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Golfing group
Chris Hyers (right) and Bob Ottemann (middle) discussed construction issues faced while building the Castello Di Tolcinasco golf course near Milan, Italy.

Developing Business Overseas

by Susan Houston-Klaus

With so many golf courses dotting the U.S. leisure landscape today, developers are facing some tough challenges as they look for new business.  More and more, companies like golf course developer Landscapes Unlimited are turning abroad for growth opportunities.

To confirm their choice of a potential target market and examine what's required to succeed in a foreign country, the Lincoln-based developer enlisted the help of business students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO).  In the spring of 2004, five candidates in the College of Business Administration's Executive MBA program went to work developing and analyzing business strategies for the company.

The project is part of a capstone experience where students provide consulting assistance for an international business objective.  Projects may be sponsored by a business – as with Landscapes Unlimited – or by the government, private foundations or the program itself on behalf of a Nebraska economic development initiative.

In all cases, the projects serve a dual purpose – to give candidates a chance to apply classroom theory in a business setting and to provide businesses with a resource to develop ideas they potentially can put to work overseas.

For Landscapes Unlimited, the group conducted an initial in-depth look at potential markets in the European Union.  Top on their list of recommendations?  Italy, where the number of golfers has more than doubled in the past 10 years and where conditions are favorable for course development and renovation.

The information reinforced the developer's existing intentions and provided them with helpful background data, says Kurt Huseman, executive vice president at Landscapes Unlimited.

"We were in concert about expansion in the country.  The students provided a great deal of analysis about how to enter the market and establish operations there."

Their analysis also involved a two-week trip to Italy, where the students and a faculty adviser traveled to Rome and Milan.  The group met with attorneys, accountants and regulators, along with representatives from academia, government and industry – even an earth-moving equipment dealer.  They also toured golf courses and met with a local golf pro.

Having the opportunity to meet one-on-one with local businesspeople versus doing research and making phone calls half a world away proved an invaluable piece of the project.

"We uncovered so many nuances," says Amy Carolus, a member of the group. "You might understand a rule or regulation, but when you visit with the individuals who work with it day to day, they'll tell you something you didn't know before.

"Before we visited the country, we could have made recommendations on how to proceed," she adds.  "Talking with the people in Italy helped us discover how to apply those recommendations in the actual setting."

Back home in Nebraska, the students compiled their findings and presented a written report to the client.  While Landscapes Unlimited is still contemplating its next move in Italian expansion, Huseman says he's "very complimentary" of the thorough work the group did on his company's behalf.

The students have since graduated from the program, putting their knowledge and experience to work in their careers.  For all of them, however, this project left a lasting impression.

"Seeing firsthand how business is done in another country was great," says Chris Hyers, another member of the group.  "Pulling it all together in our report showed us that we could take what we did academically and apply it in the business world."

Susan Houston Klaus is a contributor to UNO's annual Omaha World-Herald insert.  She can be reached at shoustonklaus@hotmail.com.

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