Global Client Projects (GCPs) are MBA electives that provide small teams of students the opportunity to consult with an international company or organization while working closely with a Darden faculty member. About halfway through the project, students conduct an onsite visit to build on-the-ground knowledge and conduct additional research. GCPs are managed by the Darden Center for Global Initiatives (DCGI).
We recently caught up with two teams from the Executive MBA Class of 2023 about their Global Client Projects. Today, we’re excited to feature Bobbi Doorenbos, Natalie Szmyd and Slavomir Zapata, who highlight their work with Cero, a zero-waste grocer based in Argentina that is interested in expanding into the U.S. The inspiration for this GCP originated during the Executive MBA Class of 2023 global residency in Argentina in February 2022 during a company visit with the Cero leadership. Stay tuned for the next Executive MBA GCP team, who worked with Corning in Paris, France.
Company: Cero Market
Challenge: Is a U.S.-based expansion for the Argentinian grocer realistic, and if so, what does that strategy look like?
Given their unique backgrounds, each team member truly brought their individual skills to the project. The Class of 2023 team included Bobbi Doorenbos (retired Air Force pilot who transitioned to American Airlines), Natalie Szmyd (public and foreign policy experience in legislative and executive branches who pivoted to international development finance area) and Slavomir Zapata (clinical psychologist background who moved into strategy consulting, supporting federal agencies).
Szmyd was initially interested in the GCP as a way to to utilize her Spanish language skills, and Doorenbos and Zapata soon signed on as well, hoping to learn about the economic and business climate in Argentina and Latin America, as well as take advantage of a tactical opportunity to put core curriculum classroom learnings to use in a real world scenario.
Bobbi Doorenbos highlighted the Global Client Project with Cero, “We were excited to be able to work on a project with a company and apply what we’ve learned in the program thus far. Having the opportunity to go to Argentina was a big driving force as well. It was almost like a miniature lab – the three of us were able to have one on one time with a company for several days, and we were able to learn about the business, goals and challenges, and utilize the skills we developed through all of our classes. This was unique to the typical GEMBA experience because it was not a high level overview of the country/region’s business climate – it was a deep dive on a particular company, and you have the opportunity to learn about doing business with and doing business in a particular country.”
“It was almost like a VIP global residency because we had an incredible amount of personal time with our clients, and were able to truly understand the business, federal supply chain and why Cero was doing what they were doing – why it was meaningful for them and the people of Argentina. We were evaluating a real life challenge for this company, and we were able to take this real life ‘case’ and apply the principles that we learned at Darden and put it to use.”
Phases of the Global Client Project
Doorenbos explained the initial conversations with the team’s clients, “We started out with a virtual meeting cadence to connect with our clients to discuss project updates, what the final deliverable would look like and plan for our site visit in Argentina. The first time we really got to meet our clients was during the in-person site visit, and that immersive experience helped create an opportunity for further conversations about staying engaged in the future as they build out their business process in the United States. ”
The Darden Cero team described their three-phase process for research and eventually presenting the client with their findings. “The first phase of the program is desktop research, where you’re researching the issue that the company brings forward. Part two is the actual workshop where you go visit the company in person, although sometimes this happens virtually. During the workshop, you present your research to the clients and share what you’ve found about their problem or issue or challenge. Part three is where you re-scope the project or decide where to go based on what you’ve learned so far. The final deliverable for our team was a comprehensive presentation deck.”
Natalie Szmyd: “We learned so much about entrepreneurship. Almost every supplier we met with was a startup or recently founded small business. Our client was an entrepreneur as well, and it all really complemented the Entrepreneurship Thinking class that Slav and I were in at the time. We learned about the challenges of entrepreneurship in Latin America.”
Slav Zapata: “Getting to work on these real-world challenges with these two other incredible people. A psychologist, a general, and someone who’s been in the geopolitical sphere come together to solve a problem for a company in a foreign country. To have that experience, and be immersed in the Argentinian culture that is so rich and warm, was just incredible.”
Bobbi Doorenbos: “Working on this project and the exposure to other countries through the global residencies has highlighted different cultures, ways of life, challenges, and perspectives has made me more of a global citizen. You can’t help but have a deeper appreciation and respect for people who come from different places in the world, much more so than you would if you’ve never left the United States and experienced it yourself.”
A Hands-on Crash Course
Zapata noted the real world implications of the group’s work on the GCP. “The GCP is a crash course in 10 different classes that you might take at Darden. We got hands on crash courses in entrepreneurship, strategy, negotiations, finance, consulting and operations. It’s also a way to apply that learning in a real life experience, which makes it all the more meaningful. If you’re able to deliver a solid product back to the client, ultimately, that client is able to make a more significant move in their own business direction. And we all had a hand in that, which is pretty cool.”
All Darden Executive MBA students participate in at least one global experience. Students who choose to pursue the Global Executive MBA option have four global residencies included in their program. Learn more about the Global Executive MBA option here. Students seeking an additional immersive global experience can also elect to participate in a Global Client Project, an option which has been increasing in popularity with EMBA and GEMBA students alike.
Learn more about global residencies by checking out our earlier Q&A with Ladi Carr, Director of Global Executive Programs. Carr discusses typical residency activities, how the locations are developed, the benefits of visiting multiple countries and more.