Aug. 25, 2006, 3:00PM
SMU business students to visit Cuba
By ANABELLE GARAY
DALLAS — When a group of MBA students from Southern Methodist University
departs for Cuba on Saturday, their questions about the communist
island's future will have a real sense of urgency.
Their trip comes at a time of renewed interest and speculation in the
politics and business of the island. Longtime leader Fidel Castro, 80,
had emergency intestinal surgery last month and temporarily ceded power
to his brother Raul, who has shown interest in greater flexibility of
the state-controlled economy in the communist country.
The students know Cuba poses an untapped opportunity because of its
proximity to the U.S. and potential to provide cheaper labor. Some will
explore how they would improve infrastructure on the island, others will
have an eye toward manufacturing possibilities in Cuba, said MBA student
Philip Cormier, 42.
"For me, I'm going to go over there and just absorb, taking a look at an
economy and a culture that's likely going to change and be there before
it changes," Cormier said.
The group of 85 students and administrators is expected to meet with
businesses leaders and visit a tourist resort and American mission
during the four-day trip. They'll attend a presentation on Cuba's public
health system, economy, culture and business.
"So you'll hear multiple perspectives on what they think is going to
happen when Castro is gone and once his brother is gone," said Cormier,
who is vice president of marketing for ACE Cash Express in Irving.
Only a few business schools in the U.S. travel to Cuba. SMU led its
first group of students to the island last year as part the curriculum
for the executive MBA program at the Cox School of Business. The trip
aimed to give students the chance to observe the effects of the embargo
and consider future business opportunities.
"After four days of intensive presentation, meeting and tours, our
students walk away with a much better understanding of what it would
take to conduct business in Cuba's economic and cultural climate," said
Tom Perkowski, director of the EMBA program at SMU. "And given the
events of the last several days, those opportunities may come sooner
than we thought last year."
An embargo prevents commercial exchange with Cuba and limits many
Americans from visiting the island. Recently, the Bush administration
revived a four-year-old proposal in which the United States would move
toward lifting the embargo against Cuba in return for reinstatement of
democratic processes on the island.