Industry partnerships and international experiences give students an opportunity to tackle problems on a global scale and think about the future of business. BCom students Rhea Choudhary and Heidi Cole had this experience when they were given the opportunity to undertake the UNIQLO Global Management Program in Japan.
Bachelor of Commerce students Rhea (Economics and Finance) and Heidi (Accounting and Finance) have both balanced their studies with a range of extracurricular activities, student societies, internships and work experience. Both have explored the opportunities that fall within their respective disciplines, but speaking to them about their time in Japan and their experience in the UNIQLO Global Management Program, it’s clear it was a highlight.
The program brings students from around the world together, to take part in workshops and “devise exciting possibilities for a dynamic, innovation-driven company that is focused on nurturing strong managers, celebrating diversity, and pursuing a responsible, sustainable business.” Rhea and Heidi’s cohort focused on the last of these philosophies, sustainability.
“What we did was essentially like working on a case comp,” say’s Rhea. “Sustainability is one of UNIQLO’s core values and it’s part of their mission statement. So, everything we did was built around understanding the business model, and how they operate – especially in Japan – with that in mind. We had the chance to see some of their stores and how the operations work, from the stores, to behind the scenes, so we could see how this concept of sustainability is embedded in their business. There are considerations of things like cost, as well as the longevity of the products themselves, the choice of materials, design, transport, and staffing. They’re things I had never really thought about, particularly in regard to the apparel industry, but it’s important, especially when you hear stats about how clothing is going to overtake plastic as the highest proportion of trash/waste in the next 20 years.”
As part of the project, each group was tasked with developing a brief for how UNIQLO could continue to improve its sustainability practices. Heidi’s team developed an education piece, while other groups thought about things like product reuse.
“Our group decided to create an education plan for staff within the UNIQLO stores, as well as their customers. At the moment, a lot of the knowledge around the company’s sustainability practices is regional, so we decided to create a blanket program that could be implemented internationally, across the whole company. Then there were other groups who talked about things like taking clothes that weren’t selling and getting local artists to redesign them, to add things like embroidery, so the clothes could be resold as part of a special collection.”
When it came to pitching these ideas and discussing implementation, it became clear that some projects were more feasible than others, but both Rhea and Heidi speak warmly about how the groups’ ideas were received. They were encouraged to look outside the box and think creatively. Both were impressed by the company’s culture.
“Even when it came to pitching and speaking with board members and higher ups, there was a kind of mutual respect that really impressed me. It always felt like a conversation between friends, where we were being encouraged to think about the big picture. That was something I really didn’t expect,” says Rhea. “Everyone there has this positive mentality, that they’re contributing to something with a purpose.”
The experience has given both students a new take on their studies, and the course of their future careers as well.
“I think often in accounting, there’s an expectation you’ll go on to work in a consulting or audit firm, but then there’s this whole other side, working in industry. At a place like UNIQLO, it also seems like there’s a lot of space to move within that,” says Heidi. “You can start out managing a store, then work in the office, then move to London to launch a new superstore. There’s a level of trust for all the employees, and a flexibility for how you can apply your skills. It’s an incredible culture, I find it really exciting. The whole program exceeded my expectations, I gained so much from it.”
To learn more about the range of workplace opportunities when studying BCOM click here.