Where Next for B-School Initiatives Looking at Business in Cuba?

“Cuba has undergone drastic economic changes in the last several years,” said Rebecca Bellinger, who led a recent University of Maryland trip to Cuba

In recent years, relations between the US and Cuba have warmed, giving rise to opportunities for business school students and professors to explore the country and learn from its companies and universities. Although some believe much of this process is now irreversible, it remains to be seen how things might change in light of Donald Trump’s stated intention of undoing much of the work of his predecessor, Barack Obama, with regards to US-Cuba relations.

Either way, the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland was the latest business school to report back on an initiative looking at the subject of doing business in Cuba, after similar interest shown by Wharton and USC Marshall School of Business, among others.

A delegation from across the University of Maryland recently travelled to Cuba, to learn more about the country’s economy, its relationship with the US, and its future business prospects. As part of the Smith School’s Faculty Development in International Business (FDIB) program, the group visited businesses, engaged in discussions with Cuban scholars, and enjoyed cultural excursions.

Economic changes and “evolution of the US-Cuba relationship”

“Cuba has undergone drastic economic changes in the last several years, which have made this an especially interesting time to study the country,” said Rebecca Bellinger, of the university’s Center for International Business Education and Research.

“For the first time since the Revolution, Cubans can own private property, start their own businesses on a larger scale, and even get internet access in their homes. The evolution of the US-Cuba relationship in the last 18 months has also contributed to this.”

Program aims to take reality of doing business in Cuba back to US classrooms

The University of Maryland program is designed to introduce US-based faculty to the economic realities of Cuba and help them export that knowledge back to US classrooms. Participants can also build relationships with their counterparts in Cuba, giving academics from both nations the chance to network and gain differing business insights and perspectives from one another.


The program began with a visit to the University of Havana, where speakers presented an economic and political overview of Cuba. Day two included a look into two of Cuba’s best-known industries – cigars and rum – with Habanos and Havana Club, leading Cuban producers of these consumer products.

“Medical research and innovation in Cuba seems ahead of where we are” says University of Maryland representative

Attendees also visited the US embassy in Havana and the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, which Bellinger flagged up as being of particular interest. “The head of strategic programs there had customized the presentation specifically for our region. He knew more about our healthcare crises than many of us did, and suggested ways that Maryland companies might collaborate with his lab,” said Bellinger. “The medical research and innovation in Cuba seems ahead of where we are in the US.”

The trip ended with a rare visit to the container terminal of Mariel, a deep-water port that operates within a special economic zone that lies 40km west of Havana. The US academics also met a lawyer from the Canadian law firm, Gowlings, who spoke about doing business in Cuba. In addition, they learned about tourism in Havana, and examined the societal effects of economic reform in Cuba.


As a result of the trip, the participants plan to create a teaching resource that can be used by any university faculty member who wants to deliver lessons on doing business in Cuba. 

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

0 Comments
Log in from the top right-hand corner or click here to register to post comments