An annual highlight of the emlyon business school MSc in Supply Chain & Purchasing Management comes in the form of its International Seminar. So named as the location is always in Europe outside of France and the schedule of educational trips one of great intensity, the latest edition saw students see up close and personal the working of the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp. They were duly treated to a detailed look into the reality of the infrastructure required to make international trade a success.

This carefully designed and put together component of the school's program carries several learning objectives, whilst also allowing for cultural tourism and (in the case of the most recent Rotterdam-Antwerp excursion) weekends away in Amsterdam and Brussels. The whole package comes under the umbrella of responsibility, with European destinations favoured especially in the current climate to enable travel by rail. In short, the seminar comprises a one-week whirlwind tour of companies and institutions, meeting with a host of representatives of the supply chain and purchasing profession working in the field. As Program Director Eric David insists, “we want our students to discover first-hand the nuts and bolts of managing international trade operations, meaning all the behind-the-scenes work as well as the end result. In so doing, students will gain invaluable insight into the impact of the economic environment on business practices whilst also better understanding the profession they have in mind for the future”.

A packed schedule

To keep the seminar as industry relevant as possible, the schedule was focussed on large transport infrastructures, in this case the number 10 port in the world (Rotterdam) and the number 1 in Europe plus one of the major hubs for raw material and energy handling (Antwerp). As participating student Arturo Solis confirms, there was little respite: “the school and participating companies and institutions put together an exhaustive package – we visited the ports themselves, met with the relevant authorities in charge of operations as well as logistics companies, and even boarded some of the cargo ships themselves”.

To balance up the program, time was also allocated for the more cultural side to the two destinations, including visits to museums of art, science, technology, and printing, the house of famed Flemish painter Rubens, the Rijksmuseum, and an exhibition dedicated to Van Gogh.

Behind-the-scenes insight

One of the main targets of each International Seminar is to provide a detailed look into the professions of supply chain and purchase management, warts and all. In the case of the most recent edition, this was achieved via a program that also included meetings with urban designers and architects, seeing on-site energy production in progress, exploring the IT and cybersecurity aspect to each port, and also visiting the various transport networks, and quality and sanitary control companies that all contribute to helping make operations run as smoothly as possible.

For participating student Lewei Zhang, such insight was like gold dust: “we got to see the reality of the profession and the sector in great detail, including the problems faced by all contributors to the chain. For example, we saw how companies were successfully juggling operations between pallets in the Ukraine, nails being provided by a company in Germany and how everything was being pulled together”. To round off the on-site part of the seminar, talks were then held with company heads and economists, providing students with an overview of all the stages in the chain they had witnessed.

International mission accomplished

With its clearly stated intention of plunging students into the reality of managing complex, multi-country trade operations (not forgetting networking opportunities during the trip), the International Seminar ticked the boxes for the two students questioned. For Arturo, a student of Chilean extraction and with study experience in his native country as well as France, the reality check provided by the trip was beneficial in the extreme: “we really got to see the business of supply chain and purchase management in finite detail. At the same time, the all-encompassing nature of the visits meant we also gained a genuinely revealing overview of how different economies can be successfully inter-connected”.

As for Lewei, the trip certainly hasn't dampened his enthusiasm for the profession he has in mind: “I'm very personally interested in current industrial phenomena like the move from diesel to electricity and am very motivated to pursue something in this general direction, first at internship level and then beyond. What the seminar did to fuel this ambition was to help us be ready for our eventual choice of profession. Sometimes you can over-burden yourself with knowledge so seeing how actual professionals do the job was a great learning opportunity”.