My name is Shari Maxwell and I started the Online Executive MBA program in February of 2013. At the time, I was living in Hagerstown, MD, working as a Production Manager for Rust-Oleum. My background is in chemical engineering and I have 18 years of experience in manufacturing as a process engineer, process improvement leader, and several management positions. I recently moved to Baltimore after taking an Operations Manager position with WR Grace. The EMBA courses helped prepare me for my new role and have been using what I've learned since day one.
The EMBA opens doors for me in Prague! Day 1: KGB Museum- Independent study:Two of my classmates and I set out to find this gem of Prague. The museum is extremely small and the collection of artifacts is not particularly impressive- but the tour guide, a young Russian man, makes it worth the price of admission. He is a master storyteller; he creates these fantastic images with words and engages you in history, making a difficult subject quite entertaining. If you're in Prague, stop by.Official Start of the Program:Traipsing thru the rain: 45 and rainy does not make for a good walking tour of the city. The tour guide did not know how to adjust for crappy weather conditions. We were good sports about it. But well into hour two, you could tell our hearts were not in it. This picture of our professor, John Ward, at the castle sums up how I felt that afternoon.
Day 2 University of Economics at Prague:
The lectures were outstanding! First, the history of the Czech lands, and then a review of the Czech economy. In the first lecture, we only made it through World War II and I was genuinely sad that we didn't make it all the way to 2014. Czech Republic has a rich and often sad history. One comment from Dr. Chalupsky that struck me deeply was how “the failure of communism was the devastation of the spirituality of the people- it will take generations to recover.” Though we are business majors, we just never forget our greatest resource - the people with which we work. The fact that the soul of a people has been changed just shook me. The fact that they live in the shadow of the mounting crisis in Ukraine, fills me with dread and a sense of responsibility. We saw banners yesterday in Old Town in support of the Ukrainians, and today's speakers all showed support for the native people in the coming bout with Russia.Day 3Cultural Day:We toured the Karlstejn Castle, just outside Prague. The rich history of Czech Republic is evident- the quaint little town surrounding the castle makes the long walk uphill to see it enjoyable. Castles are fascinating for a number of reasons, primarily the ability of ancient peoples to build such magnificent structures without the use of modern construction equipment, but also it's interesting to hear the stories of life centuries ago - the wars, the drama, the romance. Interesting tidbit - Charles IV was Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and was married four times in life. We headed to Plzen to tour the Pilsner Urquell brewery and bottling plant, which is of particular interest to me since I worked at a bottling plant just a few months ago. It was a leisurely afternoon. We saw snow and rain on the way and sunshine after lunch. In Czech Republic, you can have it all! There is a restaurant on site, so we enjoyed lunch there; meat dominates the menu, but fried cheese is an entree option and beer is a staple with every meal. The food was good and the group was relaxed, finally getting over our jet lag.
I stayed awake for most of the bus ride back to Prague and it is surprising to see how far the country has come in the short 25 years since communism ended. Market development everywhere; retail shops all over the place and information transfers rapidly. The advancement of technology and the internet seem to make time move faster: what once would have taken 50-75 years to accomplish now happens in 25. Many of our tour guides are young, most likely born after the Velvet Revolution. Yesterday's professors are older- they lived through it and there is a glaring difference of perspective in speech and tone. With the recent events in Ukraine (Russian president Putin is attempting to annex this former Soviet state back into his country), I can't help but wonder what will happen next. The professors who have lectured us are clearly concerned about Russia's action and potential movement across the continent. It is a constant subtext for our discussions; however, the young ladies who have toured us choose not to even bring it up; perhaps they have no fear of the future and are more timid in expressing political views. Either way, the timing of this trip will be historic.
There’s this Czech version of hot chocolate, dubbed “Heaven in a cup” by one of my classmates. Each evening seemed to end with a run to find more. Here’s the late night, “Heaven in a cup crew”. Yes. We recognize that this is a sign you’re over 30. Instead of running to the club at night, you’re trolling around for hot chocolate!!
Day 4 Lectures and Tours:
On this day, we had a great balance of lectures and touring. The two professors in the morning were very good; at this point we were all surprised by the frankness of the Czech people: they openly and calmly speak of corruption in government. There is no window dressing here and it's refreshing to hear their political and social views. They speak of the successes and failures of the country with honesty and hope for the future. We head to Skoda in Mlada Boleslav and tour the factory and museum. Foolish American in me: I thought Henry Ford invented the automobile. But this company has a history dating back to the early 1900s and continues to innovate in the auto industry. The string of excellent presentations continues with Lucas Molehsky, a well-dressed Marketing Manager, who gives us an overview of the Czech automobile industry. Skoda is part of the Volkswagen group and in this small town; roughly half of the residents are employed by Skoda. Sounds a bit like Detroit, huh?
The factory is impressive, clean and well organized. It is a showcase for lean manufacturing, which we learned about in our Ops management course. As a Lean Practitioner, I am pleased I see the concepts at work. You don't need to know Czech to understand the principles of Lean. We see the use of JIT, milk runs, Kanban and score boards that measure take time. Another running joke amongst the group: don't be the "Ugly American" whole traveling abroad. Read the article by Rosenbaum before any international work assignment. It's a good one. Day 5We had our trip debrief at the VSE, then took a trip to the US embassy. We had a talk with the Public Relations attaché there, which was interesting. We spent the afternoon shopping and wandering through the city. As a cohort, we revisited the Charles Bridge, squares and various tourist traps.We stopped for lunch down the street from the Embassy, and I broke down and ordered a beer to complete my Czech experience. (Apparently, small does not translate well!) The food and company were good- but I needed help finishing the drink! We have really pulled together as a team; now us ladies are helping the guys find precious souvenirs for their families. I think we spent 2 hours scouring Prague for an owl for Justin's wife's collection! The weather is beautiful and life is good. It's a great day to see Prague. The bridge and squares are crowded. I've only met my cohort twice in life and somehow feel comfortable discussing everything with them. Class 15 is so special and talented- we're going to do great things! My teammate, Fa, should start planning that 5 year reunion now!