Category Archives: MBA

Giving to Foster since the 1950s never gets old

Family lore has it that Frank Dupar Sr. first arrived in Seattle broke in the early 1900s because a thief got to his money the night before while he was hitching a ride in a boxcar.

He was sitting on the sidewalk near the King Street Station with nowhere to go when a man approached him and asked, “What’s the matter, sonny?” Frank told his story, and the man gave him a dime and an upbeat prognosis: “This town is going to be good to you.”

“What an understatement,” said Adrienne Riley, Dupar’s granddaughter and president of the Dupar Foundation.

After his rough start in Seattle, Riley said in an interview at the Foster School’s 2010 Annual Scholarship Breakfast on Nov. 4, Dupar went on to own a plumbing company and then co-found what became Westin Hotels and Resorts as well as several other iconic and highly successful businesses.

The Dupars made a point of giving back to the community that played such an important role in their lives, contributing to important civic projects like the creation of the Seattle Center so the city could host the 1962 World’s Fair. They also felt strongly about contributing to education.

“Since he only went through the 8th grade, education was really important to him,” Riley said.

The Dupar Foundation was established in Frank Dupar Sr.’s name in 1958 and has been contributing to scholarships at the Foster School nearly since the foundation’s inception, Riley said. And, while she has attended the scholarship breakfast for nearly ten years, she said it never gets old.

“To me it is really meaningful to see kids who have a lot going for them and, because of the scholarship, they are able to attend college and do something with their lives,” she said.

This year the Scholarship Breakfast celebrated 338 Foster students receiving scholarships totaling more than $1.8 million.

Riley said she especially appreciates knowing more about the students who have received the Dupar Foundation’s scholarship. “It’s nice to touch your money,” she said.

“This morning I sat with a young man who, after he graduated college, went into the National Guard and went to Iraq where he was in charge of convoy security missions and now here he is in his first year of the MBA program,” she said. “It is inspiring.”

The art of entrepreneurial decision-making

Emer Dooley“Do I take the job or start my own company?” It’s a tough decision but just the first of many decisions an entrepreneur will make during his or her career. And that’s the point of Emer Dooley‘s Entrepreneurial Decision-Making class: get used to it now because you’re going to spend your career making decisions—often with incomplete information and few data points.

Each week, graduate students hear first-hand from an entrepreneur who is grappling with or has just gone through the decision-making process on an issue from the start-up lifecycle, from generating an idea and writing a business plan to financing, growth, and a successful exit. Small teams of students are responsible for engaging the guest in discussion and digging into the hows and whys of the entrepreneur’s final decision.

Dooley, a lecturer in entrepreneurship at the UW Foster School of Business, has no problem getting leaders from Seattle’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to share their experiences with her class. “We recently had Rich Barton, the founder of Expedia, come in and talk about his latest idea and he asked the students how they would generate viral traffic. Now one of the MBAs is working with him on the project,” she said. “I wanted to make this class interactive and more of a conversation where there’s real feedback about what’s happening. The ownership is on the students to make this a useful part of the class.”

Students also look at a variety of entrepreneurial models during the quarter, everything from franchising, to buying a company, to high-tech start-ups. Dooley tries to balance the types of companies that come into the class. “Right now Web 2.0 is huge in Seattle so we’re spending a little more time on those companies this quarter,” she said.

While helping students develop the tools and network they’ll find most valuable after they leave the university, Dooley also promotes the idea that there is no one set track or right answer for an entrepreneur. “It’s all about figuring out who you are and what makes you tick,” she said. “Some people start their companies right out of school but others may be better off joining a big company for a couple of years. Every entrepreneur is different.”

Figuring out who you are. Put that in the tough decision category.

Bacon…in a glass?

Stefan Schachtell, Sven Liden, and Chris Marshall, founders of Black Rock Spirits.
Stefan Schachtell, Sven Liden, and Chris Marshall, founders of Black Rock Spirits.

In the food industry, bacon is the “it” food of the moment. And if industry awards and late night talk shows are any indication, Bakon Vodka may just be the “it” beverage of the year. Sven Liden (MBA 2004), co-founder of the parent company, Black Rock Spirits, says it all began on a camping trip in 2007 when a friend brought along 20 pounds of bacon. As the campfire conversation turned to infused liquors, they began to wonder if all that bacon could make a good drink. “The next weekend we bought 12 types of bacon and a bunch of different types of vodka and did all of these infusions in Mason jars in my kitchen,” he said.

The best infusion came from a mix of peppered bacon and potato vodka. After getting a positive response from friends who sampled the winning concoction, Liden and his business partners decided to test the product to the commercial market. In May 2009, after a year and a half of working through all of the liquor industry’s requirements and regulations, they produced 1,500 bottles of Bakon Vodka—enough, they figured, to last three or four months.

Posts about Bakon Vodka on Facebook and Twitter soon had the blogosphere buzzing. Within two weeks of its initial release, Conan O’Brien was sampling Bakon Vodka on his late night talk show. And those first 1,500 bottles were gone in no time. While many other small liquor companies struggle to get their products distributed in one or two states, distribution of Bakon Vodka has expanded from two states to 20 in just one year. Black Rock Spirits expects sales of the beverage to top $1 million in 2010 and was recently awarded a Gold Medal in the Beverage Testing Institute’s 2010 International Review of Spirits—a very prestigious award in the liquor industry.

Before entering the full-time MBA program at the University of Washington, Liden already had one start-up under his belt. “My background was in engineering and software development, but I felt that something was missing from my tool box. I wanted that knowledge of business,” he said. While at the UW, Liden participated in the 2004 Business Plan Competition with TeachTown, a company that provides educational software for children with autism. “I’ve been part of three start-ups now and that’s been really interesting because they are all so different,” he said. “I don’t necessarily think all entrepreneurs should try that, but the broad foundation I developed at the UW has allowed me to do that and succeed.”

Expanding cosmos—women in leadership study tour

Guest post by Melanie Sharpe, Foster MBA 2011 with a global business focus

BananaLeafIn the pre-trip brief just hours before we left for India, our professor Cate Goethals made a preparatory comment I’ll always remember as I weave my way through the world: “Becoming cosmopolitan means expanding and pushing the current boundaries and edges of your world.”

The trip to India expanded my cosmos in that very way. It exposed me to a diverse array of Indian leaders that redefined my perspective of business leadership as a woman—an aspect of business school that is largely overlooked and one I admittedly had not taken the time to consider prior to the transformative trip.

Inspiring women entrepreneurs

We encountered a colorful gamut of inspiring women. From workaholic bankers to avant-garde filmmakers to powerful lawyers and wealthy philanthropists to arguably the most influential female spiritual guru in the world to rural tree harvesters—all incredibly ambitious and driven women who seemed to have something very profound in common: They all seemed to be working to uplift others around them.

Call it social entrepreneurship or call it a compulsion to help better their community or family. Sometimes this innate desire compelled them to work 16-hour days to allow their fatherless children to have a better future. Sometimes that internal murmur told them that funding clean water was the only way to ensure the success of future generations of Indians. Sometimes that calling told them to hold and convey love to thousands of people everyday. In each instance, the evidence of that desire to give was palpable and tremendously inspiring.

TajThe pinnacle of the trip was hearing Rohini Nilekani, wife of the Infosys founder, speak at her clean water non-profit, Arghyam. Her profound statement: “Your generation no longer has the luxury of pessimism” was galvanizing. No longer can we absentmindedly guzzle water from plastic bottles or live in first-world luxury flushing away our waste with fresh water without considering the ramifications to the earth or other members of the world community. Her CEO Sunita Nadhamuni was an example of such awareness. Nadhamuni and her husband had reinvented the American business school dream of Silicon Valley wealth, prominent management positions and a constant search for “more” by transitioning their careers to work that directly helped communities of people have access to clean water.

Globally interconnected economy

The trip to India opened my world to the interconnectedness of the global economy. Imagine Dharavi: Asia’s largest slum, prominently featured in the blockbuster film “Slumdog Millionaire” as an impenetrable, crime-filled, filthy dystopia. The reality? The living conditions were certainly difficult: On average there is 1 toilet per 1,500 people! But the families inside the neat and tidy (albeit tiny) apartments were hardworking, entrepreneurial and contributing to global economic epicenters of recycling and clothes dyeing. In fact, many of the raw materials that we consume in the United States are sourced straight from Dharavi.

I left India transformed. The trip confirmed what I had suspected for my own career path: My own compulsion to serve was an innate calling that could be aligned with both business ideals and women’s leadership. Arriving at this realization completed the goal of the trip. My cosmos is expanded forever.

Melanie is an MBA student participant in the University of Washington Foster School of Business study tour during fall quarter 2010. The trip, focused on Women Leadership in India, was organized by Foster faculty member Cate Goethals.

Boomzap’s “Awakening” is a casual gaming hit

Christopher Natsuume, BoomZapChristopher Natsuume has skin in the game. Literally. To raise cash for his nascent casual game company, a semi-finalist team in the 2007 Business Plan Competition, he once sacrificed several swatches on the back of his neck to a trial for an experimental cancer treatment.

Today Boomzap generates sufficient revenue to keep Natsuume (MBA 2007)—and his 29 employees—living comfortably without forfeiting so much as an ounce of flesh. It’s the largest casual game developer in Southeast Asia, influential enough to draw top talent and the attention of major game distributors but just small and funky enough to call itself an independent.

After a string of solid downloadable games fueling slow, but steady growth, Boomzap created a blockbuster this past February in Awakening: The Dreamless Castle. “That changed everything,” Natsuume says. “Publishers suddenly wanted to do business with us, our asking price went up, our catalog of existing games spiked.”

A bona fide industry player, Boomzap leaves the distribution and marketing to the big game publishers such as Seattle’s Big Fish Games. And Natsuume’s team focuses on game development—which is important, since success in the industry is ephemeral. Boomzap has already launched the sequel to Awakening, plus a promising new adventure called Pirates Plundarrr for the Nintendo Wii.

But Natsuume’s most innovative contribution may be Boomzap itself, a cohesive but completely virtual operation. With nowhere to call headquarters, Natsuume splits time between Seattle and Yokohama, employing developers in the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Siberia who collaborate via Skype, MSN and Basecamp. He pays well (a “Singapore wage”—best in the region), offers advancement, and builds deep loyalty.

“We make some good products,” Natsuume says. “But what I’m really proud of is that we’ve created this enormous opportunity for people in Southeast Asia that just didn’t exist before.”

Check it out: www.boomzap.com

Foster MBA explores Rwanda post graduation

Guest post by Foster alumnus Jim Bullock (MBA 2010)

So, what comes to mind when you think of Rwanda?  Maybe you think of the ethnic tension that culminated in the tragic events of 1994. Maybe you think of poachers in the jungle, hunting mountain gorillas for their heads and skins. Maybe you think of a rapidly developing economy and see opportunity. If you’re like me, you’re not really sure what to think. I guess I thought of all those things and a million more before my flight touched down in Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali almost two weeks ago. Now I’m sitting in a sophisticated café, sipping a café au lait, and trying to put this tiny African nation into a category: an impossible task.

A snapshot of my current life – international work and travels

I finished graduate school at the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington a few months ago. Before that I worked as an engineer, mostly in California. While at Foster, I received an offer to work with an NGO called Rwanda Girls Initiative (RGI) in order to help them with their business operations. Soon after accepting a three-month position with RGI in Rwanda, I was selected for a fellowship that offered me funding for eight months of international travel. Naturally, I decided to do both. I plan to work with RGI for the next three months before embarking on eight months of independent travel. Now here I am, 12 days into the journey, with almost eleven-months lying in front of me.

It’s hard for me to succinctly explain what attracted me to the Rwanda Girls Initiative and Bonderman Fellowship. Promoting gender equality, meeting people from around the world, providing education in rural Africa, wanderlust, a guilty “western” conscious, curiosity…hey, take your pick or make up another reason. Suffice to say it seemed like a once in a lifetime experience for me to make a real impact in a very interesting way. There’s nothing I would rather be doing right now.

After a week I’ve got some stories about the business culture, regional politics, the Kigali Memorial Center, friendly locals, restaurants and cafes, and of course my neighbor’s rooster (who likes to wake me up at 4:30am). But sadly I’m about done with my coffee and it’s time for me to catch a moto-taxi home. I’ll write again someday soon. Until then, murabeho.

Jim Bullock (MBA 2010) is a UW Foster School of Business graduate, consultant for Rwanda Girls Initiative and recipient of an international travel University of Washington Bonderman Fellowship.

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.’ “

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.