Government and Economic Development and Transportation, Distribution & Logistics

Local companies get Taiwanese perspective: Butler University program brings 23 interns to Indy

April 16, 2007

The java stands Hubbard & Cravens Coffee Co. opened a year ago within Clarian Health Partners' three downtown hospitals are brewing a rich aroma of results.

Yet executives of the locally based coffee retailer and wholesaler know sales could be sweeter.

"The hospitals are so huge that we don't capture even a third of what we could," said Marcie Hubbard, director of store operations. "So the question is, how do you reach everybody in that entire hospital?"

The 23 Taiwanese MBA students Butler University is hosting for eight weeks might have a solution. The contingent arrived in Indianapolis March 24 and will depart May 18, as part of a two-year program that prepares them for the world of international business.

While here, they will visit Eli Lilly and Co., Roche Diagnostics and Dow Agro-Sciences, where they will be treated to tours and lectures on topics such as global marketing strategies. Each will be paired with one of 22 local companies as well, to intern three days a week and write a report on his or her experiences. The exception is Radio One Inc., which is hosting two students.

On top of that, the Hubbard & Cravens project involves the entire Taiwanese student delegation splitting into three groups on April 23 to survey customers of the coffee kiosks at Methodist Hospital, Indiana University Hospital and Riley Hospital for Children.

They'll present their perspectives later the same day, to executives of both Clarian and Hubbard & Cravens.

"If it will help increase our sales, we will probably implement anything they might suggest," Hubbard said. "Some things might be outlandish and some might be extremely practical."

The American junket, led by the International Trade Institute in Taiwan, trains and educates the island's business students in the areas of global trade, marketing and language.

Those learning English travel to Australia, the United Kingdom or the United States. The 55 students studying stateside are split between Butler and Boise State University in Idaho, the two participating colleges. ITI launched the program in 1987. But- ler became involved four years ago through Ben Liu, an associate professor in the College of Business who had connections to a former ITI director. In the meantime, the number of Taiwanese students trekking to Butler has doubled.

This year, 17 women and six men are in the city for eight weeks to complete their two-year MBA studies at ITI. The institute is partly government-subsidized for the purpose of expanding Taiwan's international trade opportunities.

One of the students is Vincent Lin, who will begin a job as an account manager at Procter & Gamble Taiwan in early July. He's interning at the Greenwood office of Swiss-based Endress & Hauser Inc., a manufacturer of industrial sensors.

"Our focus is on English and international trade," Lin said. "All of us believe English is a key that can open a world of possibilities."

Some of the local companies offering internships include BSA LifeStructures, the city's largest architectural firm; Langham, one of the city's bigger logistics providers; and Telamon Corp., the city's largest minority-owned company.

Taiwanese native Albert Chen founded Telamon, a Carmel-based telecommunications firm, in 1985.

"We talk about the businesses in China and India, but not that many people know about Taiwan," Chen said. "If a U.S. company can utilize [the students] and get some connections, it definitely will benefit both sides."

Participating companies give the program a collective thumbs-up, largely because they underestimate the students' level of experience, said Terri Friel, associate dean of administration at Butler's College of Business. Some are as old as 30 and were part of the work force before returning to earn the advanced business degree.

"A lot of good relationships are being built from this," Friel said.

Indiana already has strong ties to the island nation about 100 miles off the coast of southeast China.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp.'s Office of International Development has eight offices worldwide, including one in Taiwan. In 2006, Indiana companies exported $1.5 million worth of goods to Taiwan, up from $80 million in 2002.

The amount ranks Taiwan 22nd among Indiana's exporting partners, well behind Canada's $9.8 billion.

In the summer of 2005, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels led a 70-member delegation on a week-long trade mission to Taiwan and Japan to explore new opportunities and thank existing partners. More than 200 companies with Japanese or Taiwanese investments operate in Indiana and employ more than 40,000 Hoosiers.

Taiwan is the sister state to Indiana and Taipei is the sister city to Indianapolis.

Despite the good will, Butler administrators are hesitant to make a long-term commitment to the ITI program. The university charges ITI for organizing the eight-week excursion and has made a small profit that Friel declined to divulge.

The program, however, now breaks even after administrators hired Rhoda Israelov last year in a part-time role to replace Liu, who stepped down to concentrate more on classroom activities. Israelov is a wellknown Indianapolis-based certified financial planner.

Aside from the corporate outings and the company internships, the students meet two hours for class time every Thursday to discuss what they're learning. Butler faculty and students can join the delegation in the cafeteria of the Atherton Building every Thursday as well, for the Taste of Taiwan luncheon.

A networking event was held April 11 to introduce students to representatives of organizations such as the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, the International Center of Indianapolis, the Asian American Alliance Inc. and the IEDC.

Maggie Wu visited the United States once before, but not Indianapolis. In fact, she's unsure whether she'd even heard of it. Any preconceived notions she might have had have been erased, however.

Said Wu: "This is not a small city, as I thought before."
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