Category Archives: Consulting

Student Consulting Program – student perspective

Guest post by Rai Huang, Foster undergraduate

BEDC Student Consulting ProgramI initially enrolled in the BEDC Student Consulting Program without really understanding what consulting means; my impression was that consulting is the dream job of many of my peers at the Foster School of Business, yet it wasn’t something I particularly cared for.

I expected to walk away from the class with experience in conducting market research and formulating online marketing/public relations strategies, which is related to my dream career after graduation. And I liked the idea of working with a team; the communication skills learned would prepare me for work in any field. The fact that it would look good on my resume didn’t hurt either.

My team’s assignment is to formulate online marketing and social media strategies for our client, Concourse Concessions, who currently operates a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf franchise in the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. A newcomer in the Seattle market, they wish to grow brand recognition through traditional and non-traditional public relations methods as they expand to locations outside of the airport within the next year. It was an exciting task to take on, as the overall business environment and market for coffee in Seattle is very saturated, and would require creative thinking to accomplish the mission.

The first step for our team was to identify the strategy and comparative advantage of the franchise.  Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf has only been in operations for about three months, and there was lack of substantial data for us to analyze. Challenged by our advisers and mentors, we were able to take a step back and look at the project from a wider perspective. We learned to think in terms of what is most valuable for the client every step of the way. With the support of our mentor and advisors, we came up with a framework in which every question raised had to be answered in a way that would help the business.

During the research phase of the project we gathered survey data and took a close look at local competitors such as Peet’s Coffee and Tea, Uptown Espresso, Espresso Vivace and Café Vita. We examined how they are utilizing social media and promotion strategies to maximize brand equity. Marketing concepts we’ve seen play out in real life include: how social media is being utilized for Customer Relation Management; how Search Engine Optimization is becoming increasingly intertwined with social media; why it’s essential for all business owners and managers to understand the marketing concept; how to really use a business’ competitive advantage; and how to communicate through interaction with the consumers.

As we come near to the end of the project, I now understand what consulting really comes down to is communication. It is important to practice the art of listening to your client and really hearing their needs, and finding resources and formulating recommendations with your team to create value for them. Through the process of tackling the different obstacles, my team and I have bonded together and grown both professionally and personally.

I look forward to applying the skills I’ve learned to a future career in Public Relations. I now understand what it is like to work with a real client, how to identify their wants and needs, and strategically come up with solutions that would benefit the client and heighten awareness of the brand. The Student Consulting experience is not just a line on my resume, but truly a real-world experience I was fortunate to have as an undergraduate student.

Learn more or become involved in the Student Consulting Program as a client or volunteer advisor.

BEDC grad students provide consulting for Ketchikan Indian community

BEDC Alaska MBA StudentsThe BEDC is again working to support small business growth in Southeast Alaska. A team of four UW Foster MBA students has spent winter quarter working with the Ketchikan Indian Community in an effort to grow local business and tribally-owned enterprises. The students taught entrepreneurship classes over the Martin Luther King Holiday weekend for 30 current and aspiring business owners. Ketchikan, the southernmost city in Alaska, has an economy based on tourism and fishing; and many of the new business ideas will cater to tourists from cruise ships or independent tourists.

Since the entrepreneurship classes, the MBA students have been working with outdoor adventure, culinary training, historic tourism, clothing retailer, and construction companies.

MBA student Jennifer Yanni believes she learned as much or more as her clients did “I had never written a business plan before so this gave me some real-world experience to put on my resume. It also helped me think about how you sell new ideas to an existing market.”

This is the 15th project that the BEDC has completed for a Native American Tribe or Alaska Native Corporation and we’re already looking for our next projects. If you know of a tribe that would like a MBA team please contact Michael Verchot.

Consulting as career catalyst

Guest post by Melon Feleke, Foster alumna

Melon FelekeMy name is Melon Feleke and I am a first generation immigrant. I was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and moved to Seattle with my family when I was ten years old. After attending Roosevelt High School I stayed true to my NW roots and attended the University of Washington.

For much of my childhood I was determined to be a doctor –despite the fact I fainted at pretty much every hospital visit and had no tolerance for watching pain or blood. Luckily my parents recognized my other strengths and encouraged me to consider business. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs; from my grandmother in Mettu to my parents here in Seattle; my mother owns a 7Eleven store in Mountlake Terrace. While in high school and college I managed inventory over the weekends and when my mother decided to take a vacation back home I took on the acting manager role for the store.

During my junior year at UW a classmate told me about the Business & Economic Development Center at the Foster School, specifically a program where students work with local minority business owners to improve their businesses. I thought it would be great to give back to my community in a very practical way. My client was the Theater Off Jackson, a unique minority-owned theater in the heart of the International District.  The theater was looking to relocate because of increased property costs. Our team of five students and a professional advisor worked with the clients to identify their core target market, conduct location analysis, surveying clients and ultimately making a recommendation for their new location. Our clients were facing a very real business challenge and our team brought to them meaningful business knowledge and human capital.

My BEDC experience gave me a very real sample of a career in consulting and I loved it! First and foremost I loved helping my client – this was a real problem, and if the issues weren’t resolved the owners and employees would not have a paycheck to take home to their families. I especially like that there was a beginning middle and end to the project… an end with a real result. I entered the program thinking it would be a good chance to give back to my community, but what happened along the way is I discovered the career of consulting.

The BEDC offers a two way success story –businesses succeed and students receive real and meaningful experiences that shape their careers. Fast forward three years and I am now a consultant at Accenture Consulting.

I invite you to help the BEDC create more success stories, for students like myself, and for small businesses. Make a gift to the BEDC today.

 

Launching a new business division: a conversation with Ray Risco, President of Weyerhaeuser Solutions

Ray Risco is the President of Weyerhaeuser Solutions, a division of Weyerhaeuser that offers consulting and management services designed to help clients develop, manage and commercialize forest assets. He is a member of the GBC’s Global Business Advisory Board.

Tell us about Weyerhaeuser Solutions. What was it like to create a new business division for a company?
Weyerhaeuser Solutions is designed to take our management, business and some IP systems and engage them with third parties outside of the traditional forest products space as part of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development 2050 initiative. I worked with Bob Ewing, a colleague, in developing a business that manages natural resources and assists companies in transitioning to renewable energy supplies, such as electrical utility companies that are looking to co-fire biomass with coal as a green alternative in the UK, and specialty chemical companies looking for organic feedstock instead of traditional sources.

Creating a service division that provides consulting as well as operational management in a traditional products company presented some significant challenges.  However, the timing of the idea linked to the 2050 initiative and the support of senior management along with the Board of Directors was a significant plus in successfully launching the business.  From inception to official launch took 2.5 years.  That may seem like a long period of time, but considering the radically different business model it was a remarkably quick process.

In your career, you’ve worked in accounting, finance, operational and divisional leadership, and new product/business development. Which was the most challenging, and which the most rewarding?
Every role I have had has had its challenges and rewards from a personal and career perspective but one challenge in particular had the largest personal impact.  In 2005 I took over the leadership of our Uruguayan operations and had the chance to transform a plantation project into a full blown operating company.  My challenge was to set up the productive chain and to find the right people to staff all of the new departments we had just created and set them up for success. Although this was a significant personal challenge and rewarding for the whole team, the greatest sense of accomplishment and pride has come from seeing the immensely positive impact this project has had in the communities in which we operate.

What countries have you lived and worked in?
I am originally from Peru and I have lived in 6 different countries since my childhood including living and working in the US, Germany, and Uruguay. Over my career, I have had direct responsibility for over 22 countries covering Asia, Europe and South America.

What would you tell students about the world of global business?
The world may be getting flat but that doesn’t mean it’s the same – culture, history and tradition matter as one thinks of doing business at home or abroad.  At the end of the day you are still dealing with people so respect matters.  Be confident in what you know and never be afraid to admit what you don’t.  More often than not you will get the help you need.

 

Students taking charge of improving our community

BEDC Leadership TeamThe Business and Economic Development Center Leadership Team is a student organization with a mission to provide students with opportunities to improve their professional growth outside of the classroom. The organization also helps advance the work of the Business & Economic Development Center (BEDC) in developing businesses in underserved communities.

This self-governed student club uses business to improve the community. “It’s important for students to learn the significance of giving back,” said Alyssa Arinobu, a senior majoring in accounting. “Not only can students improve their skills, but they also learn how these skills can help better the community.”

“One of the programs that we’re most proud of is our Foster School Week of Service” said Simran Kaur, a senior majoring in information systems.  “This program rallies together Foster School student organizations to work with several charities across King County. For example, each year the Leadership Team volunteers at the Renton/Skyway Boys & Girls Club, where we work with young kids on business problems and also play games and have a fun time.”

Simran is also the president of the Leadership Team. “Students realize that they can make an impact in the community by participating in this week of service.” Last year, nearly 20 student organizations assisted 11 charities. “It is a fun and easy way for us to make time to meet people in different organizations and also make a difference.”

Each year, the Leadership Team also offers a Flagship Consulting Program (FCP), where members work as business consultants for local companies and nonprofit organizations. Charissa Chin, a senior studying marketing and international business, serves as the vice president of the Leadership Team. “The FCP provides students an opportunity to gain hands-on consulting experience and make a difference in a local company or non-profit organization. It’s a win-win.”

Through this program, the Leadership Team works with a different client each quarter of the academic year. “This fall, we’re working with Explorer West Middle School to help them increase their student enrollment. This includes evaluating the school’s public perception and recommending effective marketing methods to reach appropriate target markets.”

It’s through programs like these that students grow, and learn the importance of civic service. Learn more about how you can sponsor student programs.

MBA students consult for Seattle shipyard

Located in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, Pacific Fishermen Shipyard and Electric is attempting to branch out from its traditional lines of revenue with new facilities for preparing and painting industrial equipment. To market its new capabilities and hopefully add jobs at the shipyard, Pacific Fishermen has tapped the marketing skills of MBA students through the Field Study Program at the University of Washington Foster School of Business.

Click on image above to play video.

The Field Study Program offers selected consulting projects proposed by businesses and non-profits to MBA candidates as an opportunity for Foster students to get real-world consulting experience while having a positive impact on the economy of the Puget Sound region.

This is the first of two videos to document the collaboration between Foster MBAs and Pacific Fishermen Shipyard and Electric. At the end of winter quarter 2011, we’ll check back with the MBA team to see what they have been able to accomplish for this historic Seattle shipyard.

Global health gets global business make-over by Foster MBAs

With more than $4 billion in activity among 190 nonprofit organizations, such as PATH and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle has become a magnet for people driving solutions to the health and wellbeing of the poorest people on Earth.

Since the University of Washington Foster School of Business also attracts individuals who seek to make a difference, it was only a matter of time before those crowds mingled.

Take winter quarter 2010, when the Foster School’s year-long Global Business Forum focused on global health and development. Among the 20 speakers brought into the MBA-level forum was Lisa Cohen, executive director of Washington Global Health Alliance, an organization established in 2007 to promote issues and improve collaboration between the dozens of Washington-based global health groups.

“There has been a tremendous increase in funding of global health activities,” Cohen said in a recent interview, “but the great struggle for a nonprofit in global heath is sustainability. When I told that to the class, they asked, ‘What can we do?’ I said, ‘I need a business model.’ ”

“The Foster Four” create road map for global health

In addition to a Gates Foundation grant, the Alliance is funded through membership dues of other well-known organizations such as Seattle Biomedical Research Institute and the University of Washington Department of Global Health.

Three full-time Alliance employees, including Cohen, operate like a start-up with early investors who want results – a start-up with a bold mission: “… engage in, and advocate for, Washington state as a center for global health on the world stage.”

When Foster MBA students Bala Balamurugan, David Cohen, Colin Hanna and Jason Moll (aka “The Foster Four”) heard Lisa Cohen’s talk about the Alliance, they were immediately intrigued with the possibility of putting their business education to work for the nonprofit.

“There is a lot of buzz about global health in Seattle and we saw an opportunity to get to know that whole sector through one very influential point of contact,” said Hanna (Evening MBA 2010).

“We want to make a bigger impact than just working for an organization that is trying to maximize profit,” said David Cohen (MBA 2010). “This was an opportunity to add life to an organization that is trying to make a much bigger difference in the world.”

Not only did The Foster Four (who were given the nickname by leaders in the Seattle global health realm) spend 15 hours a week for nearly 12 weeks consulting for the Alliance and meeting with the organization’s crew and community supporters, but they produced a final report that Lisa Cohen says will be a road-map for growing the nonprofit.

“I have been astounded by their personal dedication,” said Lisa Cohen. “I felt so confident that I had them present their report to my executive board, which is all the top leaders in global health in this region including the Gates Foundation.”

Making a difference (squared)

“It became clear to us right away that the Alliance is making a ton of impact but, with relatively minor changes from a business standpoint, they could do a lot more,” David Cohen said.

“It is a classic start-up environment,” said Balamurugan, who works at Microsoft while attending Foster’s Evening MBA Program. “How do you sustain it? How do you deliver value and keep going?”

The Alliance is not resting on the assumption that its grant from the Gates Foundation will be renewed. Lisa Cohen and her team plan to continue to push for success and prove their worth.

The Foster students’ eight-page report, titled “Roadmap to Sustainability” and signed “The Foster Four,” is a succinct and elegant analysis with recommendations covering everything from a new membership model and performance metrics to the Alliance’s nonprofit legal structure. For example, on the revenue generating side, the students propose increasing fees for the executive members. Some of those members have agreed that was the right move. They also propose adding a basic membership for other nonprofits with fees on a sliding scale, as well as opening doors for companies to sponsor events.

“There is a real push to achieve impact at scale,” Lisa Cohen said. “Rather than just a single project in a single village, the challenge is, What can we do for a country? What can we do for a continent?”

That incredible challenge – improving the lives of potentially hundreds of millions of people – held a deep attraction for The Foster Four.

“I think there is increasing interest among MBA students in this blurring of the lines between the business world and the nonprofit world,” added Hanna.

About the project, David Cohen concluded: “This has been the most rewarding and worthwhile experience of my MBA.”

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.’ “

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?”