Hayley Pierre

Three ways traveling abroad made me a better business leader

By Hayley Pierre

As an MBA student with a concentration in marketing in the UF MBA Online program, I ultimately decided to get my MBA from UF because of its global network and name recognition. Anywhere you are, you will find a member of the Gator Nation ready to support you in your career efforts and do the Gator Chomp with pride!

I regret not studying abroad while pursuing my undergraduate degree, so I knew going into the UF MBA program that participating in one of the Global Immersion Experiences (GIE) would be a must. Finland stood out to me as a top choice when I learned more about its workforce and focus on equity between men and women. I admire the Finnish quality of life and work/life balance, as well as their innovative support for tech startups.

I knew before I left that I wanted to take advantage of my time in Finland, so 1-2 months before my departure, I began researching Finnish companies with U.S. offices. A year from now I will have my MBA, but it’s never too early to start the dialogue with dream companies. For example, I learned that Marimekko is a retail and textile design leader in Nordic and other European regions. It has a flagship store in New York City – so that was my connection. But now I had to make that connection. I thought, how can I leverage my MBA potential for the Marimekko market today, six months from now and beyond?

There’s a bit of a myth that business cards, cold-calling, thank you cards, and other non-digital forms of communicating are dead, but that is just not true. However, employing these strategies effectively is not always easy. I found that there are relatively few Finnish companies with large U.S. operations and making contact with Marimekko was tough. I had to make a connection myself, and as a result of this effort and the trip, I improved as a global leader in three primary areas: networking, career goals and cultural learning.

Networking is key

To be successful in business, relying on others to help you is not always guaranteed. Post-MBA, I’d like to work in the retail & consumer products space, which is far different from the industry that I’m currently in. Thanks to my MBA from UF, I won’t have to fight down doors to show corporate leaders that I can think and perform at a higher level but demonstrating personal skill is key to building relationships. This is where networking comes in. Networks are created by an individual, and, because of this, I took ownership and made initial contacts with Finnish companies of interest. In one of my cold-calls, I was told that they don’t find American business students wanting to learn more about their companies, especially through phone calls. It amazes me that in this digital age, job-seekers don’t network the old-fashioned way. Something I’ve learned is that you shouldn’t be approaching businesses with your resume and shouting, “Give me a job!” Rather, you should be developing a relationship as a business contact and professional.

Leverage travel experiences with your career goals

When choosing a program abroad, it’s important to not just pick a country that’s on your bucket list. As exciting as it is to explore the Louvre in Paris or the Great Wall of China, think of ways that the country can boost your career. Down the road, telling your interviewer about a lesson you learned abroad or suggesting a new project idea because of what you learned in the country you visited will have a significant impact.

We visited several businesses ranging from consulting, government, manufacturing and technology industries. The exposure was broad and comprehensive. If I am to become an executive someday – and that is the plan – I will be able to apply the innovative lessons and experiences I accrued in Finland to implement different organizational structures, company cultures and technological platforms.

On a personal note, I mentioned earlier about the importance of networking and breaking through industry barriers. Such was the case with positioning myself for a corporate role at Marimekko. As chance would have it, several months ago I saw a job posting for an NYC-based job with the company. I immediately applied and included in my cover letter a message about traveling to Helsinki in June. I mentioned my interest in the brand and my goals that aligned with the position. Several weeks after submitting my application, I heard back from a recruiter. Her first words to me were, “When are you traveling to Helsinki?” After two phone screenings and a Skype interview, I was asked to come in for a face-to-face interview while I was in Finland. It was the perfect opportunity to capture a full immersion of the program-planned business visits along with a job interview!

Embrace cultural learning

Being immersed in a new, unfamiliar culture will always present a challenge, and Finland presented me with a language, cuisine and attitude towards life that I had not yet encountered. Far from scaring me away, these very things were what made my time more impactful. It was a global experience to see a country with, what many reports have coined, “The Happiest People on Earth.” On the surface, the Finns seem reserved and quiet, but after a week it was clear this was not the case. They love their land, neighbors and most of all visitors. We saw this with our tour guide who took us on a week-long adventure throughout Helsinki boasting about Finnish folktales, lifestyle traits and trends.

Moving forward, cultural integrity is important now and will continue to play a prominent role in business. Employers are looking for workers beyond the strengths in academics. Culturally speaking, when you are asked, how are you different, or how do you fit this role? Cultural experiences should be atop. This is important for competitive advantages and inclusion in the workplace – something I am deeply passionate about. I think it speaks volumes when a company hires skilled workers from all backgrounds, and I will continue to respect this as a business leader moving up the ranks. You don’t necessarily need to be on your second passport book to say that you are well-traveled, but participating in a Global Immersion Experience like I did will set you up for new adventures and exposure to something different.

A day away from the office is nice, and to be away for a week-long immersion study is even nicer because of what I’ve come away with. I’ve made new friends within different cohorts (expanding my network – a big plus), and I’ve visited a country that I did not have on my radar. Learning about the people, workforce, leading industries and Nordic economies has been an invaluable experience.

Students with even the smallest speck of global interest should consider traveling abroad as part of the UF MBA GIE. You’ll return to the U.S. with new business ideas for your own company and personal traits that will help make you a stronger leader.