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UC Graduate Students to Provide Marketing Advice to Italian Firms

Release Date:  Tuesday, May 25, 2010

University of Charleston students traveled to Italy to study business


The State Journal
By Philip Pyburn

The Master of Business Administration and Leadership (MBAL) program at the University of Charleston Graduate School Of Business is distinguished by three elements: an emphasis on global commerce, hands-on practical involvement in real business situations and working in teams.

On May 8, students who have completed the first year of the MBAL program traveled to Varese, Italy, to begin work with five Italian firms to help them export their product and services to the U.S.

The Italian firms are all members of the Associazione Piccole e Medie Industrie (Association of Small and Midsized Industry). This association (CONFAPI) has been instrumental in facilitating the involvement of the five firms, as well making ground arrangements. CONFAPI serves more than 950 firms in the Varese district, 14,000 firms in the Lombardi region and more than 2 million firms throughout Europe.

In addition to CONFAPI's assistance, Matt Ballard and the Charleston Area Alliance also have played an important role in setting up the Italian program. The Alliance facilitated introductions to CONFAPI executives and will provide research support and assistance for the student teams while they are in Italy.

The 13 students are organized into teams of two or three with each team assigned to one of the five Italian firms. Each team will work with the executives of the company to develop a U.S. marketing strategy and export plan.

The projects comprise a comprehensive evaluation of each company's products, an assessment of the competition for those products in the U.S. and a summary of the shipping, import duties, product regulations and other logistical issues involved in importing product to the U.S.

The five participating firms serve a range of industrial segments, including graphic design/printing, automated high-speed logistics, axles and gears for electric forklifts/industrial cleaning machines, abrasives and electrostatic coating. The firms range in size from 15 to 50 employees.

Work on these projects began in early April with three weeks of course work at the graduate school prior to departure. During that phase, the students investigated the logistics of international commerce, including shipping, tariffs, international contract and freight terminology, letters of credit, payment terms and other supply-chain issues.

From May 10-14 in Varese, the student teams will spend time developing a comprehensive understanding of the products and services offered by the company. During the week of May 17-21 the students will create a U.S. marketing strategy and distribution/logistics plan for the company, including supply chain alternatives and the identification of West Virginia partner firms. During the week of May 24 - 28 the student teams will draft the final report and presentation for the company's executives and other CONFAPI members.

The projects will conclude during the fall semester entrepreneurship course at the graduate school where the student teams will expand and refine the U.S. marketing strategy with the intent of helping the Italian firms launch operations in West Virginia during 2011.

In addition to the project elements of the program, the students also will visit European Union leaders in Milan and Rome, as well as the Italian parliament. Time also has been set aside for visits to the Roman antiquities, a boat tour on Lake Maggiore and other free time in Varese and Milan.

In these pages in the coming weeks, the students will report directly on their experiences in Italy, reflecting on the economic, business and cultural differences and similarities between the U.S. and Europe.

Philip Pyburn is the Lawson and Jeanne Hamilton Professor of Finance and Business at the University of Charleston Graduate School of Business, Charleston.

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