This past May I spent 12 days traveling through Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Estonia with 25 other students on a Wharton International Program (WIP) trip. Thanks to our trip leader (Lee Kramer, Wharton’s Director of Student Life), we had the most incredible itinerary filled with city tours and company visits.
In Denmark we visited the medical device company Coloplast, the shipping company Norden, Danske Bank, and the Copenhagen Business School. In Sweden we visited Ikea, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), and H&M. At Ikea we toured all of the design studios, and at SAS we met with the CEO. And then in Finland, the last country we toured, we visited the entertainment company Rovio (maker of Angry Birds), the technology companies MariaDB and Koru Labs, and Nokia. Over the last dozen or so years the once-dominant Nokia has significantly downsized its work force, forcing its talented engineers and managers to look for work elsewhere. Many have chosen to join Helsinki’s tech start-up scene, which has subsequently become a formidable force for the Finnish economy.
I am confident that I learned as much or more during this 12-day trip as I do in a typical semester. Never before had I realized how much government, society, and culture impact how companies operate. For example, Denmark used to be a global superpower, and though it has shrunk in size over the years, it still maintains its sense of wealth and prominence. Finland, on the other hand, is wedged next to Russia, and has a history of struggling to align itself with the West instead of the East. All of the countries of the world have their own unique stories, and thanks to WIP, I now understand the importance of understanding cultural and historical factors prior to engaging in global business dealings.