Destination: Lithuania

Published on November 22, 2013

Energy-challenged nation provides a rich backdrop for EMBA’s International Business Residency

41 Executive MBA students from the C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston, traveled to Lithuania as part of the International Business Residency course.

41 Executive MBA students from the C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston, traveled to Lithuania as part of the International Business Residency course.

In 2010, Jokūbas Žiburkus, an assistant professor in the University of Houston’s Department of Biology and Biochemistry, struck up a relationship with two universities back in his homeland of Lithuania. When the Lithuanian Embassy in Washington began to take notice of his work, it sent a delegation to the University of Houston, and soon it became clear to everyone involved that the C. T. Bauer College of Business would be a natural partner for the sharing of ideas between the two countries.

Lithuania is heavily dependent on expensive Russian energy and is looking for alternatives.  Houston is the energy capital of the world and home to the Global Energy Management Institute (GEMI), a prestigious beacon of energy education and research housed at the Bauer College.

In May, three years and many meetings later, 41 Bauer College Executive MBA (EMBA) students participated in the first International Business Residency in Lithuania. Led by Roger Blakeney, the Bauer associate professor who coordinates EMBA’s twice-a-year International Business Residency, the students hobnobbed with high-level Lithuanian government and banking officials at the Presidential Palace and attended a reception hosted by U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania Deborah A. McCarthy at her official residence.

9126077855_f2754f8c19_oAlong the way, they heard from energy-industry leaders at the host institution, Vilnius Gediminas Technical University (VGTU); visited the port towns of Palanga and Klaipeda; and ended the eight-day journey with a visit to the Danish capital of Copenhagen.

The program, which happened with the support of the Lithuanian Embassy in Washington, was so successful that Blakeney plans to hold another residency in Lithuania and Denmark in May.

“Everything went just extremely well,” he said.  “The students got a lot out of it, because they knew nothing about Lithuania, so they didn’t go in with any preconceived notions.” (Previously, the International Business Residency has taken trips to China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Chile, Spain and the Czech Republic.)

The Bauer professor praised Simonas Šatūnas, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Lithuanian Embassy in Washington, for making his job easier. Working with UH, Šatūnas  helped create a task force from VGTU and Lithuana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs; subsequently, the Lithuanian university and government officials ironed out many of the details that led to the International Business Residency.

Žiburkus said that successful partnerships between Lithuanian and American universities are rare.

9126311207_a0c075d3e7_b“In very general terms, Lithuanian universities are looking for connections with American universities,” he said. “In more specific terms, the Vilnius Gediminas Technical University is very interested in energy. They are very much interested in UH’s expertise. We are too dependent on Russian energy sources. We draw about 85 percent of total energy from Russia. So we are enslaved by their high rates, and we can’t do anything about it.”

During the overseas residency, Bauer’s Global Energy EMBA and Global Leadership EMBA students were able to customize parts of the itinerary to suit their interests.

“The IBR trip,” wrote EMBA student Edwin Caviedes in his post-trip report, “allowed me to discover and engage with other cultures and see how they think in respect to the rest of the world.”

Gary L. Brown, who is pursuing the Global Leadership EMBA, said that meeting the U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania was a pinnacle experience.

“Having the opportunity to speak in person with her about the economy of Lithuania and its leaders is a moment I will cherish for a lifetime,” he wrote in his report.

For others, visiting the Presidential Palace was a highlight.

“We spoke with the presidential adviser, and he himself gave us a tour of the presidential palace,” said Žiburkus, whose contacts back home gave the students unparalleled access. “It’s those kinds of things that make the residency unique and I think make it a very insightful experience.”

Caviedes concurred. “I had the opportunity to really confirm my findings about Lithuanian economic policies and the opportunity to learn more about their future goals specifically in the area of energy and the incentives that Lithuania is offering foreign investors to come and invest in Lithuania,” he wrote.

Ultimately, Bauer students came away with their own observations about Lithuania’s dependence on Russian oil.

“It is imperative to create an independent energy sector that allows the country, businesses and its citizens to have better products and services to continue to keep moving forward and allow the economy to prosper for many generations to come,” Caviedes wrote. “Thus Lithuania will become more competitive [with] the rest of the world.”

By Wendell Brock