June 01, 2004

GAP students in MoscowLos Angeles — “In the late 1980s, as emerging globalization was dramatically and irreversibly expanding the context of American business, UCLA Anderson’s leadership recognized the need for our students to have a concrete experience abroad,” remembers William Broesamle, senior associate dean of MBA programs at the time. “The international field study for the newly created Fully-Employed MBA (FEMBA) program was part of the effort to address that need.” In a world growing ever smaller and more intricately connected economically, the ability to effectively function across national borders has become less of a luxury and more of a necessity. Today, the Global Access Program (GAP) is the primary alternative for the final field study phase in the three-year FEMBA degree. GAP student teams, with support from faculty advisors, comprehensively analyze a technology-based foreign company. Directly confronting the challenges of doing business with a world view, students work with company executives over a period of six months, including a cultural immersion with a visit to the firm’s headquarters. Students’ research results provide the foundation for an investment-quality business plan in their final presentation that is critically evaluated by industry experts from a variety of backgrounds carefully chosen specifically for each company.

“GAP is the culmination of the FEMBA program, combining entrepreneurship, high-technology and management in a strategic and international context,” explains Victor Tabbush, associate dean of UCLA Anderson’s FEMBA program. “It applies, extends and reinforces all their academic studies in the experiential equivalent of a masters-level thesis.” As with any program that aims to remain relevant, GAP is constantly evolving. After assuming the position of GAP’s academic director last year, Bob Foster, an adjunct associate professor at UCLA Anderson, began a multi-layered redesign, further refining the focus toward high-technology-based entrepreneurial companies and away from the original emphasis on industry sectors and large corporations. Foster notes that these startups offer the greatest opportunity to have a real impact. To enhance students’ preparation for the rigorous GAP experience, Foster also added his popular business development and high-technology management courses to the FEMBA curriculum, taking advantage of his previous experience as CEO for four high-tech firms and advisor to over 130 Anderson field studies.

“GAP provides a win-win-win proposition for all three of our constituencies: the students, the participating client companies and our regional partner agencies,” Foster says. Partner agencies are GAP sponsoring organizations located overseas with the mission of enhancing their country’s economic development and technological innovation. Eight nations have been represented so far. Beginning in 1999 and with 35 field study projects to date, one of GAP’s strongest relationships is with Tekes, the National Technology Agency of Finland. “Before beginning our association with UCLA Anderson’s Global Access Program, we did an exhaustive study of international business schools and found GAP to be unique, and our investigations since still have not found anything comparable,” says Kimmo Ahola, head of office for the California location of Tekes. “The tremendous value our organizations have received over the years has confirmed our original assessment of the merits of a connection with GAP, and as the program develops, the results continue to get even better.”

John Spruce (FEMBA ’02), a 2001 GAP student, was part of a group working with Exote, a Finnish company that owns the patent on a new bulletproof armor plate material. The team found potential U.S. customers, prompted additional testing of the product and created a plan that attracted significant funding from investors. Spruce developed a relationship that resulted in the unusual outcome of Exote hiring him for their U.S. business development. “Exote’s executives were surprised and impressed that students could accomplish so much,” Spruce recalls. “However, they were not the only ones to benefit. We as students had an extremely valuable experience as well, and one that I don’t think we could have gotten any other way.”

Client companies represent a wide range of industries from countries all over the world, including Italy, New Zealand and Chile. FEMBA students, who each have an average of five years work experience, collectively contribute more then 2,000 hours to each company, which most small firms would find cost prohibitive at typical consultant rates. Elwin Svenson, FEMBA’s executive director of international programs, travels extensively on behalf of GAP to develop and maintain relationships with partners and interview potential client firms. As a former vice chancellor of institutional relations for UCLA, he has 30 years experience in international cooperation and educational programs. GAP’s clients benefit from the student’s unbiased views of how well prepared they are to move to the next stage of corporate development, he says. “Unlike traditional consultants, who might feel pressure to tell their clients what they want to hear in order to retain their business, GAP students have no such financial incentive,” says Svenson. “They are motivated to give honest judgments, since their grades are based on the quality of their appraisal.”

Today’s GAP is the result of the interweaving of strands from different sources in UCLA Anderson’s history. Driven by student interest, it grew out of a blend of the original FEMBA field study program and the former Venture Development Program, which was established by Alan Carsrud under the auspices of UCLA Anderson’s world renowned Harold Price Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. In addition to Carsrud, GAP’s founding faculty included Janis Forman, Richard Goodman and Svenson. Since its inception in 1998, more than 500 students and over 100 companies have participated in the multicultural experience GAP provides.

“The Global Access Program is an excellent example of integration across UCLA Anderson centers and programs in an effort to create meaningful professional education for our students,” says Alfred E. Osborne, senior associate dean for external affairs and founder of the Price Center. “My sense is that GAP has helped raise international awareness of UCLA Anderson, demonstrated the value of real-time business development and contributed to our number one placement in entrepreneurship in the Financial Times worldwide ranking for the last three years.”

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