INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.— Allison Transmission knows how to build a global brand. With facilities in six countries, Allison is the world’s largest manufacturer of fully-automatic transmissions for medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles. Mike Headly, Allison’s vice president of international marketing, was the guest speaker at the finale of the international competitive strategy class taught by Charles Dhanaraj, associate professor of management and Schmenner Faculty Fellow.
This class also began the semester with an opening case outlining Allison’s expansion challenges in Europe in 2005. Headly led the class discussion, offering an insider view of growing international operations at the Midwest company.
“It’s a good learning vehicle for the students here,” said Headly. “We come here to be supportive of Kelley Indianapolis.”
Headly discussed the ways in which Allison continues to build its brand globally using marketing, communications and education. He discussed how Allison got into the business of buses in India and strategies for investing during large, global events like the World Cup and Olympics. Evening MBA students asked how the European debt crisis affects Allison’s global bottom line.
“There’s more uncertainty,” Headly told the class. “But it’s now cheaper to ship iron ore by boat from Australia than to dig it out of the ground in China. There are lots of changing elements.”
The MBA students say Allison’s lessons translate directly to their coursework.
“What we’re learning in this class is there’s cultural and governmental issues that will take a lot of nuance, specific to the country that you’re entering into,” said Mike Behrns, an Evening MBA student working for PNC Bank. “So there’s an inherent need for adaptability.”
“To me, the biggest takeaway was the concept of not having a one size fits all strategy to any approach of trying to go global or enter into any country,” added Jessica Biber, a part-time MBA student and compliance officer at City Securities. “I really think that you have to customize your approach any time you want to rethink a strategy from Brazil to China or India. Wherever you’re going you really have to customize it and make it fit.”
Students ended the class by presenting group projects on how Indiana’s midcap businesses can establish global footprints. Many of them had interacted with senior executives at the 30 companies they studied, learning the challenges of expanding the Indiana business globally. They had to research competition in a foreign market, and explore opportunities for joint ventures with local businesses and the potential for establishing a foothold in the foreign country.
“The class directly addresses many of the day-to-day responsibilities that I have at Cummins Filtration,” said Vijay Ramalingam, an MBA student and a marketing manager and product management specialist. “Because my job is about introducing new products and entering new markets, a lot of what I’ve learned in this class helps me to design the best cultural fit for the market and to partner with suppliers in the value chain. As we discussed in class, ‘Working through the simple things is the toughest part of the job.’”
The students’ presentation was reviewed by two other executives: Mark Cooper, director of international trade from the U.S. Department of Commerce and Steve McFarland, Chair of Vistage International in Indianapolis.
“I think the beauty of this international course is you continue to learn. You need a very flexible mindset when you approach many of the international issues,” said Cooper. “In fact, as you work through these problems of doing international business, you also enhance your managerial skill sets.”
“When I got my MBA [in the late 1980s], international business was almost a chapter in a book, not a whole discipline,” McFarland told the class. “What you're developing is your foundation. You're the next generation that will take North American and U.S. companies global, and it will not be a big deal. Global will be like going to South Dakota.”