That always happens," Sheffield says. "That energizes us."
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