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Global Business and Cultural Awareness for MBA Programs

March 11, 2024

Episode 10:  Today, Dr. Omar Ayyash, President and CEO of the World Trade Center Kentucky interviews Karl Gustafson, MBA Academic Director for the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics. We’ll learn how UK has woven global business and cultural awareness into its program.  More importantly, we’ll consider why this is important for MBAs to have this perspective and exposure.

Dr. Ayyash Interviews Karl Gustafson from the Gatton College of Business and Economics

Meet Karl Gustafson

In addition to his role as the MBA Academic director, Karl is also a senior lecturer and Project Connect Leader.  Karl was a management consultant with CMG Partners.  Prior to that, Karl held several roles at Honeywell International.

Omar begins the conversation with a brief overview of some of the services provided by the World Trade Center Kentucky.  These include organizing trade missions, trade advisory services for both import and export compliance and various types of focused training.  The WTCKY International Trade Certification Program is a premier offering for businesses with an international trade department.  It also provides customized programs, such as what we’ll discuss today.

The Importance of Cross-Cultural Understanding

Karl notes that today’s world in globally interconnected.  Fostering the ability to appreciate and understand different cultures is a prime offering for MBA candidates.  The relationship Gatton College at UK and the World Trade Center of Kentucky have forged provides significant opportunities for the students.  These include exposure to speakers, tools and tactics.

The two organizations built a significant level of mutual trust.  Karl notes the expertise, experience and connections the WTCKY offers is a direct benefit to the MBA candidates.  Omar is an adjunct professor for the MBA program, and has leveraged his industry contacts for on-campus/remote presentations.   It’s a tremendous value-add for the UK’s MBA program.

An Overview of How the MBA Program at UK Incorporates a Global Approach

Karl explains how they’ve embedded global themes throughout the subject matter.  It’s an integrated part of most classes, rather than being viewed as something separate.  The global management course is part of the core curriculum.

In partnership with the WTCKY, UK’s program offers a global workshop, as well as various global experiences.  The focus is to ensure MBA candidates receive multiple types of exposure to global business and culture all along the journey.

Karl discusses the relationship the Gatton College of Business and Economics has with a business school in Grenoble, France.  This school has a reputation for its emphasis on design thinking.  These and other locations offer MBA students global opportunities that enhance what they may learn in the classroom.

Dr. Ayyash comments on how Kentucky’s focus on the global marketplace has significantly grown over the years.  In 2023, we had $34 billion in exports.  Many of our Kentucky companies have global exposure and they can play a role in the career paths MBA students are developing.

The Benefits of Global Understanding in Today’s Kentucky Businesses Environment

Karl explains how an MBA candidate who has had global exposure and is developing a global mindset is multi-faceted.  To begin with, it helps to ensure these professionals can effectively work with people from other cultures.  It’s about a human connection and appreciation of the differences.  Our regional, Kentucky companies benefit from the availability of these MBAs.

Specific roles, especially when they deal directly with trade (such as global supply chain management) need professionals who have taken the time to learn about and understand the complexities of international business issues.

Future Aspirations for the MBA Program at the Gatton School

The international experience will still be a key focal point.  The program continues to develop exposure to various parts of Latin America.  Other geographies are also on the radar.  As the world continues to evolve, the university and students need to consider the impact of these changes if they are to remain effective in the business environment.  The Gatton School will continue to adjust how it’s woven global issues and perspectives into the coursework.

The MBA program has an advisory council made up of industry leaders to help the Gatton College keep its fingers on the pulse of what’s happening and what the program may need to emphasize or pivot towards in the future.

Dr. Ayyash expresses his gratitude for the opportunity to teach various, global classes at UK.  He, himself, is a graduate of the Gatton College of Business and Economics.  He’s classes now focus on topics related to international trade, as well as entrepreneurship.

The World Trade Center Kentucky is focused on a continued expansion with colleges and universities throughout the Commonwealth.

Karl concludes with comments on how Gen Z and Millennials recognize and appreciate the global nature of our world, both in business and socially.  It’s terrific starting point for future education and careers.  The next step is to begin building skill sets that will enable them to take the next step in developing a career path.

To Contact Karl:


Website:  UK’s Gatton School of Business and Economics




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