UF Weekend South Florida MBA students in Berlin.

Businesses in Berlin receive counsel from UF MBA students

When Roderic Chin-See (MBA ‘23) stepped off the bus in Berlin, he felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz: “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Chin-See, along with the rest of his classmates in the UF MBA Weekend Professional South Florida program, embarked on a weeklong trip to consult with German companies. They spent the week in Berlin, where they were challenged to apply their skills and develop strategic business plans.

UF MBA students pose with Gator and MBA banners. From their first day in the city, the students began learning about its culture, starting with sightseeing and moving onto business. Several executives, including Henrik Vagt, Executive Director of the Berlin Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and Nadia Trabelsi, of SellerX, spoke with the students, giving them a foundational understanding of the city’s economic, social and environmental status.

“The cultural and historical information I absorbed helped crystallize into reality what I had previously seen on TV and read in textbooks,” Chin-See said.

From these lectures, Chin-See noted the mindset of European business leaders and the seriousness they assign to these issues. The following day, Chin-See and his team met with their German project sponsor, PlusForta, where he noticed several other attributes of German business culture.

“Our group realized throughout our business meetings that in Germany, pünktlichkeit (punctuality) is very important and that if you are not at least five minutes early, you are essentially late,” he said. “Additionally, working with the PlusForta team, Germans, I find, are pragmatic and systematic in their thinking, almost to the point of pessimism – a quality even acknowledged by the PlusForta CEO himself. I find this perspective to be a big contrast to the general U.S. business viewpoint of sunny optimism.”

On the trip, Marjorie Machuca (MBA ’23), another student in the South Florida MBA program, and her team had the opportunity to work with ingarden GMBA. Together, they began a project that will benefit the company’s international expansion efforts.

“Our final deliverable will be a complete go-to-market strategy for the one (perhaps two) international markets that we have identified as ‘fertile ground’ for ingarden to expand into,” Machuca described. “We will also be including a step-by-step implementation guide to help ensure successful launches in each market.”

Outside of the classroom, Machuca is an entrepreneur and Head of Marketing and Sales at multiple businesses. Her experience in Berlin expanded her knowledge of international marketing, reinforcing her skills and giving her the opportunity to apply what she has learned as a student and successful businesswoman.

“Of the many things I’ve learned while working with ingarden, the one that was particularly impressed upon me was the many intricacies involved in international market entry,” Machuca said. “It’s one thing to work for a company that has already established itself in multiple countries around the globe. But it’s a completely different story to be directly involved in strategizing, planning and coordinating the entry into a brand-new market outside of your home country.

“While there is a lot of work involved and a million moving parts to take into consideration, it is well worth it. The effort starts to pay off the second you start seeing your plan come together.”

When they weren’t developing their projects, the South Florida MBA students had the opportunity to tour other businesses, such as BMW’s motorcycle factory, and visit the city sites, including parts of the Berlin Wall and dinner atop the rotating Berliner Fernsehturn (TV tower). Both Chin-See and Machuca agreed that the trip met their expectations for practical experience, education and tourism.

“The fact that the Global Immersion Program was a requirement of the [Weekend] Professional [South Florida] MBA was a key element in my decision to pursue my master’s degree at the University of Florida,” Machuca said. “Business today is a global matter and the opportunity to study abroad in Berlin truly added a unique facet to my overall MBA experience. The Global Immersion Program is without a doubt something I would recommend every MBA student to participate in.”

Back in Florida, the students returned with their consulting projects for further development and valuable takeaways to apply to their own careers.

“Perhaps the biggest takeaway from both working with ingarden and my time in Germany overall is just how important customer-centric innovation is, especially for a small business,” Machuca said. “A common thread among all the companies I interacted with was the pivotal role that a customer-focused innovation process played in their path to success. While this was not a new lesson for me, I find it is one that business professionals – myself included – need to be reminded of every once in a while.”