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Unrest in Turkey Brings Emerging-Market Lessons Into View for GWSB Students

A street near Taksim Square in central Istanbul is quiet right before a police crackdown on public demonstrators.  GWSB students were near the end of a residency on emerging markets in Istanbul during the crackdown.  (Photo by  Maria Lourdes Tiglao)

A street near Taksim Square in central Istanbul is quiet right before a police crackdown on public demonstrators. GWSB executive MBA students were near the end of a residency on emerging markets in Istanbul during the crackdown. (Photo by Maria Lourdes Tiglao)

For 38-year-old Maria Lourdes Tiglao – a U.S. Air Force veteran who’s done two tours in Afghanistan – assessing a fast-changing foreign landscape is nothing new. Even so, the student in GWSB’s World Executive MBA (WEMBA) program came away with valuable, hard-won lessons when she found herself in the midst of public protests and a police crackdown during her recent emerging-market residency in Istanbul.

“This experience will definitely help to shape my perspective as I look at other market economies,” said Tiglao, who is scheduled to get her degree in December 2013.  Specifically, weighing economic factors isn’t enough when you want to work in a developing market.

“It’s unstable terrain,” said Tiglao, a pulmonary lab manager in northern Virginia who hopes to put her business skills to work for Team Rubicon, a nonprofit that uses veteran volunteers for domestic and international disaster relief work. She learned in Turkey that, “Bringing historical, cultural, social and political contexts into consideration in whatever endeavor I undertake can steer me toward better decisions.”

Other WEMBA candidates on the Istanbul trip agree.

“An experience like this shows how some emerging and developing countries are limited in their growth capabilities as a result of unrest,” said Rena Jabbour.  ”This lack of predictability could make many investors and business-oriented individuals very cautious.  Despite the massive growth opportunity, it is critical to place importance on the societal and political state of the market.”

For Darrell Darnell, GW’s senior associate vice president for safety and security, the entire trip – especially the opportunity to speak with small restaurant and shop owners – provided insight into business in a developing market that can’t be had by reading or talking with others who’ve been there.

The experience “really demonstrated the need to fully understand the marketplace from a holistic perspective in order to be successful in competing,” said Darnell, a student in the WEMBA cyber-security program.

Twenty-nine GWSB students had already been in Turkey for five days when protests began on May 28 against plans to develop Gezi Park on Taksim Square in central Istanbul. When police harshly cracked down, employing tear gas and water cannons against demonstrators, anti-government protests erupted, resulting in hundreds of arrests and thousands of injuries thus far.

In one way, the GWSB students were lucky. Their instructor on the trip and for the class, “Assessing the Global Risk Landscape for International Management in Emerging Markets,” was Scheherazade Rehman, Steve Ross Professorial Fellow of International Finance, professor of international business/finance and international affair, and faculty director of the executive MBA programs, who has lived in Turkey, knows some Turkish, and is familiar with Istanbul’s ins-and-outs. Rehman is also director of GWSB’s European Union Research Center.

On May 31, just a day before many of the GWSB students were scheduled to fly out, several in the group were strolling and shopping after a day of meetings with Turkish bankers when the situation on the ground suddenly changed.  Three days of protests hadn’t disrupted their trip but now tear gas was filling streets, people were yelling and running, and shopkeepers barricaded entrances with crates of bottled water.

Tiglao was fishing for change to buy pomegranate juice when she looked up to see a mass of people running toward her. After briefly ducking into a shop, she took refuge in the flat of a Kurdish sound engineer who was in Istanbul working on a documentary. When things quieted down, he helped her get back to her hotel.

“We had the right residency at the right time in the right location for the subject of global risk assessment in emerging markets,” said Rehman.  What is her advice for students who want work in developing markets, where significant risk offsets the potential for big gains?

“Don’t wing it,” Rehman said. “But, no matter how much good planning you do, things can go awry.  You need to have the mentality to be flexible and adapt.  And do your homework. Understand what risk is.

“Risk has many meanings in emerging markets,” she said. “Sometimes logistical support just stops:  there’s no way to get to the airport, they’ve shut down all the bridges.”

It is a lesson that’s not been lost on the GWSB students on the trip, many of who caught their regularly scheduled flights out of Istanbul on June 1 after  Rehman; GW’s local partner on the trip, Abdullah Akyuz, a GWSB adjunct faculty member who lives part-time in Istanbul; and Bryan Andriano, GWSB’s director of international education and programs, who was also on the trip; arranged for their chartered bus to come early in the morning on a quiet street to take the students to the airport, thereby avoiding the roadblocks that were in place by mid-day. Those students who remained moved to a hotel in a quieter part of the city before flying out.

“At the end of the day, these kinds of situations represent significant challenges for a university in ensuring the health and safety of their students but – also – opportunities for students to fully understand the social and political events that are taking place in their countries of study,” said Andriano.

Brian Fricke, a WEMBA candidate, added, “Any cultural immersion into an emerging market that allows you to feel out of your comfort zone will help you grow as an individual and as a leader.”

Some students said the School’s track record on international study, especially in emerging markets, meant that those on the trip were as prepared as possible to handle unexpected situations.

“There is always a need and responsibility to have an understanding of where one travels from the social, cultural and political, as well as economic, point of view,” said Errol B. Williamson, Jr., a WEMBA candidate. “Having said that, the GW School of Business goes above and beyond the call of duty to be responsible regarding these issues.”

Tiglao argued that the skill of quickly and accurately assessing a situation, which helped her find a way off the riotous street, is just as useful in business.

“Picking up on subtle cues from social, cultural, political or environmental changes can mean the difference between starting a relationship with another party or permanently burning a bridge,” she said.

Rehman, for her part, thinks the message of Istanbul won’t soon fade.

“I do believe that the lessons learned on this residency will probably stay with them for the rest of their lives,” she said.

 

 

Posted by gwsb on June 18, 2013 | Filed under: GWSB News.


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The members of the MBA Admissions team contribute to the blog with postings about recruitment tours, events, interviews with current students, and insights about the admissions process. The team is composed of:

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