Urban Enterprise Center: advocating for multiculturalism AND sustainability

Guest post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

RitaBroganWhether you belong to the Urban Enterprise Center (UEC) or not, you benefit from its programs and vision. Established in 1993 as the multicultural business arm of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, its focus is to build and nurture cross-cultural economic relationships for the benefit of all.

At the UEC sustainability is considered as an ethical and systemic response to the type of fragmented thought in the “old” culture that traditionally allowed people to marginalize and abuse resources without considering impacts on the whole planet.

The UEC applies this holistic thinking to business and economic development with educational resources, job skills training, business literacy, multicultural marketing, cross-cultural business development, policy advocacy and personal development.  “We can help folks to focus on specific job skills, training and knowledge for a career or to establish a green-oriented business,” says Dr. Skip Rowland, executive director.

Dr. Rowland explains, “The whole civil rights issue is about reducing the marginalization of people, because doing so damages our whole society. We need to also think about how marginalized thinking damages our air, water and land.”

The UEC has formed strategic partnerships with scores of organizations that include Enterprise Seattle, Prosperity Partnership, and scores of multicultural organizations.  UEC makes connections by raising awareness of minority-owned businesses and helping businesses expand their customer bases to multi-cultural markets.  Currently, the UEC has about 12 committees of volunteers who focus on a range of issues relevant to communities and businesses of color.

“The act of being green reminds us of a way of thinking about how life on the planet is meant to be lived,” says Dr. Rowland.  “Green is where the economy must go to sustain our planet.” For more information about the Urban Enterprise Center, call 206.389.7231.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle that is nationally recognized for its work in social marketing, public involvement, and community building. PRR is one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series twice a month, focusing on green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage.

Microsoft’s cloud platform becomes an MBA sandbox

The MBA field study group assigned to Microsoft Cloud poses with their certificates.By the time Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer came to the University of Washington in March 2010 to tell the world that he was betting the company on cloud computing, four Foster School of Business MBA candidates already had their heads in the company’s cloud.

Second-year MBA students James Berres, Chris Coffman, Winnie Lin and Scott Macy consulted with Microsoft during winter quarter through Foster’s Field Study Program. The program matches companies that have a complex business problem with Foster MBAs, who form a team and attack the problem to gain experience.

In November 2009, Microsoft proposed several cloud computing projects through the Field Study Program. In a competitive bidding and intense screening process, Foster MBAs won the right to delve into the newest wave of computing with Microsoft.

Cloud computing defined

Cloud computing can be thought of as “utility computing.” Like a utility company providing electricity, Microsoft will sell companies access to its computing and storage infrastructure comprised of massive data centers located across the globe. Companies will only pay for the computing power they use.

In October 2009, Microsoft unveiled its technology to run the cloud: Windows Azure platform. External developers and others have already started using the operating system.

“We are in that switchover mode where companies might not necessarily have to have their own data centers or pay someone to host their data center,” said Coffman (MBA 2010). “They can just grab the storage and the computing power they need as they need it.”

Why Microsoft needed Foster MBAs

In the software giant’s effort to once more revolutionize computing, Microsoft worked for years and spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing its new operating system and building data centers to support it. Consequently, Microsoft’s internal teams held expert, in-depth knowledge about its new technology.

One thing those teams couldn’t do? Shed their identity.

“Microsoft had a very good understanding of cloud computing. They knew what their technology was. They knew how their internal groups felt about the technology, the risks, the rewards, the benefits, all of that,” said Berres (MBA 2010). “What they didn’t have a good feel for was, what do other large enterprise companies feel about it?”

Basically, Berres explained, when Microsoft asks a company’s chief information officer (CIO) and other IT leaders what they think about the cloud, the answers might reflect that group’s desire to play ball with Microsoft, the biggest “kid” on the block.

“So,” he said, “they brought us in to get that outside perspective.”

The Foster MBA team established a matrix for what questions they would ask and how they would categorize answers, built a list of target companies from their own contacts and through Foster School professors, staff and alumni, then set out to interview leaders of those companies. To help insure objectivity, the team guaranteed anonymity.

From strategy to real-world results

Microsoft’s Mike Olsson, principal solution manager, Product Group Strategic Initiatives, said the students uncovered a surprising attitude.

“Where we might have predicted that cost and security would be the issues that would be top of mind for a CIO, the things people asked about most at first revolved around agility and integration. So there was a little bit of an adjustment for us in the way we looked at customer attitudes in the enterprise IT environment.”

The Foster team also confirmed for the Microsoft team many of the attitudes they expected to see about moving to the cloud.

Another benefit, said Olsson, “is that discussing interesting technical subjects with smart people is a really good thing to do, particularly when they have a new or slightly different viewpoint than we might have internally.”

Jeff Finan, general manager of Microsoft’s Product Group Strategic Initiatives, echoed Olsson’s assessment of the Foster MBAs and added that “in terms of wanting a repeat performance with the University of Washington Foster School, I’m very much in favor of that. The students were just outstanding.”

Being part of the next big technology trend

Students on the MBA team said they knew going in that the field study would give them the opportunity to discuss the next big thing in computing with world leaders. But when Ballmer came to the UW Seattle campus, it really hit them just how pivotal the project was.

“The fact that, just about a week before we gave our final presentation, Ballmer gave his big presentation about the cloud, that Microsoft was ‘all in,’ ” Coffman said, “That told us that, Hey! We are really working on important stuff here.”

Berres added that not only did the field study open doors at Microsoft and sharpen their own understanding of business consulting, but it also put them in front of tech leaders in the biggest and best companies in the country.

“It gave us a reason to go to executives at Fortune 500 companies who otherwise we wouldn’t have a reason to talk to,” Berres said. “So, it not only gave us all of this information, it also gave us contacts we wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Gordon Neumiller, director of the Field Study Program, has organized hundreds of consulting opportunities for second-year MBAs and similar projects for first-years. Nearly 10 years ago he helped the program mature from a student club to a more formal and significant part of the Foster MBA experience.

While the success of Foster MBAs in cloud computing didn’t surprise him, the timeliness and quality of the work made it stand out. With Steve Ballmer saying Microsoft was ‘all in,’ Neumiller said, the project was as leading edge as it gets.

“At the end of the final presentation,” he added, “it was like this big group hug. Everyone was so happy. I said, ‘I don’t know what they are doing at other business schools, but it cannot be any better than this.’ “

MBA study tour: Kenya the magnificent

Guest post by Tarang Shah, Foster MBA student and 2010 study tour participant

kenya3Magnificent is an understatement. The Kenya study tour is, hands down, one of the top 3 MBA experiences I have had at the Foster School of Business. Not surprisingly, this statement echoes the sentiments of a lot of other folks who went with me on this study tour. There is something special about spending two weeks with your classmates, colleagues, and teachers, far away from your homeland, that brings people together to form inseparable bonds.

We visited a breadth of firms and organizations including financial, airline, consumer product, telecommunication, micro-finance, non-profit… and schools. Some us even got a chance to attend a class at the Strathmore Business School, which confirmed that “case discussions” are the way to go in business schools. It also confirmed that the frameworks we learn at the business school stay the same across the continents, but the implementation details vary to accommodate various cultural, economical, geographical, and environmental aspects.

hakimWe had the honor to visit an orphanage in the outskirts of Nairobi. The hope and smiles on the kids’ faces were truly inspirational.

We went on a 3-day safari and saw the Big 5 animals (lions, leopards, elephants, buffalos, and rhinos) in addition to ostriches, zebras, dik diks, hippos, giraffes, gazelles, warthogs and several other animals and birds.

On the last day, Mutua’s (one of our 3 rock-star study tour leaders) parents invited us for lunch at their home and we got to experience the warmth of a traditional Kenyan family. What a perfect way to end this surreal experience. I want to live it again!

 

kenyaThe Global Business Center at the University of Washington Foster School of Business offers students study tours and other international experiences each year. Study tours expose students and faculty to businesses, cultures and adventures to gain global perspectives and augment academic studies. 2010 was the first year the Global Business Center sent MBA students to East Africa, specifically Kenya. They were accompanied by Foster School Assistant Professor of Management Chris Bauman.

MBA study tour in the Middle East

Guest post by Thomas Potier, Foster MBA student and 2010 study tour participant

Middle_EastWe landed in Dubai after 16 hrs of flight in a top-notch triple 7 with the widest screen entertainment units that I had ever seen. Getting out, I remember feeling the same as I felt when I landed in 2001 in Beijing: disconnected from my reality. I felt quite lost until I heard the familiar voice of Florence (MBA student trip leader): “Girls, there’s a restroom here. I’ll wait for you if you wanna go.” We were in good hands.

Wonders of the time spent in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Muscat flash before my eyes as I write this: So much to remember. The first of these wonders are the bonds I created with the Foster MBA and faculty group. I sometimes knew them—as classmates or teacher—and sometimes didn’t. The relationships I forged in the Middle East will always be somewhat stronger and tighter.

There is also this culture clash:

  • These female master’s students with a veil whom we were asked to talk to in a group with at least one female representative
  • Sam at Sport City in Dubai saying: “We build first and see what to do with it.”
  • Very formal presentations, especially when His Excellency showed up
  • The desert full of buildings and expensive cars….

Middle_East2Finally, there was the fun. The desert tour, snorkeling tour and Sheesha evenings.

Taking the plane back home, I pictured myself having an internship at Masdar City—building the least energy-consuming city, the first carbon-neutral city for one of the highest energy-producing countries.

Marrying antonymic themes is what the Middle East thrives at:

  • Cities with a lot of water inside the harshest deserts
  • Providing a lot of fun with great openness in a very austere society

I hope one day I will have the chance to go back and marvel again.

The Global Business Center at the University of Washington Foster School of Business offers students study tours and other international experiences each year. Study tours expose students and faculty to businesses, cultures and adventures to gain global perspectives and augment academic studies. 2010 was the first year the Global Business Center sent MBA students to the Middle East, specifically United Arab Emirates and Oman. They were accompanied by Foster School Assistant Professor of Finance Thomas Gilbert.

Angelica Macatangay’s BA degree journey

Angelica Macatangay - BA graduateAngelica Macatangay’s drive to succeed was inspired like this: She was a smart, 17-year-old high school grad in Guam holding acceptance letters to three top-tier private colleges when the doors to opportunity slammed shut.

With three siblings who had gone to college ahead of her and her parents looking for work in the Unites States, Macatangay graduated alone in Guam knowing the price of college was beyond her means because her parents couldn’t afford to help pay.

First step was to rejoin her family in the US. Her parents landed in Seattle where her next oldest sister was graduating from Seattle University. “When I got out here, there was some animosity within the family,” she said. “I was the only child left and everyone else got to go to school and I was pretty upset about it.”

The sting of that first blow motivates Macatangay still, even as she prepared to graduate with a BA degree from the UW Foster School of Business in 2010, a top-level finish in the 2010 National Collegiate Sales Competition and a consulting job at Oracle, one of the world’s most prominent software companies.

“Knowing that I couldn’t go to school, knowing that I had that opportunity and I couldn’t take it killed me,” she said. “I told myself I am not going to ever let that happen again.”

The road to Foster: a challenge overcome

Bucking the trend of her siblings who all went into medical fields, Macatangay pursued a career in business. “Eight days after graduation I was in Seattle,” she said. “After two weeks, I had my first job.”

She lived with her parents for a month, then got an apartment in Seattle with a coworker and landed a second job. Although it would be two years before she could afford to go to Bellevue Community College (BCC), Macatangay kicked off her education.

“I told myself, if I can’t learn through school, I am going to learn through work. I was looking to find companies where I was able to work hard and be promoted so that I could learn all I could about their business.”

Macatangay’s path to Foster almost ended with her early success in business. Working in a modeling agency generating client leads, supervising the front desk at an upscale beauty salon, managing aspects of an English language service and leading in sales at a Bellevue boutique, Macatangay had several opportunities to advance her career without a formal education.

One opportunity was a $40,000-a-year job in California. Her quandary: Why not skip college and make money now?

When she thought about it, that stinging disappointment in Guam reminded her she wanted to make sure she didn’t limit herself and that an education was the best way to ensure as many options as possible. She finished at BCC and transferred to the University of Washington. However, due to confusion between advisors, she hadn’t applied to Foster before the transfer and found herself on a campus without the clarity of direction she’d worked so hard for.

“I literally sat in Odegaard (undergraduate library) and cried,” she said. “I remember sitting there crying, asking myself—Why am I here? Why did I choose such a huge college?”

Macatangay did eventually apply to Foster. One afternoon, she opened her mailbox at her apartment and there was a small letter carrying the Foster logo. Her heart sank. It was so small, so normal looking that it couldn’t be good news. She was too panic-stricken to open the letter, so she called a friend. With her dog by her side and friend on the phone, she read the news – Foster had accepted her.

Career launched: From Balmer High to Oracle consultant

“People would refer to Foster as Balmer High and I had no idea what the heck they were talking about. And then I came and I said, Oh, god! I see it. There was definitely a sense of community,” Macatangay said. “I knew when I walked into the business school that they were all business students. You could feel the tension and the competitiveness.”

The high-intensity of the students matched her own drive. Macatangay thrived. She also continued to work nearly full-time until well into her senior year when she had to devote more time to school.

Macatangay jumped at the chance to compete in the 2010 National Collegiate Sales Competition. After six months of grueling preparation, she and fellow graduating Foster senior Kaitie Fisher teamed up to take second place, beating teams from more than 60 US universities.

Recruiters at Oracle spotted Macatangay at the competition and brought her in for interviews. As an Oracle sales consultant, she said, the learning curve will be steep. But that environment suits her perfectly.

“There are going to be a lot of new challenges and experiences,” she said. “In a sense, there will be an endless hallway with a ton of doors and I think I find comfort in that.”

While her degree and success at Foster leave her feeling for the first time that she is now on a level playing field with her peers, no longer playing catch-up because of the time she had to work before entering college, Macatangay is still driven to achieve.

Her new job in San Francisco began shortly after 2010 graduation. What are her new goals after college? She says, “How many years do I want to work before I get my MBA?”