MBA students feel the chill

Posted by: Alison Damast on January 8, 2009

A group of Notre Dame business school students on a class trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina got more than they bargained for when just a few days into their journey, the city’s gas supply was shut off. The students, who are in the country through Jan. 11 for a class called “Business on the Frontlines,” had to scramble to find heating just as a deep freeze fell on Sarajevo and the rest of the Balkan region.

The move came shortly after Russia – in the midst of a gas dispute with Ukraine – shut off Ukraine’s gas supply completely on Jan.7. Ukraine supplies most of the gas to the Balkan countries, including Bosnia. Gas supplies in Bosnia started declining after New Year’s Day and were completely turned off this week.

Unable to initially acquire an electric space heater – the city sold out of them in just a few hours — the Notre Dame students spent the past few days in their third-floor apartment in Sarajevo’s old city shivering as the temperatures fell to sub-zero temperatures. They tried to heat the small space by leaving the door of the apartment’s electric oven open, but “it didn’t really work out,” said Keith Flatley, a second-year MBA student at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza School of Business in a phone interview on Jan. 8. By a stroke of luck, they were able to eventually acquire an electric space heater from an acquaintance yesterday and have spent the past day huddled around it in the living room, Flatley said. “We have managed to keep the apartment just above freezing,” he said. “I have three or four layers on and am fully North Faced-out,” he said.

They are not the only students from the school who have found themselves in the midst of an international crisis. The other students in the 11-person class are currently conducting similar work in Beirut, Lebanon. Just this morning, rockets were launched from Southern Lebanon into Israel.

“We’re more worried about them than we are about us,” Flatley said. “We’re wondering, ‘What did we sign up for?’”

Despite the energy crisis and the Middle East conflict, the students are still going ahead with their planned schedule for the trip, which includes visits to local and international banks, companies and small businesses. The students are examining the role of business in rebuilding war-torn societies and the role private industry and foreign industry can play. They will present their findings in a detailed case study this March to Catholic Relief Services, which helped the school organize the course.

The school has received reports that both the students in Bosnia and Lebanon are safe, said Carolyn Woo, Mendoza’s dean. They are being escorted to all of their appointments by employees of Catholic Relief Services, she said. While the circumstances are not ideal for the trip, the students will walk away with a deepened understanding of the regions they are visiting, she said.

“They are studying businesses at the front line of war-torn countries and these are some of the conditions businesses operate under,” Woo said. “It’s a superb learning experience for them.”

Reader Comments


January 9, 2009 1:31 PM

The experience taught them: war is destructive, poverty is bad (cold), Russia can't be trusted and markets work (heaters sold out in hours), so why did they have to go all the way over there to learn this? Don't their professors already know this? Probably not.


January 9, 2009 11:19 PM

""internet buying networks""
to accomplish this goal will need to use the same format of myspace or a related social network. the people on the network will combine their wealth to buy homes and businesses.
for example lets say a home is on sale, 200,000$... we could then divide this into individual shares, and the social networking site would buy this home for us. we would then get a monthly check based on the size of our individual share hold. the renter of the house would then be responisible for buying the shares from us, until the renter becomes the owner... once that happens the renter would have in his contract... the ability to stay out of the market
for a number of years, or they could sell the house back into our market for a profit. this works for businesses to and even more so. ...some examples would be ...corporate jets...semi trailers... franchises...etc.

Go Irish

January 12, 2009 3:50 PM

As one of the students that just returned from Lebanon, I must say that it was one of the most eye opening experiences I have ever been apart of. There is only so much that you can study from statistics and other individuals' research. We were able to get out on the streets and hear people's heart felt stories about the unstable political and economic environment that they live in. You can't fully understand their emotions or experiences from reading a text book or website, you need to be there first hand to truly comprehend what they went through, or are going through, to generate insightful comments.

We did not go overseas to document the fact that war can be destructive or that poverty is bad - we went over there to figure out if the role of business could help bring stability to the individual lives and countries we visited. People are suffering everyday in these countries, we were just hoping to help find a way to mitigate some of that pain through generating insights into issues surrounding economic development in their countries.

I hope that every business school student has the opportunity that I did, as this was an incredibly educational and enlightening experience.

Eyes Opened

January 12, 2009 9:27 PM

Jammer, you need to turn your light bulb on. We all know that “war is destructive” and “poverty is bad”. That’s not rocket science. But what is a science, is that these students aim to help bring stability to war torn countries via practical, economic means. Kudos to them for their work and efforts. Jammer, next time you feel like ripping on people trying to make the world a better place, get off your behind and do something productive yourself, instead of wasting space with your ignorant blabbering.


January 13, 2009 4:45 AM

I am one of the students that went to Sarajevo, and to Mr. Jammer's note I'd have to say that if any of us could do it all over again, we'd go for it.

Learning from the field definetly beats the heck out of sitting in a warm classroom and watching powerpoint slides on a case study while not being able to feel what effect the case study would have on the stakeholders involved.


January 13, 2009 9:46 AM

As another student on the Lebanon trip, and a former military officer, I can say that this trip was invaluable. There was no way to sit in a classroom or even teleconference room in the U.S. and receive the same effect from interviews with leading political figures, NGOs, think-tanks, and businesses in Lebanon. Perhaps even more insightful were visits to areas like Bab El Tebbane in Tripoli, where inter-sect conflicts are rampant and poverty is not defined as it is in the U.S. Seeing programs attempting to address needs in these areas, and even exposing larger NGOs , and hopefully businesses, to the local efforts may prove to be very important to the local community.
As mentioned in the previous comment, the goal of our travels was to determine how business could help achieve stability and peace (or maybe how it hampers it) in post-conflict societies. You can read some theory on this, but there isn't a lot of direct study here to view in a classroom. Hopefully efforts like this course change that. At the very least, the course changed me. It was amazing to see the efforts businesses begin to make on their own, the barriers they face in a country with this type of political structure, and the results of the successes they do have.
While I didn't experience the cold my classmates in Bosnia have, I think we all were amazed by the opportunity, and by how eager most people were to meet with us, even if only because they had never heard of a school doing anything like this and were excited that MBAs would be exposed to even the concept of business doing good in these societies.

OCS Hooah

January 13, 2009 3:15 PM

Back when I was in Iraq, we convoyed all winter long with no heaters and the windows down so that could engage the enemy.

War brings out the best in people just as much as it brings out the worst.

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