A summersummer internship with a cruise line and a premier spirits company may sound like a dream job for most 20-somethings, but for a handful of students at the University of Miami School of Business Administration, it was a gruelling, 15-week crash course on the complexities of the buyer-
supplier relationship.

Unlike most internships, which typically take place at just one company, UM business students spent two months apiece at Bacardi, the family-controlled company whose brands include the eponymous rum and Dewar’s scotch, and Royal Caribbean Cruises, which controls a quarter of the world’s cruise market.

The goal of the internship programme – which was piloted this year – was to expose students to the day-to-day operations of global business and provide insight into the supply chain of two different but related industries. Last year Royal Caribbean had revenues of $6.8bn and the cruise industry accounts for 30 per cent of Bacardi’s travel retail business.

“The students got two great learning experiences,” says Eugene Anderson, who became dean of the school in August. “They got to experience two organisational cultures and two very different approaches to management. And they also got a ‘twofer’ internship, which will set them apart in the job market.”

Over the past decade, business schools have increasingly emphasised hands-on, field-based learning through specialised programmes and internships. Harvard Business School, for example runs faculty-supervised field studies in which small groups of students work closely with a sponsoring organisation on projects such as new business development or research aimed at solving a real world problem. Whilst, according to the Financial Times survey of European Business Schools earlier this month, of those students who graduated from Masters in management programmes in the last academic year, 34 per cent had completed an overseas internship as part of their degree.

Summer internships have become a critical part of the MBA recruitment process. For companies, they allow extended exposure to the students and are an opportunity to woo the most promising. For students, internships, often labelled the “12-week interview”, can lead to a job offer after graduation.

Prof Anderson says the shift towards experiential learning is driven by the fact that companies now expect considerably more from MBA graduates, particularly in regard to soft skills – communication, leadership and teamwork.

“Mastering the core concepts and skills of business is still very important, but companies want students to be able to hit the ground running,” says Prof Anderson.

“These learning experiences help students understand how to work well in teams, navigate company culture and think critically within an organisation. Since they are guided learning experiences – where students are asked to reflect on what they’re learning – they get more out of it.”

The rapid changes taking place in information technology and social media have drastically shortened the “shelf life of what students learn in business school”, adds Prof Anderson. “We’re helping students prepare for a world where innovation is key.”

The internship at UM – the Emerging Leaders programme – is the result of a partnership between the chief financial officers of Bacardi and Royal Caribbean, both of whom are alumni and members of the school’s board of overseers. The pair came up with the idea, as part of the board’s mandate to create career opportunities for students.

“We are two very large companies in Miami,” says Michael Misiorski, senior vice-president and CFO of Bacardi. “We wanted to create an internship that would help keep local talent in the city and be different from what other companies offer.”

During the programme, interns learn about the importance that spirits play in a revenue stream in the overall profitability of Royal Caribbean, says Mr Misiorski.

“When you’re selling Bacardi from the Royal Caribbean side, it’s a revenue stream. But when you are at Bacardi, you’re reminded that there’s a face behind the brand. It gives students a well-rounded view of the whole cycle and the consumer mindset.”

This year, five students participated in the programme, working in sales, marketing, finance and strategy. Brett Harbin, 26, from Texas worked on a project for Bacardi to help the company forecast profits within its different divisions more effectively.

The internship he says gave him the chance to hone his MBA skills in a real-world environment.

“In business school, you learn concepts. You do a case study and it’s: ‘Here’s the problem, here’s the solution.’ But in a company, it’s more: ‘Here’s the issue, how can we make this better, or make this more efficient?’ It’s about analysing the facts and then taking a strategy to improve the status quo.”

The programme is set to continue next year and will double in size. In future, students will work on overlapping projects between the two companies in areas such as branding and sales and purchasing.

There are distinct advantages for companies that create different kinds of internships such as this one, says Prof Anderson. “It helps set them apart in the students’ minds, and it gives a better crop of interns.”

He anticipates that more companies will team up to create dual internships and that single companies will host internships in two distinct areas of their international business to attract the best and brightest.

Today’s business students “know that to really deeply understand the international business world, you have to get out and experience it”.

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