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McClatchy-Tribune  04/27/2014 12:01 AM ET
Jacksonville University business school developing global reach into commerce [The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville :: ]

April 27--There's a lot of talk lately about Jacksonville being a bigger player in the world of international business.

It's more than just talk. As a corporate executive in Jacksonville, Thomas Johnston knows it's a fact that the global market is playing a larger role every day in business.

As the director of product management at KLS Martin's North American headquarters in Jacksonville, Johnston said he needs as much of a global edge as possible in managing the cranial surgical device manufacturer. Johnston said his involvement in the graduate studies on-the-road program at Jacksonville University's Davis College of Business is getting him that edge as he traveled to Germany as part of the program a year ago.

"I work for an international firm right now. ..." Johnston said. "But this [JU] trip really allowed you to sit down with leaders from CEOs to other vice presidents within industry, to talk about their challenges and how it's different working through different cultures."

Johnston and other students met with eight companies in Munich and Berlin in the summer of 2013 for a week. It was a broad range of industries including automakers, information technology companies, marketing firms and a solar panel development firm.

Johnston graduates with an executive master's degree in business administration from JU Saturday.

"As I deal with the international colleagues of my company, it helps from the perspective of understanding the different cultural nuances," Johnston said.

After years of not being on the front burner of the JU business school, the international forays are taking on a more prominent role, said Don Capener, dean of the business college. Out of the 205 current graduate students in the business school, about 20 of those are focusing on international business and are steeped in foreign travel.

Capener said at least half of those international business graduate students want to stay in Jacksonville to develop international commerce here.

"We see that growing significantly in the next five years with about 25 graduates every year with lots of training in international business," Capener said.

Capener said there had been an international business curriculum for undergraduates for years. But the revamped graduate program emphasizes international business exposure and that brought new faculty hires and financial investments from local business, most notably Jed and Dan Davis, for whom the business college is named. The program has branched out with students and faculty traveling to locations across the world, including Africa, Southeast Asia, Western Europe and South America.

"It's more than just student exchanges, we have faculty working on research together. We have all kinds of new initiatives that are making international business more than just learning about it through videos and cases," Capener said.

Ultimately, the First Coast's academic and business community will have a higher profile with the enhanced business global perspective, Capener said.

"We don't want to just teach students. We want to make a business impact. In order to do that, we have to be involved with businesses and help them be globally competitive," Capener said.

One of the key lessons learned from going through the program and the trip to Germany, Johnston said, was meeting with a Chinese manufacturing firm that develops solar panels. He said that company established operations in Germany, hoping to tap into the reputation of German engineering prowess.

"They wanted to leverage the German product quality and German manufacturing name so people around the world didn't associate their product with, maybe, less quality manufacturing," Johnston said. "It was fascinating see the strategy as a corporation. ... Now it is actually a German product, not a Chinese product."

In Johnston's current job, KLS Martin is looking at expanding into Central America, it already has sales in Canada and has European operations headquartered in Germany.

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