The Rotman Review: How Trade Missions Teach MBAs To Think International

Dubai International Finance Centre

Embarking on an international experience can be one of the most exciting aspects to an MBA program. By going abroad, not only do you gain a new perspective, but also an opportunity to venture outside of your comfort zone by exploring a new country.

Bernardo Blum

At Rotman, students can participate in exchange programs with business schools around the world. Here, they’ll tackle business problems abroad through global consulting projects or learn about export strategy through trade missions.


As part of an elective called “Independent Study Project: Global Affairs Canada” led by Professors Walid Hejazi and Bernardo Blum, students are given the opportunity to learn about export strategy through workshops hosted by the Toronto Board of Trade. Then, through partnerships with Canadian companies expanding their business to international markets, students help develop strategies for these firms to be competitive abroad.

Walid Hejazi

This year, the goal of this course was to bring the team to the World Expo hosted in Dubai. To better prepare both the companies and students to perform in the UAE market, the Toronto Board of Trade brought in foreign affairs officials in Dubai to give a briefing on the culture and business expectations in this region. This included valuable takeaways on areas like appropriate business dress and etiquette to help with the mission. Another set of workshops were held with business experts to provide the team with a market overview.

I was part of a team with MBA peers Kevin Thom and Sophia Lin. Ultimately, we were partnered with John Gaya, President of Nature’s Mix, a Canadian company offering fresh granola products to customers in North America. Nature’s Mix had been successfully expanding for a number of years and planned to enter the UAE market.


Sophia Lin

As MBA students, our job was to identify the opportunities abroad and provide recommendations on how Nature’s Mix should navigate this new market. One element that I found really unique was the strong preference for sweets by consumers in the UAE. However, these preferences can lead to health concerns, which spurred authorities within the UAE to add taxes to products like sugary beverages. After taking a tour of the plant at Nature’s Mix and tasting their granola, we found that Nature’s Mix products would be perfectly placed as the granola was both delicious and healthy. This could really appeal to the UAE market.

Another selling point of Nature’s Mix products is that there are no added preservatives, salt, or sugar. This was helpful in supporting the messaging on offering healthy but tasty snacks for UAE consumers. The remaining work involved identifying the messaging strategies and platforms that would best raise awareness of the health benefits of granola, especially when used as a substitute to other sugary foods.

I was also impressed when I saw that Nature’s Mix went above and beyond to satisfy consumer preferences. One of their new flavors was the “Date Square Granola”. Dates are a staple food in the UAE and Nature’s Mix moved quickly to leverage its flexibility in creating new flavors as an internal strength to support its mission abroad.

A display of granola products from Nature’s Mix


Like many of the international activities planned during COVID-19, travel can never be guaranteed. With the rise of the omicron strain, the in-person component was unfortunately canceled. Nonetheless, the project continued with the team finalizing recommendations to best prepare the company for ongoing and future export efforts in the UAE market.

For students interested in international trade, trade missions provide an opportunity to receive training in export strategy and then immediately put them to use in a practical setting. Through partnerships with companies, the stakes become raised as MBA students engage with the project as if it were an internship.

For aspiring leaders of multinational companies, an international perspective will be essential for success. Opportunities such as trade missions provide MBA students a primer to future ambitions in global management. As students navigate decisions on which electives courses to take and how to best make the most of their degree, make sure to keep an eye out for these unique opportunities abroad.

Dr. Peter Zhang, PharmD is a Hospital Pharmacist and an MBA candidate at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Through the unique combined Doctor of Pharmacy/MBA degree program, he has explored the intersection between life sciences and commercial strategy. Additionally, he has published research works in peer-reviewed academic journals and opinions in national media outlets in Canada.




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