Costa Rica Trip Provides MBA Students Look at Responsible Corporate Behavior

February 13, 2015

Saint Leo University students gained insight into how corporations are managed internationally during an October 2014 trip to Costa Rica led by Regional Academic Director Dr. Craig Cleveland.

Global Business Management (MBA 575) students had the opportunity from October 4 to October 10 to look at some U.S. companies that are thriving in Costa Rica and to examine the multinational businesses’ policies and procedures regarding the environment.

“One thing we look at is sustainability,” Dr. Cleveland said. “We look at how companies can protect the environment as well as profit.”

The Global Business class ties into the university’s core value of responsible stewardship—the students examined the use of resources by the companies they studied.

Eleven students participated in the trip/course: three from University Campus, two from education centers, and six from online. They included: Miguel Rivera, Ronald Englehart, Katrina Williams, Bernadette Moore, Kelly Korwan, Kathleen Dooley, Christopher Kewley, Richard Mackey, Anthony Wise, Cecilia Fitzgerald, and Charles Alaynick.

On October 5, the class visited Doka Estate Coffee plantation in Alajuela. The Victor Ruiz family has owned and operated Doka Coffee since 1930 with the purchase of only 2 hectares of land, Dr. Cleveland said. “Don Clarindo [Vargas] decided to break tradition and purchase his own mill for coffee production instead of handing over the coffee crops to established mills,” he said. The family continued to expand the estate and today it consists of about 1,400 hectares of land. The plantation sits on 450 acres on the slopes of a volcano. Doka has a café, tasting station, and gift store to bolster brand awareness and revenue, Dr. Cleveland said. Tours are offered, and there is a butterfly garden on site.

The coffee estate visit was a favorite stop for the Global Business students. “We got to see firsthand how coffee is processed,” Dr. Cleveland said. “That fascinated me as well, to just go through each step. “We saw the bean planted, pulled off, going through the whole process. And the students were able to buy the product. We spent a lot on coffee!”

Also on October 5, the class visited the University for Peace in San Jose, which was created as part of the United Nations charter. The college offers on-campus and distance learning opportunities focusing on world peace, environmental impacts, social diversity, and global matters. Dr. Pasi Heikkurinen, an assistant professor, spoke to the Saint Leo class on Socioecological Responsibility in Business Organizations. “The main topic of the lecture focused on the inter-relationships and dependencies between people (humans), ecology (planet/environment), and business (profits),” Cleveland said.

CINDE Corp. was the next stop for the class on October 6. CINDE is a Costa Rican Investment Promotion Agency—a private, non-political organization founded in 1982. The topic for the visit was Investing in Costa Rica. CINDE limits the type of foreign direct investment into the country. Costa Rica is trying to lure firms in advanced manufacturing, technology based services, and life science fields.

CINDE recruits and hires many women, Dr. Cleveland said, with between 65 percent and 75 percent of its employees being women. “That enlightened all the female students,” he said.

During the second half of the day, the class visited INCAE Business School in Alajuela. The university was created at the request of then-President John F. Kennedy, who initiated a partnership with the Harvard Business School. Saint Leo’s Global Business students attended a lecture on Costa Rica Trade and Sustainable Development. Dr. Victor Umana explained that Costa Rica is a mixture of a vast amount of different cultures and is the bridge between the North America and South America continents.

On October 7, the Saint Leo University students visited a Chiquita Banana facility. Dr. Nolan Quiros, a regional manager of corporate responsibility for Chiquita, discussed the size of the banana export market in Latin America. The Latin America and Caribbean region accounted for 81 percent of the total market. “Chiquita has embarked on an aggressive mission to further its corporate social responsibility [CSR],” Cleveland said. “Chiquita uses CSR as a driver for business and ethical performance.”

The tasty finale was a trip to CariBeans Chocolate, owned by Americans Jean and Paul Johnson. Their mission is to produce high quality chocolate that is locally sourced while having a positive social impact. Paul Johnson deals with associates and even competitors in a relationship fashion, Dr. Cleveland said, and the friendly approach has cost him. “Paul admits this approach has even led to the creation and strengthening of some of his competitors,” Dr. Cleveland said. His goal is to create a “Napa Valley” for chocolate and Johnson is looking for U.S. investors in his company.

The trip was not all work as the Saint Leo students earned a “Pura Vida Day” (free day) and toured Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean Sea. “The population was 60 to 70 percent Jamaican immigrants,” Dr. Cleveland said. “It felt like we were in Jamaica. It gave the students a different idea of how Costa Rica looked—it’s not just Latin America.”

Dr. Cleveland said international trips for Saint Leo students not only are enriching, but also give students a different outlook on how things are being operated internationally. “A lot of students don’t see how it comes full circle, how there is domestic business vs. international, and how they are connected,” he said. “By seeing how a company is run internationally, they see and gain insight on how to run companies domestically.”

Saint Leo students will have the opportunity to visit Costa Rica again this year, from October 4 to October 10, and will visit some other businesses.