SDM ’03 International Business Trip

Recent SDM graduates visit French and Italian companies

By Monica Nakamine
June 27, 2003

To culminate a rigorous 13 or 24 months in the System Design and Management program, many of the graduating students went on the SDM International Business Trip from May 16-30, 2003. The purpose of these annual expeditions is to provide participants with the opportunity to learn about company practices from a global perspective. This experience is meant to enhance their understanding of system design and product development while deepening their appreciation for different cultures, people, and business customs.

This year, the Fellows visited France and Italy, touring some of the countries’ most world-renowned corporations.

“It would have taken me several years to visit the number of companies that we did on the International Business Trip,” said Ben Kellam, an SDM student sponsored by Baxter Healthcare. “Because it can be very difficult to learn about the differences between companies (and countries) without actually visiting them, I think this trip will help me better support and manage international development projects in the future.”


The students, accompanied by Director of the SDM Fellows Program Dennis Mahoney and SDM Program Coordinator Ted Hoppe, first visited INSEAD, one of the most prestigious business schools outside of the U.S. Affiliated with the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, INSEAD has a number of research centers that focus on technology, manufacturing, environmental resources, healthcare, and information systems. While on campus, the group was able to examine the school’s structure and how its students are able to learn from a rapidly globalizing environment. INSEAD professor José Santos gave a very enlightening and informative lecture on (need specific lecture name here) to the SDM students on this topic.

Next on the itinerary was Dassault Systemes, a global leader in the three-dimensional software market. Representatives from the company provided the SDM students with an overview of its research-and-development processes, a look at some of their newest technologies, as well as the opportunity to meet with the president and CEO, Bernard Charlès.

The last legs of the group’s trip through France included a visit to the Kodak plant in Chalon and a tour of Renault, one of France’s domestically manufactured automobiles. At Kodak, the students were given access to a number of different areas of the plant, including: research and development, X-ray finishing, and the European Distribution Center, and were also briefed on the company’s overseas distribution and logistics tactics. Guest speakers at Renault included Zev Ungar, an MIT alumnus who is involved with on-board telematics at the company, and Pierre Martin, senior vice president and director of the Paris co-ordination office for Renault-Nissan. The students also walked through the competition analysis workshop and the electronics-testing workshop.


While in Venice, the SDM Fellows visited the MOSE headquarters. MOSE, which stands for Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico (or, Experimental Electormechanical Module) is a project involving a flap-gate system that would essentially control the seasonal flooding that is gradually inundating the already-sinking city. The project involves not only the technical aspects of building these gates, but engineers, architects, and planners also considered ecological, environmental, political, cultural, and economical ramifications. After a tour through the premises, which included the demonstrative flooding of a full-scale model of Venice’s lagoon, students were able to appreciate the intricacies of Venice’s immense flooding concerns and remedies.

At Ferrari-Maranello, the students toured the sports car-making facility, saw first hand how Ferraris are individually built from the frame up, and learned about the complexities that the company went through as it shifted ownership during the past decade.

“The Ferrari tour was a real lesson in brand management,” said Daniel Rinkevich, who entered the SDM program in January 2002. “For example, it showed how the level of quality can be perceived by how often customers return their car to the dealer.”

The design and manufacturing of Ferrari cars were extremely different than those of American cars, students noted. With this perspective, they were able to compare and contrast the various methods involved in creating a Ferrari versus, for example, a Ford.

As the outcome of a merger between Epyx Corporation and De Nora Fuel Cells, Nuvera Fuel Cells was formed in April 2000 and is competing with the likes of UTC Fuel Cells and Proton Energy Systems to produce clean-burning fuel processors and fuel-cell systems. The SDM contingency toured the plant and learned about its research-and-design processes and new technologies.

Next on the list was a trip to Design Continuum, a privately owned, multi-disciplinary research and product development firm that is responsible for innovations in a variety of fields — from research and strategy, to mechanical engineering, to communication design.

Students visited Microtecnica, which is the premier Italian supplier of the Actuation and Flight Control Systems and the Environmental and Thermal Control System for commercial and military aircraft. The company is a fully owned subsidiary of the Hamilton-Sundstrand, division of the United Technologies Corporation.

“The tour at Microtecnica was extremely valuable in demonstrating a transformation of operations,” said SDM student Ion Chalmers Freeman. “The role of computer-based tools was stressed in that it was really the IT manager who could elucidate all the functions of the company, from design to delivery.”

The SDM International Business Trip ended with a visit to Fiat’s Center for Research (CRF). Primarily an automotive manufacturing company, Fiat is also involved with many other types of products, such as agricultural and construction machinery, aviation equipment, and commercial vehicles. Along with a tour of the CRF facilities, students also heard presentations on the Fiat 600 Elettra, a prototype that uses lithium batteries; the Comunicar, an infotelematic vehicle; and the Solar Energy Micro-Trigeneration system.

“The SDM International Business Trip was great, and I learned a lot,” said Rinkevich. “The French and Italians both are very much into working out the issues — discussing and investigating — before taking action. They also appreciate beauty and art much more than we do. They value the organizational aspects coming from American companies.”