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 International Business in Norway

From Cod to Crude

Earlier this summer, a group of 16 students from both UMD and UMTC took part in a Global Seminar course entitled “From Cod to Crude: International Business in Norway,” led by Alan Roline, Chair of the Department of Accounting at the UMD Labovitz School of Business and Economics. The students spent three weeks learning about international business at the University of Oslo through a variety of readings, class assignments and field visits. During one of their field visits to the U.S. Embassy, they had the opportunity to meet the U.S. Ambassador to Norway, Benson K. Whitney, a former UM law school classmate of Professor Roline.

In addition to the Embassy, they visited many Norwegian businesses and U.S. firms with operations in Norway. One of the highlights was a visit to the Oslo office of PricewaterhouseCoopers. The visit was organized by a relative of Don Steinnes, UMD economics faculty emeritus, who works as an economist for the firm in Oslo. In addition to a presentation about their business by one of their partners, staff from Sweden, the U.K. and the U.S. spoke to the students about subtle, and not so subtle, cultural differences in the workplace. Photo: Roline presents a UMD Bulldog jersey to U.S. Ambassador to Norway, Benson K. Whitney.

The course provided a broad overview of international business, and examined the position of the United States in global commerce. Students addressed key questions such as: “How is doing business internationally different from operating in the U.S.? What are the implications of national differences in political economy? How do cultural differences and the ethical and legal environments affect business operations? What is considered when entering a foreign market?” To help answer the last question, students participated in an international marketing project to conduct a preliminary country screening analysis for Select Comfort Corporation, a Minneapolis-based company that produces the Sleep Number bed, and which is considering expanding into the European market. Currently, their only sales office outside North America is located in Oslo.

Also as part of the trip, students also flew to Tromsø, a city 250 miles north of Arctic circle, to visit the headquarters of Biotec Pharmacon, a rapidly growing biotech company that just went public in 2005, and the Norwegian Seafood Export Council, the marketing and information organization for the Norwegian seafood industry. While experiencing the “midnight sun” in Tromsø (24 hours of daylight), they learned that a company that operates in world trade can be located anywhere, even in one of the most remote locations on the planet.

The group got an education in how national regulatory environments affect the sale of new biotech products around the world, as well as how truly global the trade in commodities (such as seafood) has become.

“Our group was surprised to learn that it can actually be cheaper to catch fish off the coast of Norway, freeze them, ship them to China to be hand filleted, and then ship them back, rather than to do the processing onshore in Norway,” Roline said.

Back on Oslo, at Norsk Hydro (one of Norways largest oil companies) the students learned about their long history of corporate social responsibility, and how that international reputation helps their businesses today. At a visit to the Wilhelm Wilhelmsen shipping company, the group was surprised to learn that contracts for shipment of cars and other “roll-on/roll-off” cargo are generally denominated in U.S. dollars, so companies like WW face significant foreign exchange risk since many of their expenses must be paid in other world currencies.

In addition to a textbook, the class was also assigned to read The World is Flat, written by Minneapolis native Tom Friedman. In that book, Friedman discusses the ten “flatteners” which are having a significant impact on global business today. He analyzes how accelerated change is made possible through intersecting technologies and social protocols, such as cell phones, the Internet, and open source software. Students kept a daily journal describing things they read, heard, saw or experienced that reminded them of how our world has become “flatter.” In addition to such a journaling assignment, students were also paired up to read one of several popular books on international business. The reading list included:
o Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind by Geert Hofstede;
o The Demise of the Dollar... and Why It's Great for Your Investments by Addison Wiggin;
o Global Capitalism: Its Fall and Rise in the Twentieth Century by Jeffrey A. Frieden;
o The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization by Thomas Friedman;
o One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of China Business by James McGregor;
o Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business by Fons Trompenaars;
o The Travels of a T-Shirt in a Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli
o What’s This India Business?: Offshoring, Outsourcing, and the Global Services Revolution by Paul Davies.

Roline was pleased with the trip. “It was amazing how well our site visits coordinated with the topics the students were reading about and discussing in the class sessions. I believe all of the students learned a lot about international business in Norway. I know I certainly did!” he said.

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