This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

M.B.A. students to help L.A. firms export products, add jobs

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cargo containers ready for export
The Export Champions program hopes to fill more shipping containers like these at the ports.
For years, UCLA Anderson students have helped new, high-tech foreign companies go international. Now, thanks to a new grant, the M.B.A. students will use that expertise to help more Southern California companies export internationally, creating new jobs at home.
 
Anderson’s 14-year-old Global Access Program (GAP) has worked with about 450 foreign companies and 16 American companies, but that ratio is about to change. Increasing GAP’s local focus to create the Export Champions program is the brainchild of UCLA professor Robert Spich and Carlos Valderrama from the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, who developed it as part of a larger plan to increase exports from the Los Angeles region.
 
“If the U.S. is going to get out of this recession, we have to increase our exports,” Spich said. “Anderson can tie its expertise into the community and really help drive growth for small-to-medium manufacturing companies in the Southland. It’s UCLA students creating jobs in the community.”
 
Robert Spich
Robert Spich
Spich and Valderrama’s Export Champions plan won $250,000 in grant money through the Small Business Administration’s State Trade Export Promotion program, to support students’ international field research. Spich, the director of UCLA’s Center for International Business Education and Research, invited his CIBER colleagues at the USC Marshall School to join Export Champions. Soon, student teams at both schools will pair off to advise companies.
 
UCLA’s team is narrowing down which companies to target, aiming for six to eight small- or medium-sized companies in the first year. The companies must already have a successful local business, with a competitive product that “somebody can’t copy in two minutes,” Spich said. When UCLA’s GAP classes begin in June, students from the Fully Employed MBA program will begin analyzing and advising the companies.
 
The FEMBA students tend to be mid-career professionals with an average of 8 years of work experience already under their belts, and many of their core M.B.A. classes behind them, like accounting, marketing and strategy, Spich explained. In five-person teams, they’ll investigate each company’s current performance, the market they hope to break into, the costs, the business regulations in targeted countries and, among other things, conduct a minimum of 100 interviews with the key players in order to scope out the export opportunity and identify how to go international.
 
At the end of six months of research, the final product will be a professional-quality export business plan, which can cost more than $200,000 in the private market, Spich said. At Anderson, the same report costs a company $15,000 to support the students’ research and travel. The new grant will help companies cover some of that cost based on need.
 
“The company gets the whole kit and caboodle,” Spich said. “The Global Access Program has already developed plans for about 450 companies. It’s just that most of them were foreign companies coming to the states. Now we’ve said, ‘Let’s reverse the flow.’”
 
Encouraging Southern California companies to join
 
The challenge is attracting local companies, said Valderrama, the senior vice president for global initiatives at the Chamber of Commerce.
 
“The majority of U.S. firms have not tried to get advice on exporting,” Valderrama said. “They either don’t see a need, or don’t have the training and skills, or they’re afraid to venture into international trade.”
 
Offering companies up to $15,000 in grant money to cover the program charge will be a huge motivator to join, said Spich.
 
“The GAP students have advised a few California companies on their export plans,” Spich said. “But we also had one such company last year that simply dropped out of the program because it did not have sufficient funds in this economic climate. The grant will provide just the right incentive and support.”
 
Bob Foster
Bob Foster
Anderson is committed to supporting Export Champions with its GAP program, which is directed by Adjunct Professor Bob Foster and Anderson’s executive director of international programs, Elwin Svenson – both of whom were knighted in Finland for GAP’s role in helping Finnish companies expand into the U.S.
 
“We’ve worked with companies like Oracle, and we’re very comfortable working with American companies that want to go overseas,” Foster said. “A major benefit of this grant is that its governmental ties mean federal and state programs will introduce GAP to a number of companies in the U.S.”
 
A larger project
 
Export Champions is just the tip of the iceberg for Spich. It’s part of the Southland Global Growth Initiative (SGGI) that Spich and Valderrama drafted to create local jobs by helping local companies move into international trade.
 
Their proposal developed around the same time that a D.C. think-tank, the Brookings Institution, developed the Metro Export Initiative, riffing off of the National Export Initiative, President Obama’s call to increase exports,. Brookings invited Los Angeles and three other metropolitan centers to demonstrate how cities could drive exports, and the L. A. Mayor’s Office got involved.
 
The growing federal push to increase exports put Spich and Valderrama’s SGGI proposal on local officials’ radar. The pair joined the L.A. effort and became founding members of the Los Angeles Regional Export Council (LARExC), an agency based in part on their proposal. The L.A. Mayor’s Office, the Port of Los Angeles, Los Angeles World Airports and the Chamber of Commerce are members, along with UCLA and USC, as well as several trade-oriented organizations: small-business associations, the export offices of foreign consulates and private export consultants, Spich said.
 
The Export Council is creating a regional group of export experts to support small- and medium-sized local companies that are good candidates to begin exporting. Brookings plans to publish the four cities’ successes in a report, for which Spich is one of the authors and advisers.
 
“Brookings is looking to use LARExC as a possible model for metro export growth in other cities,” Spich said.
 
Jobs for Los Angeles
 
Export Champions has the potential not just to create new jobs, but to create them for the students in the program, Spich said. Previous GAP students have been hired by the companies they advised.
 
Spich, as director of Anderson’s Center for International Business Education and Research, also worked with Valderrama on America’s Business Forum, an annual conference where business officers from U.S. embassies throughout the Americas gather at UCLA to coach local companies on foreign markets. The Federal Department of Commerce credits the conference with increasing California’s exports to Latin America, Spich said, and the program gives Anderson yet another network of people for the Export Champions program.
 
“UCLA is already playing a role in international trade,” Spich said. “This is UCLA creating jobs in the community.”
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