To Pittsburgh for the grand finale

Deutsche Version

Andrea Sterchi

How much potential is there for the new product? What are the needs of the client? Two teams of students from the FHS St.Gallen and Robert Morris University were commissioned by two Swiss businesses to research the US market in depth over a period of four months. The trip to the USA represented the finale of the JUSP real-life student consulting projects.

The teams’ missions were clear: Leica Geosystems AG, based in Germany’s Rhine Valley, wanted to know how much potential there is on the US market for its surveying and geographical measurement tools, software and services. St.Gallen-based Regloplas AG, on the other hand, wanted to find out more about the US die casting industry and the associated market trends. For the students of the FHS St.Gallen, this meant conducting market research across two continents and two time zones – in an intercultural team together with students from Robert Morris University (RMU) in Pittsburgh, USA. The teams first met in person at the beginning of January, during the kick-off week in St.Gallen. Over the course of these few days, they visited the two companies together with their coaches. Their objective was to gather as much information as possible about the customers’ requirements, as well as finalising the Letter of Scope and working on the research design. The teams – which always include three students from each of the two universities – then continued their work in their respective home countries. The students mainly communicated via online tools. In April, the Swiss travelled to Pittsburgh for Final Week, where the highlight was a presentation to the clients, who had travelled there especially.

Specific, paid assignment

The JUSP project (Joint USA Swiss Program) is one of three international real-life student consulting projects offered by the Knowledge Transfer Unit WTT-FHS. It takes the form of a specific, paid assignment from a business or a public institution. They commission final-semester Bachelor’s students on the Business Administration and Business Information Technology degree programs to conduct a market research or management design project with the aim of sounding out opportunities and trends in US market segments. The teams are supervised by coaches from the FHS St.Gallen and RMU, as well as by an intercultural mentor.

Expectations exceeded

Two teams travelled to the USA together. In addition to the six students, the Swiss delegation included the project coaches Franziska Weis and Wilfried Lux from the Institute of Business Management IFU-FHS and Program Director Martina Bechter. “The students’ work on the projects was outstanding, and more than exceeded my expectations,” says a delighted Martina. She thought they worked in a very structured manner. The project is intensive, but the students still managed to surprise her time and again. “On the one hand, with their professional and methodical approach and their intercultural interest; on the other hand, with their ability to trouble-shoot when things didn’t go to plan.”

Work hard, play hard

The students spent ten days in the USA, where the aim was to complete the real-life student consulting projects. The days were filled with team meetings, progress meetings involving the coaches, and meetings with the students’ intercultural mentor Christa Uehlinger. There was also enough time for various activities and social events, during which the participants had the chance to get to know the country and its people a bit better. “For example, RMU coaches Jill Maher and Daria Crawley invited us round to their homes. And the teams also attended a yoga session and a lacrosse game on the RMU campus,” reports Martina. The FHS students were even allowed to take part in the School of Business Celebration of Excellence. The Cultural Day was a mixture of work and play. “We went to a golf driving range. For many of the participants, it was a new experience. The target focus that we always expect from the students on the projects could be applied in a more relaxed environment for once, with golf clubs and golf balls,” says Martina.

RMU as a committed partner

She is full of praise for the partnership with RMU. “It is a committed and trustworthy partner who does a lot to ensure that its Master’s students can participate on the program despite their intensive day-to-day study routines.” She found the American students to be interested, creative and competent. They were more than happy to play the role of host for their Swiss counterparts. “And thanks to the international tandem of Swiss coach and American coach, the teams benefited from optimum support in the working environments of both countries,” says Martina.

Finale with the clients

The students were well-prepared going into the project’s finale: presenting the results to the clients, who had come all the way from Switzerland for the event and were wowed by the students’ work. Regloplas AG was impressed by the professional working relationship and the results. And Leica Geosystems AG also praised the results, which had clearly exceeded their expectations and will be directly applicable to future projects. Martina, too, believes the trip to the USA was a resounding success: “The projects are a great opportunity for everyone, especially for the students, who get to carry out a real consulting assignment. They also experience intercultural work and learning across two continents at first hand.” The lecturers benefit from working with colleagues from another university and are able to expand their network. “And the clients receive important data and information for their strategies.”

“The world has become a village”

The Knowledge Transfer Unit WTT-FHS supervises around 10 international real-life student consulting projects per year. There are three programs: CPIM - International (Consulting Project International Management), JUSP (Joint USA Swiss Program) and JCSP (Joint Chinese Swiss Program). The WTT-FHS is headed by Prof. Peter Müller. In his interview, he explains why these practical programs are needed and why international competence is so important today.

Mr Müller, why are international real-life student consulting projects important?

Peter Müller: Everything is becoming more international, particularly due to technological developments. The world has become a village. Distances are becoming smaller, whether you’re sitting in St.Gallen or San Francisco. Today, we are all connected by technology. This creates new opportunities, not least for online business. All Swiss companies are therefore confronted with international challenges in some form or another. This requires them and their employees to have international competence – something that our students are taught in a hands-on way on the real-life consulting projects.

But does a Swiss SME that doesn’t conduct business abroad – or an employee who has no plans to work abroad – really need international competence?

Müller: Actually, they do. A company may not operate internationally, but it may still buy production components and raw materials from abroad. In some industries, there is a shortage of skilled workers. This makes companies reliant on employees from abroad. And these foreign employees must then work together with Swiss people as well. This will only function if there is a mutual understanding of the other person and their culture.

Since when have these international real-life student consulting projects existed? And why with the USA and China in particular?

Müller: The first real-life student consulting project with the USA was conducted in 2003, and the first Chinese one in 2008. Back then, the US market was a very important growth market. A short time later, the same also applied to China, a massive, booming market. Our real-life student consulting projects are real consulting assignments for businesses, rather than study trips.

What does that mean?

Müller: We want to drill down deep. Get a real feel for how the company is organised. Only then can we identify the actual challenges, conduct customer-specific market research and develop sales concepts. A simple visit would not be enough to achieve these things, whether from our perspective or that of the company.

What kind of businesses commission an international real-life student consulting project? Do they tend to be big players?

Müller: Not at all. Of course, they might include companies that are wanting to grow in the USA or China through their subsidiaries. But they may take the form of smaller SMEs wanting to sound out the potential offered by these markets. Others simply want to know more about the markets in general. Our clients come from a wide variety of industries. (sxa)