Bright ideas for Seattle City Light

SCL_WinnersSeattle City Light has been trying to shine a light on the issue of how to derive 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. This deadline based on state legislation presents a clear goal, but not a clear solution. The utility is actively debating how to most effectively balance between hydro-power, wind and solar energies while being mindful of the interests of their various stakeholders. The Foster School of Business partnered with City Light to put teams of students to work on innovative solutions to this issue through the strategic management course.

This required capstone course for all graduating seniors features a customized case competition. Instructors and case writer Alex Murray, a Foster PhD student, worked closely with senior leaders at Seattle City Light to understand this strategic question. Using publicly available research, the case was created and then analyzed by nearly 250 students in 46 competing teams.

The teams were charged with providing recommendations as to what Seattle City Light’s strategic position(s) should be regarding solar energy, including whether the utility should actively promote and develop its use or invest in other renewable energy sources; and how to most effectively market and price various solar projects, including a viability analysis of an existing Community Solar program.

The case study focused on short-term and long-term strategies to satisfy key stakeholders, encourage supporters and overcome detractors. As a publicly owned utility, Seattle City Light operates as a non-profit organization that must balance environmental, financial and social considerations in its decisions. The complexities of the case required a great deal of research and a thoughtful approach.

“The most challenging aspect (of the case) was hashing out with my team what view we were going to take,” case competition participant Cara Haas said. “(Many) of our meetings were solely focused on researching and discussing alternatives before we decided on our approach.”

Her team’s solution: a marketing program, Solar|Sea, to build awareness and support amongst the community and important constituents. The YDC Consulting team members Ken Luginbuhl, Ryker Young, Erin Hoffinger, Julia Kuhn, and Cara Haas attribute their success to the synergies they found in their ideas and team dynamics.

Hoffinger found the most valuable takeaways from the case competition experience centered on knowing “how to speak and pitch ideas to members of the executive board… and being able to think on your feet about (responses) with concrete numbers and analysis in order to answer questions.” These skills she and her peers will surely be able to put to good use as they enter the workforce in just a few short months.

The case competition proved to be another win-win for Foster School of Business students and a local organization. “Seattle City Light was pleased to partner with the Foster School of Business to examine one of the most complex and important issues the utility faces in the medium to long-term,” general manager and CEO Jorge Carrasco said. “It’s also an issue that confronts the industry as a whole. We were excited by the fresh ideas and perspectives the students brought to the table.”

MBAs sharpen consulting skills with local non-profits

ServiceCorp7MBAs at the Foster School are honing their consulting skills and giving back at the same time. The Net Impact Service Corps initiative matched teams of Foster students with local non-profits that needed assistance with a specific business problem. This year, 20 MBAs worked on projects with the YMCA and the Children’s Therapy Center, an organization that serves families of children with special needs.

Foster Net Impact, with the help of MBA Career Management, organized and brought together Social Venture Partners, McKinsey and Accenture around the Service Corps projects. Paul Shoemaker, executive director of Social Venture Partners (SVP) – an organization devoted to cultivating effective philanthropists and strengthening organizations that drive community change – provided preliminary contacts with local nonprofits needing strategic consulting help. Paul came to Foster to launch the Net Impact Service Corps initiative and discuss how MBA skills can be leveraged in ways that make a huge impact to nonprofits. McKinsey and Accenture played a key role in mentoring Foster students, helping them develop business models and consulting skills that were used in working with their clients.

ServiceCorp5During the course of the project, the MBAs attended seminars where Jun Kamata, a former McKinsey consultant now in charge of strategy at Nordstrom, presented models used by consultants on how to manage project workflow, manage client engagement, present data and make recommendations to clients. Mike Quinn of Social Venture Partners instructed students on how to navigate from the profit to non-profit world while building consulting skills with clients.

The student’s primary goal in working with each of the non-profits was to enhance their current effectiveness in the non-profit sector while also investigating opportunities to diversify the non-profits into opportunities that might support the core mission. For Children’s Therapy Center, the students helped the center develop a sales and marketing plan for products that would provide additional revenue opportunities for the organization. The students helped the YMCA develop a new donor strategy to increase annual funding.

As Jun Kamata, director of strategy at Nordstrom noted, this collaboration is a win for the nonprofits, for the students, and for the consulting firms. Nonprofits get needed help in developing their strategy and effectiveness, students get hands-on experience with some of the leading consulting firms in the world, and McKinsey and Accenture get the opportunity to mentor and engage with Foster students

ServiceCorp11According to Jon Botten, executive director of the Children’s Therapy Center, “We have been blown away by the commitment of the students! They asked probing questions, listened to our needs, generated quality ideas and delivered beyond our expectations. I can honestly say that we will be implementing many of their suggestions, and as a result, the children we serve will be that much closer to reaching their full potential.”

Foster students benefit too. John Czerniak, a first-year MBA who accepted a McKinsey summer internship, stated, “As a part of Net Impact’s Service Corps program, I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing people – including our client, Children’s Therapy Center, and Social Venture Partners, McKinsey, and of course, my Foster teammates. I have been able to use the skills and classroom experiences from my MBA to influence a real business decision for an organization making a big difference in peoples’ lives. In addition to the wonderful parts of the project, we have faced several challenges that only come with working on a real-world project. Working through these challenges with my team and client was one of the most valuable parts of my Foster experience thus far. As I go into consulting for my internship this summer, I’m confident that my Service Corps experience will serve me well in working with clients and solving complex business problems.”

Building the business case for applied learning: Strategic Management Case Competition

Alaska Airlines presentation team
Alaska Airlines presentation team: Kenny Thompson, Tyler Waterer, Mackenzie Meier and Jordan Barr

An Alaska Airlines jet soared overhead as a group of four Foster School seniors emerged from the Customer Services and Innovation team headquarters last Friday. Spirits were soaring too as Jordan Barr, Mackenzie Meier, Kenny Thompson and Tyler Waterer had just presented their recommendations on how to make Alaska Airlines the “easiest airline to fly” to a senior leadership team. The students landed the opportunity to present their ideas to the Customer Innovation team because they outperformed 33 teams of their peers (161 participants) in the fall 2013 Foster Strategy Development case competition.

The competition has been described as the capstone experience to a capstone course. All graduating seniors are required to take strategic management, a course designed to assimilate and apply academic theory to real business issues. The goal is to provide students with practical experience prior to launching into their careers. Offered in the fall, winter and spring and summer, the course draws between 150-300 students per quarter.

Beginning in the fall of 2012, undergraduate program faculty, staff and administrators had the vision of bringing valuable case competition experiences to all Foster School of Business students. Initially, the case competition was optional, done in lieu of a final exam. During the first fall quarter, about 100 students in 25 teams (80% of total class population) participated. Quickly, the value of this experience was recognized by all stakeholders.

According to Clay Schwenn, case competition coordinator and assistant director of student leadership and development, a key learning for students is to be “able to take the theoretical knowledge they have acquired over the years and create something concrete. They generate a set of recommendations to people who could actually implement them.” This is powerful for the students and for the client companies.

Course coordinator Rick McPherson, a veteran of the telecom business for over 25 years, knows the importance of how to “sell” ideas to executives. He sees incredible benefit not only to the students in terms of richness of learning, but also for the companies. McPherson noted “particularly with the presentation to Alaska Airlines you saw how a well thought-out analysis and recommendations were really attractive to a company. Our students demonstrated that they can come up to speed to understand an industry and a business opportunity and create realistic ideas that a business can pursue.”

At Alaska Airlines Customer Innovation headquarters, the moment the students began their pitch, the dozen company leaders in attendance began taking notes, and then asking questions and soliciting the student’s perspective on wide raging issues from the usability of their web interface to competitive market analysis. Student team members Mackenzie, Kenny, Jordan and Tyler’s polished presentation skills left a strong impression on the leadership team. Their confidence, depth of knowledge and ability to respond quickly and thoughtfully to challenging questions will translate well to job interviews and future executive level presentations. From Jordan Barr’s perspective, “the most rewarding aspect of making our pitch to the Customer Innovations team at Alaska Airlines is the thought that our solution could be implemented in the company. It clearly shows that Alaska Airlines didn’t just do this to say they were involved—they did this because they truly want to innovate and do something different. It is an incredible feeling to know that they will be using our advice moving forward in their solutions—and it doesn’t hurt that they want to hire us.” Tyler Waterer commented, “Without Foster’s partnership with Alaska Airlines, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have this kind of learning experience (while) still in college.”

The success of the case competitions has focused on sourcing local businesses (past case companies have included: Microsoft, Amazon and Seattle City Light) and creating forward-looking cases on current issues the company is tackling. This approach of what should a company DO, not what they should have done creates urgency for the issue and maximizing the impact the students can make. Stay tuned to see student ideas take flight in other businesses.

CEOs and investment bankers give a rare glimpse into the IPO and M&A process

This event was hosted by Neal Dempsey, the Foster School’s visiting 2013-2014 Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership.

You’ve probably seen the headline; “Major company goes public.” Perhaps you’ve even heard the breathless analysis that follows when said company’s stock prices decrease. What you’re probably less likely to hear or read in the news are the debates between CEOs and investment bankers, the strategy CEOs use to discuss going public with their employees, and how bankers negotiate stock price. These are the exact conversations current Fritzky Chair Neal Dempsey had in mind when he invited Vice Chair of JP Morgan Chase Cristina Morgan, former Eloqua CEO Joe Payne, Guidewire CEO Marcus Ryu and Head of Capital Markets at JP Morgan Chase Mike Millman to participate in a panel discussion on the IPO and M&A process. Moderated by Foster Professor Jennifer Koski, the panelists gave what is probably the most inside view possible of going public. Below are a few of the questions they tackled:

How do companies decide they’re ready to go public?
All of the panelists agreed that there are several things you must take in to consideration before making a final decision. For Ryu, it is asking one’s self, “Why do you want to go public?” Payne agreed, adding “Going public as a sole goal is an empty goal.” When preparing to take Eloqua public, Payne said that he and his colleagues spent a lot of time thinking about their customers and how they would feel about the move. Speaking from the investment bank perspective, Morgan argued that “the worst thing you can do is take a company public before they’re ready.” Furthering this point, Millman said that companies must consider three points before they go public; 1) Currency 2) Branding and 3) Capitol.

How do you maintain enthusiasm among your employees during the IPO process?
Ryu believes it is important for companies to operate with a long-term outlook. Since the stock market isn’t exactly the most steadfast entity, he came up with a two-pronged strategy for communicating with his employees about the IPO process: 1) Talk down the IPO and 2) Get everyone to understand the fickleness of the stock market. Having survived the dot com bubble of the 90s, when CEOs gained —and lost— millions of dollars in a matter of months, Payne had a similar revelation. “The issue of stock prices and IPO is only as important as you make it,” he stated in agreement with Ryu.  In fact, Payne and Ryu said that they both designated a few minutes during staff meetings to answer questions about the IPO.

What is the biggest source of contention when going public?
When discussing the relationship between investment bankers and entrepreneurs, Morgan said “We’re [the investment bankers] representing the buyers as well as the sellers” and that all involved parties act as each other’s “checks and balances.”  Adding, “[There’s a] natural suspicion that the investment bank is slightly more in league with the other side than with the company.” Simply put, bankers are predisposed to believe that the company is trying to get the stock prices higher while the company believes investment bankers are trying to get the price lower.
For Millman, there are three sources of contention:

1)      Evaluation- It’s difficult to educate the company’s board on the IPO.

2)      Employee selling- It can be very confusing for employees to know when and if they should sell.

3)      Fees- Banks will argue with each other on the best way to “divide the pie.”

Speaking to Morgan’s “natural suspicion” comment, Ryu admitted that he was initially skeptical of investment bankers. However, having gone through the IPO process, he now understands the importance of the work they do. Looking to Millman, whom he worked with when Guidewire went public, Ryu stated “I can say emphatically that the fee is well-earned.”

Watch the discussion in its entirety below:

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The 2014 UW EIC challenges student innovators to think like entrepreneurs

The U.S. Department of Energy recently held its fifth Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy  (ARPA-E) Innovation Summit—an annual event that brings together academics, entrepreneurs, innovators, and thought-leaders to discuss our most pressing energy issues, the technologies being developed to address them, and the market potential of innovative energy technologies.

A central message of the three-day summit was the importance of entrepreneurship. Keynote speakers like U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman stressed the importance of commercializing new technologies. Their message was clear: it’s one thing to develop a breakthrough technology. It’s another thing to turn that brilliant technology into something commercially viable. If you want to advance energy innovation and solve our energy crises, you have to think and act like an entrepreneur.

Pure Blue Adam Greenberg
Pure Blue Technologies, UW EIC 2013

For the past five years, the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) has been delivering that same message to innovative and entrepreneurial students from colleges and universities throughout the Pacific Northwest. Each year, interdisciplinary student teams are challenged to define an environmental problem, develop a solution, produce a prototype, and create a business summary that demonstrates market potential. The quarter-long process culminates in a large, DemoDay-like event where a select group of teams pitch to a group of 150+ judges—investors, entrepreneurs, policy-makers, and experts from across sectors. The top teams are awarded up to $10,000 in prize money, and everyone comes away with valuable feedback and experience to help them realize the market potential of their innovations.

The 23 teams selected for this year’s UW EIC run the gamut of clean technology and environmental innovation: Loopool is addressing waste in the garment industry by creating a closed-loop supply chain that transforms reclaimed cotton garments and textiles into high quality, bio-based fiber; NOVA Solar Window combines the power-producing capabilities of a solar panel with the utility of a traditional window, providing renewable energy where traditional solar panels cannot. Korvata, in response to the harmful environmental effects of greenhouse gas emissions, has created a mixture of proprietary gasses to replace the use of nitrous oxide as a whipped cream propellant.

For the next month, these competitors, along with 20 others, will refine their prototypes, perform market analyses, hone their pitches, and prepare to prove that their innovation has the potential to succeed in the marketplace—and transform our world.

Follow the progress of the 2014 UW Environmental Innovation Challenge:

Building a loved brand

Jim Weber, CEO of Brooks.The success of Brooks Running Company and their CEO Jim Weber is a classic underdog story, a come-from-behind victory that every sports enthusiast loves. When Weber joined Brooks in 2001—their fourth CEO in two years—the company was on the brink of bankruptcy. Thanks to Weber’s tremendous leadership and insight, the company successfully rebooted, repositioning itself in the market, and has since experienced years of double-digit growth and industry recognition.

On March 5, as part of the Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, Weber came to the Foster School of Business and recounted the story of how he turned his company around. “I feel like I have the best job in Seattle,” he said. Weber’s passion for building brands and businesses is matched by a passion for athletics, reflected in his previous professional experience, which includes positions such as chairman and CEO of Sims Sports and vice president of The Coleman Company.

After his arrival at Brooks, Weber explained, the company made a major shift in its market focus. It’s common knowledge that many athletic shoes are never used for athletics, which Weber refers to as “BBQ shoes.” According to Weber, roughly half of their sales were in this “family footwear” category when the company made the bold decision to focus on a niche market and double down on technical performance running shoes. At the time, it was considered heresy for a company like Brooks to focus on just one sport. Conventional wisdom stated that a table “needs more than one leg to stand on,” as Weber put it. Now, after years of growth as a result of this decision, Weber looks like a visionary.

Part of Brooks’ strategy is to compete in a different way, Weber explained. True, there is good old-fashioned product leadership, the years of research and development in biomechanics that leads to a superior product. But Brooks also competes using its corporate culture, e.g. the way it “celebrates the run,” and invests in the sport that supports its business.  Weber said the Brooks recipe for success is combining an incredibly serious technical product with a brand known for its unique, fun-loving energy. Corporate culture is instrumental to this success— “Run Happy” is much more than a tag line. “Our brand is positioned in a very welcoming way,” he said.

An important aspect of leadership is knowing how to pick your battles. Weber mentioned that it was impossible for Brooks to compete on the “visual technology” front, i.e. improvements that make the product pop off the shelf. “Nike will spend more on marketing by noon than we will in the whole year,” he said. Instead, Brooks focuses on “runability” and servicing as a niche expert. Every brand has a center of gravity, Weber explained. For Brooks it’s the trail and the specialty running stores that are at the heart of the running community. By focusing on those retailers and developing relationships with key influencers like coaches, leading athletes, and sports medicine practitioners, Brooks works to win the trust of its customers. “We create trust every time someone has a good experience with our product,” he said.

The lecture concluded with a Q&A session where students and faculty posed questions on topics like supply chain challenges and reactions to the barefoot running movement. On the subject of international expansion, Weber stated that his company is executing the same strategy, but still had much to learn. He explained that, thankfully, the brand ethos of “Run Happy” translates well across cultures and resonates with people around the globe.

Watch the full lecture below:

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It’s a good time to be a woman in business

Foster undergraduates Madeline Down and Natasha Tieu share their thoughts on the Second Annual Women’s Breakfast, which was organized by the Foster School’s EY Center for Undergraduate Career Advancement.

WomenBreakfastThe Second Annual Women’s Breakfast was a success. The attendance from both employers and students was impressive. Women from many companies attended, including Wells Fargo Bank, Deloitte, Concur Technologies, Grant Thornton, KPMG, EY, PwC, West Monroe Partners, Eddie Bauer, The Boeing Company and Liberty Mutual Insurance.

A highlight from the event was the keynote speech by Mary Knell, CEO of Wells Fargo, Washington and Western Canada. She spoke about the challenges and benefits of being a woman in business, and her experience at Wells Fargo and in other positions. Knell shared that there are many challenges related to family and work life, and the social expectation that women should not be the ‘bread-winner.’ However, society is changing and it is an extremely exciting time to be a woman in business. Knell is proof that all women are capable of having a successful career and a family at the same time. She definitely inspired me to keep working towards my goals, and not to let any adversity deter me from reaching them.

At the breakfast, it was amazing to see a room full of women, ranging from freshmen to professionals, getting together to discuss topics unique to women in business. You could feel the tremendous support we had for one another. As a woman in the business school, I look forward to attending next year and creating new contacts and connections within the professional world.

When the path isn’t always clear: Congresswoman Suzan DelBene on leadership

“A key part of leading is deciding. Deciding with imperfect data. Deciding when there isn’t always a path that’s clear.”

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene says she came to this particularly astute conclusion while working as a youth football referee. Like her positions at Microsoft and Drugstore.com (she served as vice-president) it provided her with two essential lessons; 1) the importance of decision making when there are still unknowns and 2) a leader must always provide a vision and a path forward.  Further qualifying this belief, the congresswoman stated, “With any organization, people are most effective when they have that vision going forward and they know where they’re heading and they know why they’re heading in that direction.”

A Foster MBA Alum, Congresswoman DelBene says she was inspired to run for Congress during her time at Global Partnerships, a micro-finance non-profit that provides loans to small business owners in Latin America and the Caribbean. After her first run for Congress in 2010 (in which she was unsuccessful) she was appointed by then governor Christine Gregoire to serve as the Director of Washington state’s Department of Treasury. In 2012, she successfully ran for a congressional seat in the newly drawn 1st district. Sitting on the House Judiciary and House Agriculture Committees, DelBene now deals with issues such as copyright laws, biotechnology and more.

Using terminology such as ROI (return on investment), the congresswoman routinely uses her business experience when approaching policy-making. Pointing to the seemingly unending federal budget debate, DelBene believes that too many of her colleagues are plagued by short-term thinking. She argues that Congress should approach budgeting concerns like successful CEOS, focusing on investment and long-term strategy. She points to the indelible benefits and returns from federal programs that invest in early learning, unemployment insurance, research and infrastructure as examples.

During her time at the podium, the congresswoman also stressed the importance of being good stewards of policy and citizen engagement, urging audience members to work in conjunction with business and community leaders to pressure Congress in to action.

Watch some highlights below:

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene was one of UW Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the annual Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.

805.5 volunteer hours

Guest post by Cynthia Chiou (BA 2014)

Foster Week of ServiceFoster Week of Service was a tremendous success, and we want to thank everyone within the community for making this possible. Because of your participation, we had a total of 805.5 volunteer hours dedicated to helping organizations across many different philanthropic causes.

Giving back to our community has always been an important aspect of the Foster School, and we hope to continue this event for years to come. Below are some highlights from a great week of service work. There were a wide range of events, surrounding causes such as environmental, health, education, diversity and global aid.

Alpha Kappa Psi Rho Chapter worked to raise money for cancer research and patient support. Their team was able to raise more than $9,000 in concession sales at the Alaska Airlines Arena, of which $900 will be donated to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

StartUp UW teamed up with Mercer Island High School to host an entrepreneurial challenge. Groups were given a $20 bill and went out to create their own ventures. After a week of hosting various fund-raising events, teams were able to raise $609, of which $549 will be donated to The Sophia Way.

Market Driven Investors worked with the Rainer Chamber of Commerce to procure items for their annual auction fundraising event. Students spent the week reaching out to potential donors and working directly with the chamber to strategize a successful procurement process.

Business Leaders in Healthcare worked with the Lifelong Aids Alliance on packet stuffing for the AIDS Action & Awareness (A3) Day.

Business Impact Group volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club of Renton Skyway, working with students on their social venture project, Marketplace. They also spent time talking with students about college preparation and playing gym games.

The Montlake Consulting Group organized a Foster Community Street Clean with students through campus and the University District.

AIESEC and CISB hosted a raffle fundraiser for disaster relief to donate proceeds to the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns.

Delta Sigma Pi and ALPFA co-hosted a dodgeball tournament to donate all proceeds to UNICEF for typhoon relief efforts.

The 2014 Foster Week of Service was generously sponsored by UPS and Target.

- Faculty perspectives, alumni happenings, student experiences, Seattle and Pacific Northwest community connections, and a taste of life around the Foster School.