Moscow-Based WDI Alumnus Values Student Project Experiences
Thursday, April 7, 2016
Note: This is one in an ongoing series of articles profiling past WDI interns and Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP) team members and their career paths. Additional profiles in the series may be found here.
It was a trip to the Soviet Union for a student exchange program when Per Hong was a high school junior that sparked his lifelong interest and passion to work in that part of the world. So when he had narrowed his choices to three business schools for his MBA studies – the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business and the University of Michigan Business School (as it was known then) – he decided on Michigan because of WDI’s international student projects.
“It was the selling point for why I chose the University of Michigan,” said Hong, now a partner with A.T. Kearney and managing partner of the firm’s Moscow office. “The opportunity to spend time working in the region on student projects was a differentiator for me.”
Hong, who majored in Russian as an undergrad at Swarthmore College, got his first WDI student opportunity in summer 1995.
His WDI internship was with LET Aeronautics, a Czech Republic manufacturer of 18- and 32-passenger propeller aircraft that was in the process of privatizing after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They prided themselves on having a fleet of aircraft designed to land on unfinished runways in Siberia.
With the collapse of the Soviet market, they were left with nearly 40 aircraft and wanted to certify their planes so they could be sold in the West. Hong developed a marketing strategy for LET, including how it could sell its refurbished, durable aircraft in new, hard-to-reach markets like Latin America and Africa.
“It was fascinating to work in a brand new part of the world,” Hong said of his time in the Czech Republic. “This was a very old and proud company that was now having to suddenly reinvent itself. They were faced with real market economy issues related to how they dispose of three years of inventory, restructure to get profitable and rebrand themselves. It was an enriching experience to work with an indigenous company about to go global, and the challenges they faced at all levels in transitioning to a market mindset.”
During his second year of MBA studies, Hong was part of a WDI-sponsored International Multidisciplinary Action Project – or IMAP – team at the business school. He and his classmates worked on a market entry strategy for Whirlpool appliances in Russia. As part of the project, the team spent two weeks in Moscow and St. Petersburg surveying firsthand the developing retail landscape for washing machines in a country making its transition to a market economy.
“In contrast to my experience in the Czech Republic where I worked for a Czech company, in Russia I was working for a multinational seeking to enter a new market,” Hong said. “I gained a whole new perspective and appreciation for the specific kinds of challenges Western companies were facing in trying to adapt themselves to operate in these new transitional economies.”
He said working in the two countries was an “immense training ground at the time,” and immersing himself in different business cultures “profoundly shaped” him.
Today, Hong has more than 20 years of consulting and industry experience in North America, Europe and Russia. Hong credits WDI and its student projects with sparking “a passion to serve clients in these markets that still shapes what I do today.”
“Without question, I’m pursuing my passion,” he said. “Today, while Russia’s political and economic climate is creating a whole new set of transitional challenges for companies in the region – in some ways not dissimilar to the volatility of the mid-90s – I still reflect on my early experiences with WDI. I like to think I offer both a unique insight and a passion to equip both my multinational and Russian clients with the means to compete and thrive in a global economy. WDI was core in launching me down this path.”