Organization Development Executive Students Learn Important Life Lessons from Trip to France

One of the great experiences students have in the Executive Master of Organization Development (EMOD) program is an international field study tour.  An intensive one-week study abroad program was added in 2014 to provide a global perspective to the program.  Similar to last year, the cohort of executive graduate students was impressed with what they saw and learned from this unique experience.

Students enrolled in Organization Development 6065, taught by BGSU Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior, Dr. Jane Wheeler, traveled to a partner school – AUDENCIA Nantes – Ecole de Management in Nantes, France.  While there, the BGSU cohort participated in interactive lectures, networked with AUDENCIA Executive MBA students, and visited with local corporations.

The lectures were facilitated by the world-class faculty from AUDENCIA Nantes.  They covered key topic areas, such as leadership development, corporate social responsibility, and ethic leadership, all while providing an important European perspective.  Dr. Wheeler felt that “the faculty in Nantes couldn’t have been more gracious.  They were also extremely knowledgeable.”

In addition to class sessions, the students visited three French-based companies to see first-hand the importance and impact of corporate social responsibility strategies.  One of the visits included Remy Cointreau, a well-known French alcoholic beverage company that produces cognac, liqueurs, and spirits.  The session was led by Christian Lafage, Director, Corporate Social Responsibility.  Cointreau has a very strong policy that includes an audit that the suppliers must “pass” in order to be maintained as a supplier.

After spending a few days in Nantes, the students traveled by train to Paris to visit two more organizations.  First, they visited with Coca-Cola Enterprises, which is the anchor bottler for Western Europe and formerly the anchor bottler for most of North America.  Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, Arnaud Rolland, discussed the differences in marketing soft drinks in the U.S. and Western Europe as well as the growing importance of a corporate social responsibility strategy.

Finally, the students visited the BIC headquarters in Paris.  The session was led by Agnes Leleuch, Europe Talent Development Director.  During this visit, BIC emphasized the importance of a strategy tied to corporate social responsibility.  Not only do consumers expect companies to be socially responsible, it has a significant impact on talent acquisition and employee engagement.

One of the EMOD students, Mark Foster, spoke of what he learned regarding corporate social responsibility (CSR). “I couldn’t help noticing the genuine value there appeared to be in making a living and being environmentally responsible. In the U.S. we have ‘green’ initiatives.  In France, CSR seemed to embody the mind, body and spirit of the organization and its people. This was really apparent to me at BIC where all of the presenters gave the impression that they were all very passionate about their business and their occupations.”

Foster added, “I was also struck by how in sync they were with each other and how they orchestrated their message of CSR within each of their organizational disciplines. The takeaway here for me was that it is possible to engage the whole system in multiple locations in a change initiative such as CSR as long as you have the top level commitment and leadership to see it through in a way that allows it to become part of the culture rather than a separate initiative. In the case of BIC, they believe that if you have responsible people, then the consistency of making the right decisions for the business will prevail.”

Tom Daniels, assistant director of the BGSU Graduate and Executive Programs in Business, commented on the value of the international trip. “This experience really solidified the need to look at organization development from a global perspective.  We are working and living in a global environment.  You can’t just assume one methodology will work everywhere.  The topics covered in the lectures and the company visits were extremely relevant to our EMOD students.”

Before returning to the U.S., the American students enjoyed a farewell dinner on a cruise on the Seine River through Paris.  Daniels stated that it was the perfect way to end a very busy and productive week.

The continued success of the international field study tour validates the need for students to have a global perspective. As noted by one of the students, Brad Clark, “France, for me, will always symbolize a necessary step in my growth. One that has changed me to the core as I learned and experienced what life would look like from a different perspective and at a different pace.”