Science - October 28, 2004

‘I’m not here for my career, I want to learn more’

Their careers have already taken off, as Patricia Stroup puts it. Nevertheless she and George Green, two Americans who have high-level management positions in the food and agribusiness world, devote about twenty hours a week to their study in addition to their regular job. At the end of two years of slaving away the end is in sight: an MBA title, and more important a network of colleagues with experience and the same background.

The participants in the Executive Masters in Agribusiness programme at Purdue University’s School of Agriculture in the US visited Wageningen a few weeks ago. The visit is a fixed item on the programme, and is the last of four residence periods where the course participants come together for lectures and excursions.

Wageningen Business School, part of the university, has been contributing to the Purdue MBA programme for a few years. Cooperation arose from contacts made by professors from both universities during international congresses. During the Wageningen period of the programme the participants not only attend lectures, but also have a chance to see more of European practices during visits to companies. A management game is also on the programme, forming an opportunity to note the influence of cultural differences between Europe and the United States. The participants also attended a mini-seminar in which they were brought up to date on the latest developments in food safety.

An important theme was innovation and product development, and this was complemented by a work visit to Campina Innovations, in the BioPartner Center in Wageningen. The differences between American and European culture proved a source of inspiration during the visit, starting with the guided tour. George Green is general manager of Excel Co-op in the US and was one of the participants: While we were taken around the building and I was looking around, I suddenly had the idea that we could rearrange our own building.’

Director of the programme, Dr Jay Akridge of Purdue University, also came to Wageningen last week, and confirms that this is one of the reasons for the international flavour of the programme. ‘You never know where ideas are going to come from. The dynamics that arise from bringing people with similar backgrounds but from different cultures together are unique. Theory forms a springboard for further discussion and exchange of experiences and ideas.’

Most of the programme consists of distance learning. The participants work in teams on projects, for which they communicate through internet. This way they can plan their own time, and so combine the study with the demands of their job. Akridge: ‘These are not people who are going to school to get a diploma. They have their work and often a family to support.’ The heavy workload means that they have to work together to get through the projects. Green: ‘At the beginning we were all very competitive, but gradually we have developed towards a sort of ‘team think’. Now we are very oriented towards working together and depend on this way of working.’

After their visit to Wageningen there are another two months to go in the US, and then Green and Stroup will have earned their MBA degrees. But they know already that what they will really have got from it all is a rich source of experience and a broad network.

In January Wageningen Business School starts a new programme together with Aarhus School of Business in Denmark, the International MBA for the Food Business. Participants will visit various locations, including Purdue University. / JH

Re:act