EMBA International Experience Pivots Amid Pandemic

LMU EMBA students had their bags packed for a 10-day trip to Colombia and Panama in mid-March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing the university to cancel all international travel. Staying true to the College of Business Administration’s core values of agility, creative confidence and entrepreneurial spirit, EMBA leadership quickly pivoted to create a unique virtual international experience right in the heart of Los Angeles.

The new experience featured a robust lineup of speakers and virtual field trips which addressed the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation. Students virtually visited the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator as well as some bustling marketplaces in Colombia. Notable guest speakers included Stephen Cheung, President of the World Trade Center, Sandra Villalobos Mera from Invest in Bogota, Andres Terech, former consultant with Accenture Argentina and current Latin America Economy Specialist with UCLA Anderson, and Luis Carlos Reyes, Assistant Professor of Economics at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogota, Colombia.

“While nobody expected these hurdles and changing dynamics to be part of the educational experience, the context provided an extraordinary backdrop for teaching the tools and personal resiliency the situation required,” said Joe O’Hannigan, senior director of the EMBA program.

The EMBA international experience – long considered a highlight of the program – plays a key role in the students’ capstone projects. This year’s projects focused on international business expansion in the transportation industry in Colombia and Panama. Teams were tasked with solving a consumer problem by taking a large (publicly traded) company and expanding into the region, through either building a new solution, buying an existing entity or partnering.

Student drew upon the core elements of the EMBA program – finance, strategy, marketing, human resources, sustainability, etc. – to expand their businesses into a foreign market. They learned about cultural agility, strategic planning, tactical implementation and how to evaluate a large project’s return on investment.

Dropping perfectionism, putting humanity first and tapping into hidden inner strength were just some of the leadership skills that were fostered through this experience.

“Our student focus and faculty’s willingness to spend so much extra time ensuring our students’ success is something that sets LMU apart from traditional EMBA programs and is more important than ever in the virtual classroom environment,” said Kelly Watson, EMBA adjunct professor.

At the end of the spring semester, student teams presented their findings virtually to a distinguished panel of faculty and CBA Dean Dayle Smith who evaluated strategic fit, project viability, risk, sustainability, and return as well as the strength of their marketing, operations, HR and financial plans.

“The detailed written business plans and oral presentations were exceptional this year because students had to work harder to get the information and the virtual experience opened their mind to new ways of thinking,” said O’Hannigan.