Making Moves at McDonough: Consulting Projects Provide Lessons From Across The Globe

Michelle Yap and her teammates on a beach in Dubai after their client meeting

This March, Georgetown McDonough’s MBA students got a taste of how to consult and work with global companies when they traveled around the world for McDonough’s Global Business Experience (GBE).

GBE gives students the opportunity to partner with multinational companies, international start-ups, and governments to gain real-world consulting experience in a semester-long capstone. The course is a graduation requirement for McDonough students in the full-time and part-time (flex) MBA programs.

This year, more than 200 McDonough MBAs students traveled to Chile, Germany, Ghana, Spain, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam. In the process, they consulted on almost 60 different projects on topics such as market entry, market development, innovation strategy, competitive strategy, communication, and global growth strategy.

Professor Sezer Ülkü, academic director of the GBE program and professor of operations and information management at McDonough, said the goal of the course is to use learnings from prior course work and apply it to real challenges, all the while in a foreign culture.

“Operating under ambiguity is an important fact of life in many countries and is an essential feature of the GBE,” Professor Ülkü said. “Real problems are messy. The key issue might not be immediately apparent, the context surrounding the project might change, critical data may be hard to obtain, events may require changing the original project statement. The GBE requires our MBAs make use of the many of the tools and skills they gained to solve current business problems.”

Roger Kang during a client presentation in Chile


Students travel to the client site during spring break to present their findings to leadership. However, much of the planning and collaboration takes place during the six weeks before, as students work remotely with their client.

Second-year student Michelle Yap, who worked on a market-entry project for a Dubai-based food and beverage company, said her team spent the weeks leading up to the trip doing extensive research.

Roger Kang on a cultural visit to an active copper mine in Chile

“We wanted to take a data-driven approach to our project and looked high-and-low for existing insight reports to inform our recommendations,” Michelle said. “In the end, we realized we had to run our own unique study. We took the exact approach from our market research class and applied it. We also reached out to the campus librarians, who showed us how to find rich consumer data. And, we did our own sampling of the client’s product, too.”

While some students had previous experience in their project’s subject matter, others worked on topics that were completely new territory for them. Roger Kang, a second-year student assigned to a start-up in Santiago, Chile, had previously worked for large organizations and was excited about the new challenges a smaller organization offered.

“From the start, the chance to make an immediate impact was really attractive,” he said. “The client was in the process of expanding and wanted our help to assess a new market. They were at a critical juncture in their decision-making process, and it made us that more invested in their success.”

Roger and Michelle both discussed how critical establishing team norms, such as drafting a team charter and determining roles and responsibilities, were at a project’s outset. In doing so, they were better able to weather scope changes and unexpected challenges in a more agile manner.

“Our team took a divide-and-conquer approach for our project,” Roger said. “We trusted one another and gave each other ownership of different parts of the work. The objectives did change over time, so we had to adapt to that as well.”

Dan Bandong and his team and their client in Vietnam


After weeks of preparation, one international flight, and (hopefully) a few hours of shut-eye, McDonough MBAs showed up Monday morning of their week-long abroad visit at their client site, ready to showcase their findings in-person.

Second-year MBA student Daniel Bandong traveled to Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam. For him, this trip was a return to Southeast Asia, where he had spent several years in the U.S. Navy. On arrival, he noticed the familiar hustle and bustle of the tropical city, the constant buzz of scooters whizzing by. When he met his client, he felt immediately welcomed.

“I had more in common with this group of people than anyone else I’ve worked with in my entire career,” he said. “There was an inherent international emphasis of the company that was very comfortable to me. Sure, we’re from different cultures, but we had a lot more in common that we did different.”

During the residency, Daniel’s team held two focus groups and presented initial recommendations to their client, who had tasked the McDonough team with creating a retention strategy for their Gen Z employees.

A street in Chile (Photo by Roger Kang)

Meanwhile, Michelle’s team in Dubai worked with their client to pressure test the ideas they presented.

“We got some tough questions from the senior leadership team,” she said. “They pushed us to create something that would really serve them. I could tell our work would be impactful for them – the head of international business took close notes on everything we discussed.”

Georgetown McDonough also made sure its students had unique cultural experiences abroad as well. In Vietnam, teams visited a local wet market and attended a cooking class, where they learned to make Vietnamese delicacies like Phở Gà (chicken pho) and Bánh Xèo (crispy pancake). In the United Arab Emirates, teams went dune bashing in the dessert, a form of off-roading done on sand dunes. In Chile, students toured an active copper mine, one of the most important sectors in the Chilean economy.

“We put on coveralls and hardhats and actually went underground into the mine,” Roger said. “We saw how they crush the copper ore and transport it. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It was really cool to get involved in the industry of Chile.”

Georgetown University students in Dubai


After their in-country residencies, students had the following week to travel on their own before the final quarter of classes began. Now that class is back in session, students are synthesizing client feedback and incorporating it into their final deliverable for the client, which is due in April.

These last six weeks of classes are a final chance for some McDonough students to take a challenging class, enjoy time with classmates, or secure their full-time job. For all of us, it is a moment of reflection. Daniel believed the course was the perfect ending to the MBA experience.

“The Global Business Experience at Georgetown McDonough feels like a capstone. It really demonstrates the global nature of the program,” he said. “You get to use all the skills you learned in the classroom over the past two years, and now you’re actually doing it yourself.”

Bio: Rachel Solomon is a second-year MBA student at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Prior to business school, she worked in product management at BCG and communications at Delta Air Lines. This summer, she interned at Microsoft on their Cloud Marketing team and plans to focus on product marketing after graduation. Learn more about her via her LinkedIn and blog!




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