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Michael Odam
Michael Odam. Photo by Cindy Blazevic

Water, Power and the Boardroom

Rotman’s international study tours taught Michael Odam the ins and outs of doing business in low-income countries

The third time power went off in the FedEx boardroom, Michael Odam realized he definitely wasn’t in Toronto any more.

The 34-year-old engineer and recent MBA graduate was in New Delhi last May, participating in the first of two international study tours offered by the Rotman School of Management. The tours – his first took him to India; his second, to Brazil and Chile – gave Odam the opportunity to visit at least one city in each country, and to learn about local businesses through visits to banks, manufacturing facilities and service organizations such as law firms and television stations.

Although both regions boast rapidly emerging economies, they still contend with challenges unknown in North America, such as constant power outages. “In a city like Bangalore, people only get potable water for an hour a day,” says Odam. “There are 1.1 billion people in India, and 70 per cent of them don’t have access to a toilet. You can read about those numbers – but when you’re there, experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of a country, it really motivates you to take that experience and try and do something with it.”

As a global product manager for General Electric, Odam is now doing just that. (Odam continued to work for GE while earning his MBA through Rotman’s evening program.) His job requires him to travel the world, promoting and selling tools that battle water scarcity by treating waste and industrial water, as well as removing salt from ocean water.

Odam says the tours were especially beneficial in that they exposed him to every level of society – not just the white-collar world. On a visit to Mumbai’s Dharavi slum, made famous in the movie Slumdog Millionaire, he was able to observe local recycling programs. And in an impoverished area of São Paulo, he attended a soccer game put on by the Gol de Letra foundation – an educational NGO started by two famous Brazilian athletes.

Born and raised in Peru, Odam came to Canada when he was 16. “At first I thought there was no need for me to do a study tour in Latin America,” he says. “But you realize that even locals don’t get this kind of access to various companies: to spend time with people, listen to presentations and get questions answered.”

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