The Michigan Business Assistance Corps
The Michigan Business Assistance Corps was created to assist emerging democracies in Eastern Europe to move toward privatization and to provide masters of business administration students with an international experience. The corps arranged summer internships for the students, who served as consultants to private and public enterprises in Poland and Russia.
FIPSE support began after a successful pilot which sent a group of nine interns to Poland in the summer of 1990. The program expanded and, over the course of the project, 51 consultants worked with more than 50 companies in Poland and Russia. The interns spent three months abroad, generally between the first and second years of study.
Every fall, the program was promoted among first-year MBA students. This resulted in 85 to 100 applications, consisting of a resume and a short essay. The project director interviewed 30 to 40 applicants, and the final selection was made by the host companies in late spring.
The university's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies provided a three-week orientation. It included "survival" Polish and an overview of Polish history, culture, politics, economics and business practices. Because few interns went to Russia, their training consisted of language lessons which students attended three times a week between notification of selection and departure and four two-hour lectures on history, culture and contemporary events.
The host companies and agencies were selected according to the quality of their proposed projects, their willingness to offer a meaningful internship, their ability to help with housing, and their fit with the applicants' interests and skills. The project director visited all companies prior to the interns' arrival.
Interns served in organizations covering areas such as aerospace, arts management, agricultural equipment, banking, computers, construction management, public health, publishing and real estate development among others. They assisted the companies in accounting, bank training, business plan development, cost analysis, economic restructuring, health information systems, joint ventures, market research, new product development, quality assurance, systems operations and strategic planning. Interns at Procter and Gamble in Poland, for example, formulated a strategy for distribution of P&G products to over 60,000 outlets in that country. Faculty from the Warsaw School of Economics and the Michigan Business School provided guidance and support.
Through donations from corporate sponsors, the Michigan Business School offered corps interns a monthly stipend of $1,500 and round-trip transportation. Polish companies provided accommodations and $250 a month for living expenses. Russian companies offered room and board.
Before leaving the United States, students contacted their host companies by fax and telephone to discuss the preliminary aspects of their assignments. During the internship, students had access to a resident assistant at the business school who provided information and data for their work.
Evaluation and Project Impact
An external agency conducted the evaluation. In addition to interviewing student participants, the agency surveyed nine host companies to assess the impact of the corps on each. Evaluators also interviewed faculty and others to judge the effect of the project on the business school.
Most students reacted positively to the internships, with those who went to Poland giving the experience higher ratings than those who went to Russia. In general, interns felt that they had gained an understanding of and respect for other cultures, a better grasp of the difficulties facing the emerging economies of Eastern Europe, and increased self-confidence.
Students believed that the internship would help them with future employment, and intended to continue the business relationships begun during their stay abroad. They all said that they would recommend the program to others, and some stated that the corps had been a major reason for applying to the University of Michigan's Business School.
Participants thought that the orientation was excellent, but would have liked more information on Eastern European business practices. Some also felt that they did not have sufficient advance information on the host company and that the company was not prepared for their arrival, but they gave the match between the company's needs and their skills and interests high ratings. They rated communication with the company as good, despite language difficulties.
Most students felt that they had made a worthwhile contribution to their company and had learned a lot both personally and professionally. They were less positive about the management of the corps, and many expressed the need for more administrative support from the program while abroad. Almost all felt that the experience had enhanced their ability to work with individuals of another culture, their knowledge of international business and their consulting skills.
In turn, most companies were enthusiastic about the interns and wanted to continue hosting corps students. After accepting interns for several years, some companies began asking for students with specific skills. Several companies offered their interns jobs upon graduation. Some companies said that they planned to have their employees attend management workshops at the University of Michigan and expressed the desire to house a business school representative at their site.
The interns were thought to have good preparation in business and consulting skills. In contrast with the favorable impressions of the training on the part of U.S. faculty and students, however, none of the host companies rated the preparation of the interns as excellent, and they considered their language skills poor or fair. The consultants' knowledge of the country's economic system and the local customs was rated as fair. Along with the interns, the host companies indicated the advisability of a longer training period.
According to the companies, the interns learned quite a bit about the country's business practices, economic system and customs during their stay, but made less progress on language. Company representatives felt strongly that, given the magnitude of the adjustment the students had to make, the internship was too short.
Since several managers of the Polish host companies were subsequently appointed or elected to senior positions in the government, the corps had some effect on public policy. After one such manager became prime minister, he invited all interns to his office to acknowledge and honor their work.
The internationalization of the University of Michigan Business School's culture constituted the major contribution of the corps, according to faculty. The corps heightened the faculty's awareness of the globalization of business and the proactive posture of U.S. business toward emerging economies. Business cases prepared by returning interns were used informally by MBA faculty, who also called on interns for their practical knowledge of business practices in Eastern European economies. The corps also made contacts between faculty and business firms and government agencies in Poland.
Business school faculty believed that, as projected by the creators of the program, the corps benefited both students and companies. While the interns helped the companies to apply the latest business concepts and practices, the Eastern European business leaders provided lessons in grass-roots entrepreneurship.
Finally, the corps helped the business school to garner support for the Davidson Institute-which features shorter internships with large firms and considerable faculty involvement-by demonstrating that interns could provide assistance to businesses in transitional economies. A number of faculty felt that the corps would lose its fundamental character if it were absorbed by the Davidson Institute.
The corps was merged into the Davidson Institute, and students presently have a choice of two types of internships.
Discussions have begun about incorporating the corps experience into the business school's Office for the Study of Private Equity Finance, which conducts research, teaching and service in financial innovation and entrepreneurial activity.
Dissemination and Recognition
The success of the MBA Corps gave rise to the Domestic MBA Corps, whose function is to assist community nonprofits to perform their mission. The Domestic MBA Corps placed 23 interns in community agencies during its first two summers and plays a leading role in the implementation of an Americorps program.
A number of institutions, including the College of William and Mary, the University of Maryland, and Ohio State University are modeling international internship programs on the corps.
Further information is available from:
Marian J. Krzyzowski
The University of Michigan
School of Business Administration
Ann Arbor, MI 48104