Postcard from Berlin: Our International Consulting Experience in the Heart of Europe

Presenting to clients in a city brimming with cultural diversity, warmth and innovation

Mary Wen MBA 24 created an Instagram Reel to highlight her team's International Management Project in Berlin, Germany.

Picture this: you’re standing in Berlin, the heart of Europe, gazing in awe at the monumental Brandenburg Gate and the sprawling Pariser Platz before it, surrounded by stately embassies and dignified government buildings.

Berlin’s towering architecture, a juxtaposition of old and new, is a testament to the city’s resilience and reinvention. However, whispers of a war-torn past also seem to lie in every corner of the city. This seemingly rigid and cold culture was a stark contrast from the warm embrace of relaxed, sunny California.

However, we soon learned that beneath this exterior lies a city brimming with cultural diversity, warmth, innovation, and an appreciation for arts, history, and culture. It was this contrast that made our experience so transformative.

Berlin, with all its complexities, opened our eyes to a world we never imagined.

You may be wondering how we got here, so let’s rewind.

Capstone Focuses on German Clients

This International Management Project (capstone course) opportunity was open to all UC Davis MBA students. The 12 students who signed up were divided into three business teams, each consulting for their assigned German companies. We were named team leads for our respective projects. We defined project scopes, established and actively maintained project timelines, and for nine weeks led our teams in conducting market research, analyzing findings, presenting insights, all while building good relationships with our clients.

The demanding nature of these projects forced us to apply all our MBA knowledge, and we overcame many challenges typical of international businesses and consultants.

For instance, Faye facilitated meetings for her project’s stakeholders traveling or located across five time zones, while balancing the largest project scope out of all three teams.

UC Davis in front of the Berlin Gate in Germany
The class, along with faculty advisor Mary Kay Vona, and special guest Professor Kay Peters, pose in front of the Berlin Gate during their walking city tour.

On the other hand, Mary had to immediately grasp the knowledge and information of an industry niche she had no experience in while also leading the team in performing job functions she had not previously done herself.

The learning curve was steep. However, once we got the hang of it, and with the help of our talented teammates, we successfully provided strategic recommendations for our clients’ business problems. 

Hitting the Ground Running in Berlin

After nine weeks of hard work, we finally touched down in Berlin for our whirlwind visit.

Faye and her team visited their client’s headquarters located near Checkpoint Charlie and learned about the company’s developmental plans for the second half of 2023. The client is a company in the mental health field that provides multiple services on their digital platform. They are focusing on the B2B market and looking for a growth strategy including client segmentation research, partnership roadmap, and industry trend research.

Meanwhile, Mary and her team visited their client’s office in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood where they discussed their final presentation, and received motivational advice from their client over delicious cups of coffee.

The client is a technology company that is developing a comprehensive AI-based pharmaceutical knowledge platform, which ensures universal access and accurate information to healthcare stakeholders. Mary and the team were tasked to research funding sources, and produce recommendations and implementation roadmaps.

At the very end of the trip, we presented our final recommendations to our clients, received feedback, and had significant discussions on how to implement our recommendations.

group shot of UC Davis students in Germany
MBA students visited the Bayer Pharma Global Headquarters in Berlin to learn about the company’s sustainability and ESG.

Exclusive Company Tours and Cultural Sightseeing

Outside of our projects, we also experienced Berlin in other rich ways.

  • A walking tour took us to the most significant historical and cultural spots in the city that left us speechless.
  • At the U.S. Embassy and the Chamber of Commerce, we learned about German-U.S. business relations, and Germany’s plans for making sustainable energy available to households.
  • At Bayer HQ Berlin, we toured the museum and learned about their 150 years of innovative medicine. Then our speakers presented on Bayer’s sustainability and ESG programs: Bayer CropScience and Bayer Forward Farming Initiative. 
  • At HelloFresh's headquarters, we learned about their environmental footprint reduction in their products’ lifecycle—from ingredients, packaging, transportation, and food waste processing.
  • Alexis Figeac, general partner at Sustainability Investors, led our tour of several German companies focused on food and agricultural sustainability:
    • We visited one of the world's most modern urban aquaponics facilities, ECF Farmsystems GmbH, which grows vegetables and herbs in water by combining aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics.
    • At FoodLabs/AtlanticLabs, the company discussed its global network for sustainability companies and the innovation of plant-based protein.
    • At ReGood, CEO Tim Grassing introduced us to new technology that gives brewery wheat waste a second life. 

To say this experience has been transformative and impactful feels like an understatement.

This class pushed us out of our comfort zones in multiple aspects. We learned about different industries and functions, we led new teams, and we broke out of the comfort of being behind our laptops at home and were immersed in a completely new country. The cultural nuances, language barriers, and professional expectations really elevated our knowledge and sense of professionalism. 

We highly encourage prospective students consider the benefits of opportunities like this. Studying abroad invites you to open your eyes to the vastness of the world, and to embrace different cultures, ideas, and opportunities. In today’s interconnected world, cultural awareness, global awareness, and adaptability are rich qualities that can open many doors to new academic and career opportunities. We hope you take a chance on yourselves because we did!

Huge thanks to the Austral group, our faculty advisors Mary Kay, Kelly and Joe, and our on-ground coordinator Jess, for facilitating a successful class and international trip!