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LeBow MBA students during a visit to PwC's Lisbon office

MBA Students Benefit from an Alum’s International Connections


November 29, 2023

The two countries closest to the United States on the European continent, Spain and Portugal share a peninsula and a lengthy border, and they’re frequently grouped together as mid-sized economies and as destinations for tourists from abroad.

It’s that latter overlap that led to the two countries being paired for an international residency for LeBow MBA students enrolled in an International Business Seminar (INTB 790). Following an online summer course on Spanish and Portuguese markets and conducting business in Europe, a cohort of full-time, part-time and online MBA students headed across the Atlantic to gain on-the-ground experience in how Spanish and Portuguese companies operate and how major multinational firms have adapted to do business in each country.

Professor and Department Head of Finance Ed Nelling, PhD, taught the course and joined the students on their trip, along with Dornsife Office for Experiential Learning Assistant Director Kelly Amber, with time spent in both countries’ capitals, Lisbon and Madrid.

Nelling observed how many of the companies the students visited were eager to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable practices, particularly with regard to environmental impact and use of natural resources.

Many of the students’ site visits in both countries were arranged by MBA alum Rita dos Santos ’20, a native of Portugal now working as a marketing consultant in Gijón, a city in northern Spain. Dos Santos made arrangements for site visits to companies, several of which where she had either worked or served as a consultant, through connections in her network.

“The students were all very curious and eager to make the most of their experience,” she said.

The residency’s itinerary included major multinational firms like Coca-Cola and PwC, as well as regional firms like Portuguese electric utilities company EDP and Spanish department store group El Corte Ingles.

“I was incredibly inspired by what some of the companies were doing with regards to sustainability and the ways in which they were giving back to their local communities,” said MBA student Sahana Potti, noting how El Corte Ingles provides space in its stores for local artists, authors and musicians.

A group of people standing a stairwell against a bright yellow background and wearing coveralls over their clothes
LeBow MBA students visiting the headquarters and production facililities for SoNatural, a juice brand based in Portugal.

As a highlight of the trip, Nelling and numerous students identified the site visit to SoNatural, a juice brand headquartered in Azambuja, Portugal, and marketed in the U.S. as SoFresco.

Students met the company’s CEO, Douglas Gilman, whom Potti described as “like a healthy Willy Wonka,” and the entire group came away impressed by his presentation about the company and his dynamic presence.

“As a graphic designer, and someone who is pursuing an MBA with a concentration in marketing, I really enjoyed hearing about the design of their labels and about their marketing efforts,” she said.

The Portuguese portion of the residency also included a visit to the business incubator on the campus of one of Portugal’s top universities. After traveling to Madrid, students visited local headquarters for Coca-Cola and Boeing before being joined by dos Santos on a visit to El Corte Ingles and a farewell dinner.

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Headshot of Edward Nelling

Department Head, Professor, Finance

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Assistant Director, Office for Experiential Learning