MBA students make new pals and sweet deals in China

The students worked with Chinese students to study Dairy Queen’s success in China.

by Amber Schadewald

A group of graduate students traveled halfway around the world, ate unlimited amounts of ice cream and rubbed elbows with top Chinese business executives.

The “China Seminar” gave 25 Carlson Masters of Business Administration students a chance to work with International Dairy Queen in Shanghai for 12 days during winter break.

The students helped brainstorm ways for the company to better market their products to Chinese consumers.

International students from a partnering Chinese university, the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, attended classes during fall semester at Carlson.

During that time, Chinese and American students divided into project teams and began developing business strategies for International Dairy Queen, including possible promotions and a better-fitting Chinese name.

Chad Plumb, a second-year MBA student who went on the trip, said working with Dairy Queen posed some interesting product concerns.

In general, he said the Chinese consumer doesn’t like their food as sweet as the average American – a problem for a restaurant that specializes in sugary treats.

He cited the example of the McDonald’s apple pie, which was replaced by a green bean version, he said.

Plumb also noted Starbucks changed the tartness of their coffee in order to appeal to the primarily tea-drinking nation.

Rather than trying to change tastes, the groups concentrated their efforts on a positive advertising campaign.

The students also visited multiple locations of the 30 Dairy Queen stores in Shanghai.

“People who loved ice cream ate like 30 ice creams,” he said with a laugh.

During the trip, the students made site visits to businesses across the city, observing everything from vendors at the local market to multinational retail companies.

Plumb said he wished the trip included an excursion outside of the city to a manufacturing plant.

“Then you could see where all your stuff really comes from,” he said in reference to the ubiquitous “Made in China” stickers.

Seth Werner, Carlson marketing department lecturer, accompanied the students on the trip. Werner said China is a great destination not only because of its booming business economy, but also the rich culture.

His favorite part of the trip was watching the American students deal with crowded streets and foreign cuisine.

Those moments “made the 14-hour plane ride worthwhile,” he said.

In a city packed with more than 20 million people, Plumb said it’s hard not to feel a culture shock.

But for Plumb, the program and the trip was about building relationships and networking.

Different from the individualistic nature of American business, Plumb said the foundation of Chinese business is trust.

Plumb still talks to the Chinese students he met through the program often, maintaining friendships and business partnerships.

International business is all about understanding different cultures and really “taking them to heart,” he said.

Anne D’Angelo King, director of international programs at Carlson, said gaining multiple perspectives from around the world is a critical part of being successful in our global economy today.

“I don’t think an education is complete without the international component,” Werner said.

Carlson also offers trips to India and Costa Rica, but D’Angelo King said they wanted to expand their options in China, due to its growing importance in the business world.