A large group of students pose for a photo with Burnie, the Miami Heat mascot

UF MBA students gain business insights from South Florida’s major industry leaders

South Florida has cemented itself as a major player in today’s business environment and UF MBA students are benefiting from the growth. In recent years, the region has become the No. 2 international banking center in the United States, home to 1,000+ multinational companies.

Thanks to a new program funded by the Florida Legislature and University of Florida President Ben Sasse, the students had the opportunity to meet with companies leading in some of Florida’s best-known industries including hospitality and entertainment.

“We want to make sure that Gators receive the best possible opportunities to succeed in Florida’s leading industries,” Sasse said. “We want to help students on the MBA track pursue their goals in business long before they graduate.”

The program, Exploring Business in South Florida, invited students from across the UF MBA program to immerse themselves in strategic insights from Marriott International, Amazon, Cervecería La Tropical and the Miami Heat over the course of two days.

Exploring Business in South Florida is the first in a new program series for UF MBA students to learn more about Florida’s industry champions like tourism & hospitality, real estate & development, financial services, energy, aviation & aerospace, logistics, and defense across its major cities of Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville and beyond.

“Exploring Business in South Florida, and similar programs we’ll host in the future, not only present our students with the opportunity to build community with their peers and network with corporate leadership, but also help us put concepts they learn in the classroom into action,” said John Gresley, the associate dean for master’s programs at Warrington College and the executive director of UF MBA. “Florida is ripe with business development and, thanks to the Legislature and President Sasse, UF MBA students get a firsthand look at how businesses in the state play a significant role in powering Florida’s economic engine.”

For UF student Arturo Campos (MBA ’24), Exploring Business in South Florida provided a way to bridge the gap between business theory and practice. It also exposed him to the practical applications of his UF graduate business education. 

“As an MBA student, this event complements classroom learning by offering firsthand exposure,” Campos said. “The companies showcased real-world challenges, trends, and success stories. Students can apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations, enhancing their overall business acumen and knowledge.”

UF student Whitney Carmichael (MBA ’25), who is looking to pursue a career in healthcare leadership, believes that making connections within the MBA community and beyond will give her a boost once she enters the job market. 

“This was an excellent opportunity to learn more about the community that I live in and network with people in the area,” Carmichael said about her experience in Exploring Business in South Florida. “I’m optimistic that, by continuing to network and learn the curriculum from my professors, I’ll have a successful transition [into healthcare leadership].”

Students like Campos and Carmichael gained invaluable insights from Exploring Business in South Florida. They learned about South Florida’s economic landscape from Miami-Dade County’s global engagement officer. They explored Marriott International’s business model and approach to luxury brands. They heard from Amazon’s global senior tech business development manager about the company’s AI innovations. And they had a session with the Miami Heat’s executive vice president of business strategy, in which they explored the team’s business strategy approach and real-time data tracking. 

As a student who is deeply interested in the intersection of sports and business, Campos was particularly inspired by the Miami Heat and the company’s sophisticated use of analytics technology. 

“The cutting-edge solutions that [Executive Vice President of Business Strategy Matthew] Jafarian showcased enables the Heat to leverage advanced statistical models, predictive analytics, and data visualization techniques to gain actionable insights that drive business strategies like fan engagement and revenue generation,” Campos said. “Plus, [Heat mascot] Burnie’s surprise appearance added an extra dose of excitement and made our day!”

It wouldn’t have been a trip to Miami without a little fun, of course. In addition to getting to a visit from Burnie and cheering on the Heat as they beat the Toronto Raptors in the first of a back-to-back matchup before the end of the NBA regular season, the students got a tour of Cervecería La Tropical (a brewery that originally started in Cuba more than 130 years ago). 

After she graduates, UF student Kiersten Kollevoll (MBA ’24) is interested in pursuing a sales and marketing role in the beverage industry, so she was intrigued by Cervecería La Tropical’s insights. Kollevoll ultimately found each business visit in the series impactful for her future career goals. 

“Our [Cervecería La Tropical] guide gave us great information regarding what it takes to make a new product successful in the beer industry and how they made a move to partner with Heineken,” Kollevoll said. “Every event I attend positively impacts my networking and recruiting skills. I get more and more comfortable talking to company professionals, and I always find new connections.”