Michael Behnam, associate professor of strategy and international business and a German native, brings his personal connection to the country and the German business community to the Global Travel Seminar program.

“I was raised and educated there, and I worked and taught there at a university, so I have a lot of high-level contacts at German corporations,” said Behnam. “Germany has the biggest economy in the European Union, the third or fourth largest in the world, and is a major trading partner with the United States, with long historic, political and business ties here.”

The Global Travel Seminars generally combine a strategic location, like a major economic power or an emerging market, and a faculty member who has an interest and connections in this area, Behnam said. “Some of the trips are focused on a specific area of study,” he said, “but mine is much more oriented toward general management.” This spring’s seminar, which is co-led by Assistant Professor Christopher Roussin, is the fifth consecutive graduate seminar that Behnam has led to Germany, and includes visits to Munich, Berlin, and Nuremberg May 7-16. With three major cities to visit, the pace is swift, but there’s also time for lots of sightseeing opportunities, including a VIP tour of the Reichstag in Berlin, and a chance to experience the culture and food with several group dinners.

Behnam’s contacts offer access to top-level executives at such world renowned companies as BMW, Cisco, Audi, Adidas, Bayer-Scherer, and Volkswagen, and give students hands-on experience by providing case studies for them to work on.

Students visit a company for a morning presentation by a high-level executive who presents a real live case that is currently interesting or problematic to them. The students have time to work in groups on the problem, and present their suggested solutions to a jury of executives in the afternoon.

“It’s a wonderful experience,” said Behnam. “The students win by having an opportunity to do something productive in the field, and they get direct feedback. The company wins because they have 22 unbiased, smart brains working for them -- almost for free.”

Past groups have worked, for example, on optimizing shift planning for Lufthansa Cargo, Volkswagen’s market entry strategy for a hybrid car for the U.S. market, and suggestions for Adidas’s introduction of “miCoach,” a device that looks at how you perform and coaches you in real time.

“I want to put the graduate students under this kind of pressure because they enjoy the rush of proving themselves and contributing to top-level management functions,” Behnam said.