Openness, curiosity and humbleness – the mix for a great immersion learning experience

Due to COVID-19, the Global Immersion Study Visit that is part of the Henley Executive MBA’s International Business module was postponed until nearly the end of my studies. Although we had already done the module group work with the international cohorts including students from Finland, the UK and Denmark in the earlier stage of the studies, it was a true pleasure to finally be able to experience five days together in Madrid and Lisbon during June 2022.

The split between Madrid and Lisbon was fascinating – it gave us an opportunity to understand the contrast between the cultures and business worlds of the two cities. Although neighbours with many similarities, these countries also have their own unique histories and characteristics. Dr Peder Greve, our professor for the International Business module, and the local programme guides really helped us gain a better appreciation of both Madrid and Lisbon.

Our study visit began on Monday in Madrid with an introduction to innovation and culture. We live in a VUCA world. How can we create a corporate identity and keep the company’s culture alive when the nature of work is in such a state of change? How do we foster diversity and inclusion? What I took away is that we need cultural intelligence and a high degree of openness to change, even at the level of re-tweaking our inner coding.

We also had great talks about sustainability, the most important issue of present times. The focus was on how each of us can join the effort to build an effective message about sustainability for everyone in our circle of influence. We were all challenged to think about our company’s reason for being and where we can make a positive impact.

Our day in Madrid ended with a guided tour and an overview of the city’s history. In the evening, we were treated to an amazing rooftop welcome dinner that kicked off a wonderful week ahead.

On Tuesday, we travelled on to Lisbon, Portugal. We began our stay there with a captivating presentation from Aurora Luengos about her journey from MIT via Heineken to McKinsey – and on to founding her natural and vegan cosmetics company, DHYVANA. Her talk strongly encouraged fearlessness and creativity in research and innovation for the global market. She summed up: pilot, learn and be patient.

Impacto. We met three different companies involved in this business opportunity and were really impressed by the enthusiastic young founders of these companies. They have created innovative solutions to impact the environmental crisis we face, utilise the Portuguese innovativeness and craftsmanship heritage and built profitable businesses from them.

Thursday was the main working day for us. We met with a local consumer bank specialised in car financing. Our Henley group was divided into small teams to help this business with its strategic expansion work in Italy, France and Spain. Each group worked on a strategy for one of the company’s chosen countries, and we presented our key findings and recommendations at the end of the day.

The final day of our study visit was crowned with a journey to the Portuguese countryside and a vineyard about 40 minutes outside Lisbon. We enjoyed learning the innovative and passionate story behind the vineyard and its operations and each other’s company over wine tasting and a delicious lunch.

For me, the highlights of the study visit were multifaceted. Above all was the social aspect. Although interaction and collaborating have always been an integral part of the Henley Executive MBA programme, our studies were different during the pandemic – we were disconnected from the rest of our group and cohorts. This trip was a real celebration of finally meeting the others in person, making new connections and learning about different people, their work and cultures.

Another highlight was the diverse company visits – something you simply don’t have an opportunity to experience outside such a programme. I felt these visits really added value to the overall experience. I especially appreciated the entrepreneurs’ openness and honesty in discussing the challenges of their careers and businesses.

The Global Immersion Study Visit takes a certain amount of open-mindedness – not every detail is known up front. Still, this is a specifically built-in part of the Henley learning experience. And Henley did indeed deliver a well-balanced programme of company visits, speakers, free time for social connections and learning experiences – an immersion experience that offers a much deeper understanding of different cultures, business worlds and diverse people.

I can warmly recommend this study visit to others. By being open, curious, humble and willing to connect with others, you will be able to gain and enjoy incredible new experiences. In the end – you get what you give.

Anna Hjelt

Anna has an international background and a career in marketing and communications. She is currently Business Director of Real Estate Development, Brand and Sustainability at Interior Architecture and Marketing Agency Kakadu. Anna is passionate about branding, strategic marketing, environmental sustainability, diversity and continuous development as tools for enabling change.

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