As economies becomes increasingly global, workers face new challenges, as do their managers. The School of International Business and Entrepreneurship (SIBE) at Steinbeis University Berlin has recognized changing needs and offers companies ways to meet these challenges with its Going Global Program.
German exports hit record levels in 2015. According to the Federal Statistical Office, last year German companies exported goods worth almost €1.2 billion to every corner of the globe. Compared to the previous year, exports rose by 6.4% and imports were up by 4.2%. So for enterprises, globalization is making it possible to access new sales and procurement markets. Companies that previously focused more on internal markets now also face more competition and the pressure to act quickly. For example, price competition is more intense, there is more competition in terms of quality, and there is increasing competition for qualified workers and (young) managers. Ultimately, taking the step abroad will no longer just be an option for such companies.
The findings of a long-term study on key success factors affecting German companies abroad (Faix et al., 2013) underscore the fact that product quality, selection of the right business partners, and good networks are key factors in a company’s business success outside Germany. For half of the companies surveyed, a proper understanding of markets and qualified workers are extremely important.
To meet these challenges, especially at small and medium-sized enterprises, the School of International Business and Entrepreneurship at Steinbeis University Berlin offers a tried-and-tested program of professional support services. This involves selecting and recruiting young managers with at least four years’ work experience in the target export country. The managers then do a post-graduate management degree at SIBE in parallel to work as a management assistant at a German company.
The program has been in place since 1998. Since then, SIBE has worked with 250 companies, and 456 students from 17 countries have graduated through the program. The various challenges that students have tackled on behalf of the companies as part of their SIBE degrees include foreign market entry (typically the home country of the management assistant); new integration into international supply chains by sourcing raw materials or semi-finished products; solving a problem faced by an existing subsidiary.
The concept is highly successful and over 80% of program participants remain at the company after completing the program. These international graduates now work in management positions such as general manager or sales manager for their German partner company in locations like China, Brazil, eastern Europe, India and the Middle East. Sixty percent of the firms are involved in manufacturing and processing, such as mechanical engineering, the automotive industry, and chemicals.
Gao Wei is one of the students who graduated on the program. In 1989 he completed a first degree at Harbin University of Science and Technology culminating in a bachelor in engineering. He then worked for 10 years for a Chinese research management company in Beijing. In 1999 he went to work in Canada as the general manager of a company called Roctest. He participated in the SIBE program between 2004 and 2006, and looking back now, he summarizes his degree thus: “Over the course of the SIBE Going Global Program, I systematically acquired new management know-how. The parent company gave me a great deal of support throughout the duration of the program and I was given time to exchange ideas with my German colleagues every day. I got to know German culture and the detailed insights I gathered allowed me to appreciate German business culture better. Focus, taking things seriously, planning, processes, discipline – lots of Chinese people consider this German doctrine old-fashioned and conservative, but personally, I think it’s these values that are the key to the long-term success of German businesses. I’ve now worked for nearly eight years in a position of responsibility at the company and the annual turnover of Novotechnik in China is now nearly 35 million yuan. Our clients are leading enterprises in the manufacturing sector who place emphasis on quality and the long-term reliability of their products. We remain extremely optimistic regarding future business in China. Company sales and profitability are rising continuously.”
During the Going Global Program, which runs for a duration of 2½ years, the management assistants work full time for the partner company. In parallel to this, they receive post-graduate management training at SIBE as part of a project competence degree (PCD). The focus of the PCD is a specific project at the company, the aims of which typically have something to do with setting up or expanding international business activities. The project is one way of ensuring that know-how gathered during the PCD is channeled into concrete results. Directly implementing know-how – stated another way: actually transferring knowledge – is the only way to ensure that students develop competences that will help safeguard the long-term success of the company. A typical project may be setting up sales, a network of suppliers, or production capacity, or maybe finding a business partner, launching new products, establishing new processes in the target country, or training young managers.
To help students solve their task, business coaches provide them with an understanding of the methods of international management and the practical skills they need to carry out analyses, or draft and implement a business plan in the target market in a way that matches the plans and needs of the company. The students analyze the current status and the business conditions affecting their specific company project. They also gather more information on the market, forge contacts among clients, partner companies, and suppliers, and enter into negotiations with the authorities in the target country. This provides a foundation upon which to determine goals, write strategies, and draft action plans with the project company before ensuring ideas are properly implemented. The final degree paper describes how the business plan was implemented for the company in the target country. SIBE experts and consultants provide supervision on implementation of this plan with regular reviews of completed tasks in coordination with the company.
The clients of SIBE use this model to systematically solve international business challenges.
Ardin Djalali School of International Business and Entrepreneurship (SIBE) at Steinbeis University Berlin. He is currently working on a Ph.D. at the chair for learning sciences and education research at LMU Munich.