What to Expect from 2017 SBGL

In preparation for his 2017 program, Dr. Neil Drobny reflects on his experience directing the 2016 Sustainable Business Global Lab in Denmark and The Netherlands.

The opportunity to develop and lead the Global Lab in sustainability is one of the highlights of my teaching career at Ohio State.  And the decision to concentrate the experience on sustainable business practices in Denmark and The Netherlands was icing on the cake.

I have known for many years that physical, cultural and other factors in Europe have intersected to create conditions ripe for innovation and development of sustainable business practice.  The Global Lab experience was an opportunity to validate and observe what I had come to know only through reading and second hand information.  Similarly it was an opportunity to reinforce with students information that I had presented in the classroom.

During their time in Rotterdam, 2016 SBGL students met with representatives of Unilever to discuss the implications of sustainability in new product development.

The mix of visits to diverse business and cultural sites worked well together in conveying that sustainable practices are well integrated into everyone’s work and non-work lives.  We learned for example from Unilever, whose world headquarters in Rotterdam we visited, that an early consideration of all new product development is what the sustainability benefits and footprint will be.   If a new product idea does not score well on sustainability metrics, it is not pursued.

In Amsterdam we saw the world’s first (experimental) solar road, a roadway with solar cells built into it.  At this point it carries only bicycles and very lightweight vehicles, but there is every reason to believe that the technology will someday be incorporated into major roadways.  It was like visiting with Thomas Edison in his lab as he worked on the first light bulb

In Copenhagen we saw the benefits of sustainability-driven thinking in city planning.  In the older part of the city building height was limited to five stories and streets were exceptionally wide. With a latitude comparable to southern Alaska, sunshine is limited.  The wide streets and limited building heights enhance the penetration of sunlight in the urban core which is well-established as a key ingredient to overall well-being and productivity.  Today the wide streets help with accommodating bicycles and street cars in addition to automobiles and pedestrians.

Interior of Pilgrim Fathers’ Church – a church in Rotterdam where passengers of the Speedwell departed for America in 1620.

Seeing the robust construction and results of careful maintenance of a 600-year old church in Rotterdam underscored that in the region things are “built to last” – a key element of sustainability.  Considerable interest was also added by the fact that the church was where the Pilgrims stayed the night before they “shoved off” for their voyage across the Atlantic.

For 2017 we will build on the success of the 2016 program by adding a visit to Lund University in Sweden and working with visit hosts to fine tune visits in coordination with course material in advance of the trip.

Design Like the Danes

In studying the successful sustainability of Denmark and The Netherlands, Robin Iritz got a lesson in design theory with FCOB’s Sustainable Business Global Lab.

A culture of thoughtfulness sits behind every feature in Copenhagen, Denmark. The same can be said for Rotterdam and Amsterdam in The Netherlands. I traveled these cities in May 2016 as one of 25 climate-conscious Buckeyes. We observed innovative design at each carefully planned city corner.

In the US, sustainability is still securing its legitimacy as an essential consideration in our evolving communities. In Northern Europe, it’s always been in the culture. Our group visited seven influential businesses and universities with the goal of understanding how Europe continuously tops the environmental and social well-being charts. Put simply, what makes these guys so good at solving complex public problems?

It’s all in the design.

2016 SBGL students at Nordic Food Lab testing a grasshopper-based soy sauce alternative.

It seems as though Danish and Dutch cultures are focused on doing things absolutely right. Everything right. Objects, traffic patterns, personal interactions, all of it is designed with a specific purpose and function. Our group understood this at the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen where the principles of sensory experience, functionality, and reflection were presented as important features of successful product-service experiences. This kind of design theory can be applied to any product, service, and professional interaction to create a meaningful experience. At Nordic Food Lab, it was applied to distilling grasshoppers into a nutrient rich soy sauce alternative.

We saw design again in the rapidly developing island Amager in Copenhagen where sustainable architecture is absorbing population growth and minimizing the environmental impact of greater population density. We saw design in incredible works of art throughout the many museums we toured in our free time. Design shined from the steel bridges crossing the river and canals in Rotterdam. The bridges are designed to look like the ships passing through Europe’s busiest port city.

2016 SBGL students tour facilities at Amager Ressource Center (ARC) in Copenhagen, Denmark.

My friends and I spent nights in hotel lobbies trying to figure out how to make sustainability as attractive in America as it was in our host cities. After tossing around ideas of flashy advertisement campaigns and political calls to action, we realized that nobody ever “sold” sustainability to the Scandinavians. Rather, it developed there out of geographical conditions, availability of natural resources, and a culture of collectivism. To instill such values quickly in Americans is a lofty endeavor. However, I think that our constraints are changing as a result of climate change and social and political pressure. The changing environment could catalyze innovative technology and community development in such a way that we develop our own brand of sustainability. What American Sustainability will look like is up to how we understand and adapt to our unique challenges.

Understanding the European’s approach to sustainable design has taught me how to deconstruct a problem and build the solution from its parts. Their responses to ever-changing limitations are at once inspired, effective, and efficient. My time in Europe was eye opening and a total blast. (Did I mention how well designed the nightlife is?) I couldn’t bring the culture of sustainability home but what I bring back to OSU this fall is a new point of view and a cool group of peers who know what it’s like to glimpse into the future.

Cultural and Business Aspects – Week 3


Entering the last week, we had so many insights into the German market and how it functioned. Being on a team with students from India and America, we had no clue about how big trade shows are to the European market. During our interactions with various officials and some store managers, we realized that if our client had to enter the German market, they would have to take the trade show route. It was amazing to know that almost all the business in most parts of Europe happens through these shows, which attract almost a billion people every year.

When it came to business and dealing with clients or salesperson/distributors, we learned the hard way that communicating our needs in German was the first and most important thing. German businesspeople do not entertain any other language and are very picky about the way we approached them. We had to schedule prior appointments with them (which were hard to get in the first place), and then there was the expectation of communicating in German with them. In terms of the shopping habits of the German consumer,  it was evident that they gave the quality of the product top most priority. Also, they had a preference for “Made in Germany” brands. Having said that, they were extremely brand conscious and did not warm to or show interest in unknown international brands. With considerable disposable income, they fell into one of two categories with very little very middle ground in between: they would prefer to either purchase very expensive products or very cheap ones. Buying products that were priced in between was not a popular sales proposition.

We also saw one common theme across German cities. In spite of all the big brand presence in the market, small local brands were very prevalent among the average consumer, and they really favored such brands. These local brands were limited to their respective cities; it was hard to find a local Munich brand in Frankfurt or other cities in Germany. The market was very diverse in terms of the goods sold, and, unlike in the US, consumers were more inclined to focus on two or three big specialty stores for their non-food purchasing and mostly Aldi or a local market for their food shopping.

Overall we found the German market to be very different from others and a challenging one to enter,  especially if you are an unknown brand. However, once people see the brand and get a firsthand feel of the products in the trade shows, it is possible to attract the distributors and make a connection to enter the market in a very profitable way. Entering and sustaining the growth in German market is a marathon and not a sprint.


Our last free weekend, we spent in Prague.  Prague is probably my favorite city of all those we visited in Europe.  The beauty of the architecture and the old eastern European designs were really impressive.  More so than other cities, Prague had a very religious feel to it.  On the tops of the buildings, there were gold plated crosses or symbols of the Catholic/Christian faith.  The importance of religion when Prague was designed and how this beautiful city was literally built around the peoples’ faith is quite amazing.

Unfortunately, our hotel was a little off the beaten path in Prague.  We were about 45 minutes from city center by transit, which equated to a 25-minute drive.  Fortunately, our hotel was the nicest place we stayed during our whole time in Europe.  The accommodations included a tremendous breakfast buffet for the first time on the trip.  Our first evening in Prague, we went to an amazing Italian restaurant right on the river in the city center.  The weather was perfect for the first time in two weeks, and we had a very enjoyable meal.  After the meal, we went to see what Prague’s famous nightlife was all about.  The city had an energy after dark to it that Munich, Geneva, and Zurich lacked.  We were by no means out to get wild like some in Prague, but it was nice to feel the energy and excitement of the evening. There were many Americans and English speaking people in Prague that night which aided in the excitement.  The next day, we headed to a watch tower with breathtaking views of the city.  We hiked up the hill halfway and then jumped on a tram that took us up the rest of the way.  Prague was an awesome time.

We arrived back in Munich late Sunday evening.  Early Monday morning we departed for Ingolstadt to meet with Professor Matta and tour the Audi facility.  We learned a lot about Bavarian culture while we were in Ingolstadt.  Being a smaller town, there was a real sense of pride about being part of Bavaria.  Bavaria has the best school systems in Germany, as well as the best Universities.  Our cab driver told us that he is not German, he is Bavarian.  We had heard about Bavarian pride, but never really got to feel it because Munich is such a melting pot of a city.  Ingolstadt gave us the feeling that matched what we had been told.  The Audi tour was fascinating.  The Ingolstadt headquarters employs 50,000 people.  That is not a typo!  In a town of 100,000, Audi employs 50,000 people.  There is a huge sense of pride in working for Audi and driving an Audi. The tour of Audi was a first class experience. It was amazing to see all of the technology that is used to build one of those amazing machines.  Dr. Matta took us out for lunch after the tour, and we spent the remainder of the afternoon putting the finishing touches on our presentation.  All in all, it was an action packed last four days in Europe!

Working for an Indian Conglomerate

Growing up in India, the Aditya Birla Group (ABG) must have been one of the countable few companies I should have known about as a child. Tata and Birla names were often used synonymously with anything that was considered rich and grandiose. However, never once did I imagine that I would work for such a magnificent conglomerate as ABG in my first major business project during my MBA studies at the Fisher College of Business.

Living up to traditional Indian values, the ABG group welcomed us with impressive warmth and generosity. The team was accommodated in ABG’s guest house with exclusive chefs, cars and chauffeurs. We were given separate workspaces in their Bengaluru office and were accompanied by employees to every client location at which we had an interview. And, during work hours, the team enjoyed tea/coffee at regular intervals, served right at our desks! Seeing employees have group lunches in an exclusive ‘cafeteria’ area inside the office was unusual for my American counterparts.

The most exciting part of the business experience was working from a meeting room right next to Kumaramangalam Birla himself on the day of our final presentation!  Presenting our findings to such top level management as the VP of Consumer Insights of ABG groups and Managing Director of the Chemicals business and receiving their feedback and appreciation is an unforgettable first business project presentation experience. Thank you, Fisher and the GAP program, for giving me this wonderful opportunity!

Exploring Switzerland and Munich

The last week has been filled with a plethora of cultural experiences that have been both enlightening and delightful. The journey of our most recent week first took us to Geneva, Switzerland. The most amazing part of the trip was the train ride to Geneva. We travelled through the hilltops above Lake Geneva, enjoying breath-taking views of small towns near the lake with the Alps just beyond. Geneva was really cool, but it was difficult to thoroughly explore the area given the down-pouring rain we had the whole time. The best part of Geneva was taking a trip to the CERN research facility, which was something I have always wanted to do. It was definitely a nerd activity, but was exciting to be at one of the most influential research labs in the world where CERN scientists created the internet, the large hadron collider, and discovered the Higgs Boson. CERN is also featured in the book and movie Angels & Demons.

Passing Lake Geneva
Passing Lake Geneva
View from above in Geneva
View from above in Geneva

After Geneva, We headed to Zurich for the rest of the weekend. I think the team definitely enjoyed Zurich more, if only because it didn’t rain quite as much! It had a wonderful city center and it was very enriching just to walk around aimlessly. Unfortunately, all of the shops are closed on Sundays, so we weren’t able to partake in a shopping excursion. We found an awesome café though, and sipped on delicious coffee and tea while taking in the local culture. The café appeared to be a favorite among the locals, which convinced us it was the real deal. We also had dinner at a fondue joint called Swiss Chuchi, recommended by an Hungarian girl working at our hotel. She said it was traditional Swiss cuisine, so we had to try it. It wasn’t the ideal cuisine with beach season coming up, but was worth it to get a flavor of the culture.

Limmat River in Zurich
Limmat River in Zurich

We headed back to Munich Sunday night ready to dominate the work week. Monday night, we went to a traditional German restaurant where we ate weiner schnitzel and ragout with asparagus and dumplings. It was the best German food we have had so far. Tuesday, we were able to find a gym nearby that wasn’t too expensive. It seems that Germans don’t exercise the same way as Americans. The gyms we’ve found have been small and costly. Working out at this German gym was certainly an interesting cultural experience. After the workout, we needed some carbs so we went back to our favorite Italian restaurant, and it was just as fantastic as the first time. The next day gave us a taste of German culture that we hadn’t sampled yet. We were walking through the city center and stumbled upon a huge market (called Viktualienmarkt) with tents filled with all types of food, drinks, and gifts. It was so interesting to walk around and see all the different things that the local culture offered. We then happened upon the original Hofbrauhaus, and, of course, we had to stop in. After a drink and a pretzel, we checked out the English Garden a bit more and got to see a spot on the river where people surf. On our last full day in Munich, we took a trip out to Dachau Concentration Camp. This trip was sobering. It was surreal to be seeing a large Nazi concentration camp and a key war area of World War II. The site definitely did a good job at communicating what happened and of presenting the information in a way that allowed us to learn a lot. Nonetheless, it was quite an experience to cap off a week full of cultural immersion.

Hofbrauhaus in Munich
Hofbrauhaus in Munich
Surfing in Munich
Surfing in Munich

GAP Germany, Week 2 Business Blog

After a relaxing (but expensive!) weekend in Geneva and Zurich, Switzerland, we returned to Munich late Sunday night. The weekend left us refreshed and prepared for a work week (mostly) dedicated to preparing our slide deck and developing our market entry recommendation “story” for the client.

Monday was a national holiday in Germany, so we decided to redirect our focus from contacting more distributors, department store buyers and industry-specific organization (Chamber of Commerce and Industry, US Consulate, etc.) experts, to honing in on a clear direction for our strategic recommendation.

Side Note: As a team, we would suggest creating a similar “inflection point” for consulting-based projects; pick a time to cease the research phase of the project so that you can focus on delivering a solid recommendation/slide deck to the client. At a certain point, there are definitely diminishing returns gained from more (aka excessive)research and/or outreach. With that said, collectively choose that point carefully and thoughtfully and make sure you cover your bases!

On Tuesday, the import manager from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry unfortunately had to cancel our meeting; however, we were able to chat over the phone later in the week. His recommendations and advice were very similar to those of our previous contacts in Germany: securing a meeting with a distributor or department store buyer without visiting a large trade show, marketing your product prior to said trade show without having contacts in the intended city of entry with proven sales data in hand or a full assortment of product to show in the (unlikely) event of meeting with an interested buyer, is incredibly difficult in Munich, let alone Germany.

However, despite this less-than-encouraging feedback, we have at least received this same consistent market entry message from our in-country meetings and conversations. We believe that our market research, competitive shopping and meetings thus far have nonetheless adequately prepared us to deliver a quality, valuable recommendation to RG Barry.

(Another) Side Note: Make sure you do your homework beforehand! Spending time in Columbus and the first week in Munich researching the market, industry and potential meeting partners put us in a favorable position to deliver value to the client even without executing exactly what we hoped to achieve. Although we still plan on recommending a specific tiered market entry strategy, remember that it is completely okay to give the client an honest “do not enter/do not do it” recommendation. Initially, they may be disappointed, but, in the long run, they will be very happy that they did not waste time and money on an unprofitable or impenetrable market.

We are excited to review our first slide deck “draft” as a team on Friday and will adjust as necessary before our presentation next week. We have a lot left to accomplish, but are looking forward to a fun weekend in Prague until Sunday night!

Danke Schoen,

GAP Germany Team


Soaking Up Gaborone’s Culture

This week, we went out to dinner to a local African chain called Spur. Spur is very similar to the US chain Chilis and serves basic staples such as burgers, steaks and ribs. Our server suggested that we try the burgers. Being that we were hungry and looking for something easy and quick, we agreed. Note the word “quick”!

About 30 minutes later, we heard a bell ding and noticed our order sitting in the window, waiting to be collected by our server. She, however, did not notice, and we waited another five minutes before she finally brought our food. We quickly ate our meal, had our plates promptly cleared from the table and then proceeded to wait for another 45 minutes before we finally walked to the front of the restaurant to ask for our bill. It then took the staff another five minutes to locate our server, identify who had what meals, and then pay for our food. With process improvement on our minds from a long day’s work, needless to say, we were less than impressed by the staff and their inability to understand our needs and meet our demands. Unfortunately, this level of service seems to be a standard in the food service industry and is one thing that we are looking forward to leaving behind when we return to Ohio at the end of the week.

To conclude our time in Botswana, we enjoyed two fun activities in Gaborone.  For lunch, one of the sales team members took us out to a local establishment which specializes in Setswana specialties.  We tasted dishes like Guinea Fowl Stew and Goat Seswa with dumplings, pap, rice and a local kind of salad.  After lunch, we went to a craft store where we were able to buy souvenirs made by local craftsmen.  Then, for dinner, we took our project sponsor and Barclays project lead out to an Indian restaurant called Embassy—one of the best restaurants in Gaborone.  With the project complete, it was nice to relax and enjoy the company of some great new friends.

There are some things which we will miss about Botswana—the nice people we met and good cheap Setswana food—but it is going to be nice to be home after several weeks.  We all hope to come back here again at some point in our lives.IMG_1371 IMG_1373

Final Countdown – Presentation Week

It’s hard to believe that three weeks have come and gone.  This last week in country at Barclays in Botswana has been full and exciting.  We have been working hard to pull together our findings and recommendations into a deliverable that can be left with the client so they can begin to implement some of our recommendations.  In the first few days of this week, we held meetings with several stakeholders to review our findings and recommendations with them in order to build buy-in and to correct any assumptions or add information that we may have missed.  These were great sessions.  While there was not always perfect agreement, we received lots of great feedback that helped us craft our final recommendations and presentation.

By Wednesday night, we had finalized all of our materials and began preparing for our final presentations.  Thursday, we printed handouts and reports with our findings and recommendations.  On Thursday afternoon, we were given a great opportunity to meet with Managing Director, Reinette van der Merwe, to discuss some of our findings and recommendations.  We were very pleased that she seemed excited by our work.

On Friday morning, we presented our work to the entire Corporate Management Committee.  We all had our own sections of the presentation, and worked to perfect our storylines.  The committee was very impressed by our findings and recommendations, and it sparked some great discussion in the Q&A portion of the presentation.  We are very optimistic that our work will lead to some exciting improvements at Barclays Bank of Botswana.

On Friday afternoon, we also had a community outreach event where young people from Botswana came to meet with us and ask questions about how to pursue careers in business.  Our team shared our professional experiences and stories for how we came to study at Fisher.  Following this event, we had a reception where we had one-on-one conversations with the youths who came to the event.  The young people in Botswana are very driven and want to be successful.  It was inspiring to see so many of them working towards their dreams to pursue opportunities in business. Botswana surely has a bright future!

This GAP project in Botswana was an awesome experience. We’ve had the great opportunity to work with some wonderful people. We had incredible students from the University of Botswana on our team and so appreciate having had the chance to work with them.  Our project manager on the client side, Thandi, has been supportive and given us all the resources we needed to complete this project.  Finally, it has been a fabulous experience working with Jeff Davis, a Fisher alum and the executive in charge of the project.

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Its a cultural thing

Every place, country, family speaks of culture. China is no exception. The country contains  an array of unique things and places that you stand in awe of the moment you realize you becoming a part of it. The pictures picture speak a thousand words.

We have Amazon, there its the TMall and JD (aka Jindong). TMall has a ambassador of its own – a cute one too.


The Bund – The Clarke Quay of China. Behind the team are the skyscrapers of Pudong.


The Great Wall – the torchbearer of China’s history.


The Forbidden City – Once upon a time in China, there lived a king…


The Water City – Xitang- where you immerse yourself in a world of dreams.


Then, I sensed something that brought people even closer together: food! In China, regardless of the dish you are eating, it will be served in such a way that you sit together, sometimes prepare it together and always share it, be it BBQs, hot-pots or duck feast. Eating and meals in China bring a feeling of togetherness. Being a vegetarian, I did not have the liberty to try all the dishes, but what I did enjoy and what will stay with me is that feeling of togetherness. I cherished being with my team of twelve people, all having laughs together.


The outcome? You return to the US with happy memories and a strong project deliverable.

Customer decision making survey

Through the Global Applied Program (GAP), I had the wonderful opportunity to visit China for the first time in my life. And as mentioned in my cultural blog, I planned to take this opportunity to learn both the cultural and the business environment of China. I was part of the marketing team of the project. And on this blog I am going to share and reflect on the experience our team had while we were trying to conduct consumer survey in order to learn more about the customer decision making process.

Malls/Supermarkets – Talking to the Sales Representatives

As part of tIMG_0352he project, we planned to conduct in depth interviews with our target consumer to understand more about the consumer’s decision making process. Our first step was to gather some basic product information and currents trends in the market by talking to the sales representative at the malls. But contrary to expectation, the sales representatives were not very open in sharing information with us when we  approached themCapture as students. Therefore, we immediately changed our strategy and tried the role play of a young American businessperson looking to purchase an air purifier for his office with the Chinese student acting as his assistant helping him understand the different models and standards of the purifiers. Although this strategy helped us with the sales reps in understanding the different products in the market, surprisingly the sales representatives would not allow us to take pictures in the stores. Instead, we had to discreetly take pictures. Above are some of the picture that we took while in the stores.

Malls/Supermarkets – Talking to the Consumers

After being somewhat successful in talking with the sales representative, we decided to try our luck with some of the consumers shopping in the malls and supermarkets. From my perspective, talking to these customers was the single biggest hurdle we faced during the entire project. To give an idea of how challenging it was to talk to a consumer, we visited a total of five malls/supermarkets and approached nearly 40-50 people. Only three of them responded to us, and all three were non-Chinese residents currently living in China.

WeChat – the Savior

In the end, the only way we successfully gathered data on consumer behavior was through passing our survey on WeChat.