Merrily “Missy” Kautt, instructor of International Business and director of the Institute for International Business’s (IIB) Outreach and Partnerships program has spent the past 22 years teaching at the CU Denver Business School.
After a career full of politics, government work, international business, and current global consulting opportunities, Kautt now shares her expertise with CU Denver students in the Business School to help them prepare for global careers. She also helps students identify internships and employment opportunities with international companies.
An unconventional start in political radio
Kautt was in radio and television at the beginning of her career. She started a talk show, FYI, which covered political topics and appeared on KOA radio following Broncos games every Sunday. She credits her chutzpah for the success in creating such an assertive show for the time.
Looking back, she hardly remembers the whirlwind of attaining her MS degree from CU Denver in one year while raising three small children as a single parent. Later she would go on to pursue her PhD studies from CU Denver as well.
Affecting Colorado’s economy through government work
Kautt also spent time working for the Colorado Senate as an administrator during on-session times and organizing major political campaigns during off-session times. She hangs her hat on the fact that she never lost a race in the primaries, her specialization.
Her experience and network led her to become a Gubernatorial Appointee in international trade for Colorado throughout the 1990s. Here she spent her time developing the Colorado economy through international trade services, missions, and negotiations.
Kautt started her teaching career at the University of Denver while still holding her position with the government. Eventually, she was recruited by Manuel Serapio, PhD, associate professor of International Business, to teach at CU Denver full time.
Landing deals for ExxonMobil
“There would be times when things did not go right when somebody would misstate something or overextend their hand. I learned how to backpedal the situation to recover.”
With extensive experience working with the government, Kautt also did her time in the corporate world. While working for ExxonMobil, she partnered with governments around the world. It was an exciting job for her because of the inherent challenge of working with developing countries. High-level negotiations were key in her business dealings. Reflecting back, she noted that she was most successful when the results were mutually beneficial. This lesson is something she stresses in her international business classes today.
“There would be times when things did not go right when somebody would misstate something or overextend their hand. I learned how to backpedal the situation to recover,” Kautt explained.
She was involved in negotiations such as complying with Saudi Arabia’s demands to reduce then Mobil Oil’s ownership share in ARAMCO, which had big implications later for the international oil and gas industry.
From the boardroom to the classroom
Now, she looks back fondly on her business dealings around the world. She thinks back to the times when she would take six-hour train rides to Chinese oilfields, where more often than not, she would be the first Caucasian woman the workers had ever seen.
One of her more exciting stories involves the nationalization of Mobil Oil’s operations in Libya. The company’s expats were thrown out of Libya with less than 8 hours’ notice by Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi, Libya’s then-revolutionary head-of-state. The company sued Libya in the World Court, won, and received substantial compensatory damages. “Those experiences at Mobil and ExxonMobil of being a spokeswoman for 43 states and 14 countries and being involved in strategic planning and government relations laid a solid foundation for my teaching,” she shared.
“Those experiences at Mobil and ExxonMobil of being a spokeswoman for 43 states and 14 countries and being involved in strategic planning and government relations laid a solid foundation for my teaching.”
She enjoyed dealing with the people on the ground as much as she did in the boardroom. That corporate grassroots public affairs work included uncovering what employees’ needs were, what communities with operations required, and how she could help them through foundation grants. This sort of hands-on, experiential work became the basis for her teaching style.
Preparing the next generation for success in international business
Three characteristics that describe Kautt are win-win, confident, and diligently persistent. These qualities are needed to become an international businesswoman working in intense dealings between governments and executives, and now she uses her role as a mentor to pass these qualities on to her students here at the CU Denver Business School.
Kautt uses the realities of what is happening within the business world today to support her coursework by engaging students in dialogues about timely issues. Her goal is to get students to think critically about international business problems, issues, and ideas. Kautt elaborated, “In business, you have to be a critical thinker. And by critical thinking I mean to challenge ideas, to create options and develop new, competitive approaches to resolve issues.”
“In business, you have to be a critical thinker. And by critical thinking I mean to challenge ideas, to create options and develop new, competitive approaches to resolve issues.”
Ethics as a foundation for all business
Ethics are also extremely important to Kautt in both business and teaching. It’s no surprise in her tenure abroad, she encountered many unethical situations working in other countries with few regulations. Kautt reflects back to times when she was placed in a tough situation and stuck to her values. “I would get notes slipped under my door in the middle of the night asking, for example, $25,000 in cash in exchange for business. I would just tear it up and flush it down the toilet, go to meetings the next day and not acknowledge their attempts at bribery.” Kautt shared.
“I would get notes slipped under my door in the middle of the night asking, for example, for $25,000 in cash in exchange for business. I would just tear it up and flush it down the toilet, go to meetings the next day and not acknowledge their attempts at bribery.”
It’s no surprise that since joining CU Denver, she has been selected as a winner for several awards including the prestigious 2016-2017 Laube Community Impact Faculty Award.
Digitalization as the future of international business?
One trend she sees in conducting international business into the future is the wave of digitalization. Companies no longer must open new facilities or re-locate to conduct business in other parts of the world. Kautt stated, “We are also seeing a wave of nationalism throughout the world. While some countries may be trending toward becoming more restrictive or isolationist, international business continues to expand.”
“While some countries may be trending toward becoming more restrictive or isolationist, international business continues to expand.”
She acknowledges that within the global marketplace, countries have to protect their intellectual property, telecommunications, and energy industries, while also providing for national security. Companies must respect and work within these bounds. However, countries that place high tariffs and restrictions on foreign goods and services are frequently dragged into counter-productive trade wars and retaliatory practices. A major repercussion: companies usually get caught in the middle.
An international business program to be proud of
Today, Kautt teaches in the CU Denver Business School’s International Business undergraduate and graduate program. She is a proud team member of the Institute for International Business and its prestigious Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) grant designation by the US Department of Education. The CIBER designation includes receiving a substantial grant to promote US competitiveness in the global marketplace. As Colorado’s only CIBER school, and one of only 17 CIBERs in the US, the Business School’s international business department and IIB are recognized as the state’s preeminent academic resource for international business education.
The Institute strategically partners with many other CIBER universities, student groups, international government, not-for-profit organizations, and the global business community. CIBER funds are used to support the development of new international business coursework, International Business Student Network (IBSN) activities, and international executive roundtables such as the CEO of Golftec’s presentation on becoming a world leader.
“We have faculty who are extremely well-experienced in doing international business as well as teaching theory. They are very hands-on and practical,” boasted Kautt.
“We have faculty who are extremely well-experienced in doing international business as well as teaching theory. They are very hands-on and practical.”
She is very proud of IIB’s close collaboration with companies and the ability to place students into employment and internship positions.