January, 2013

Winning the Foster Winter Case Competition

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

On a bright and sunny morning early in January, our six-person team found ourselves deep in discussion about how to mitigate REI’s environmental impact without losing any profits.  Each of us had spent the past two hours researching a different aspect of the project, and we were debating vigorously about the best ways to accomplish the goals of the project.  After all, we only had twelve hours to solve all of REI’s climate issues…

A case competition is designed around giving teams a complex problem to solve and limited time to solve it.  Teams can take any number of approaches to solving the problem, but the end goal is to produce and explain the team’s solution to the problem, and hopefully that solution proves to be better than the competition.  These competitions are a test of how well a group of people can mobilize toward a common goal, understand a complex problem, compartmentalize that problem into bite-sized chunks, research quickly, and assimilate all of those chunks into one polished presentation.  For first-year students like us, the process was a little challenging.

This particular competition, put on by the Foster School itself, was the first of its kind for most of our six-person team, although two of our members had had prior experience with case competitions.  We decided to approach the case by using an outcome-oriented approach, focusing on what REI was hoping to get out of the strategic recommendations, like reduced energy use, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and reduced waste generation.  We then critically examined each part of REI’s business, analyzing potential strategies that could create both environmental and financial benefit.  Finally, we took these strategies and attempted to quantify the benefits to the environment and the bottom line as best we could, culminating in the development of a Powerpoint presentation that communicated our solutions.

The format of the competition was to present in a semi-final round, before a group of second-year students, professors and professionals from the larger Seattle community.  Those teams who made it through that first round had the opportunity to present in front of their entire class, as well as professionals from the company that the case was written about.  There were a multitude of learning experiences from this case competition, but for me the most impactful was getting through that first round and presenting in front of our peers.  “Adrenaline rush” is a term thrown around quite a bit when talking about being in front of people, but presenting our solution in front of 100 peers and representatives from industry made that term an understatement.  After we had finished presenting our case, we had the opportunity to see the great work that all of the other teams had done, and I can honestly say that I don’t know how the judges made their decision.  The team-based focus of the Foster School really seemed to shine through, since the work of all four top teams was of excellent quality.

Luckily though, my team prevailed in this competition, and we were incentivized with a nice Amazon.com gift card.  In truth though, even though winning this case competition was a great experience, the experience I gained was significantly more impactful than that.  I’m walking away from this experience with a definite understanding that I’m surrounded by 250 of the most intelligent and driven people I’ve ever been near, 100 of whom I was able to compete against directly in this competition.  The sheer amount of creativity and strategic thinking shown in the final presentations was astounding, and it speaks to the quality of the people here at Foster.  I’m proud of our achievement in claiming victory, but I’m more excited at the future opportunities to work with these smart people over the next year and a half.

~Guest Blogger Robert Schmitt, Full-time Class of 2014

It Takes a Village

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

My first contact with a representative of the Foster School of Business occurred at an MBA admissions networking event hosted by Kaplan.  After I found an opportunity to introduce myself as being interested in the program, the conversation clicked, and I found we had more in common than I had anticipated.  I secured a business card and made arrangements to follow-up with her.  We met once more before I submitted my application, and her enthusiasm for the program and the opportunities she has had since finishing was both contagious and compelling. I kept in touch throughout the admissions process, sharing the news of my admission and acceptance, and maintained sporadic contact over the course of my first and second year.

As I am now entering the last 6 months of my MBA, we met up again to touch base.  Of course, one of the first things she asked me about was the progress of my career search.  Ah, yes; my career search!

Since completing my summer internship I had been quite busy!  Busy with classes, busy with club involvement, busy with my role on the admissions team, busy with extracurricular activities…but not so busy with my career search, not lately.   I have been neglecting to schedule meetings with my career coach, scheduling commitments that conflicted with professional networking events, and side-stepping the issue when probed by classmates.

“You need to get on that,” I was told.

In fact, to emphasize her point, my alumni mentor requested that I submit to her a list of SMART goals for my career search – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound tasks that I would commit to accomplishing over the coming months to ensure I would stop slacking off and begin making progress.

And so I have gotten to it.  Last week I emailed her some goals:

  • By the end of January, identify 8 companies to research and make contact with during winter quarter.
  • Develop a list of functional areas to research (e.g., market researcher, product manager, etc) by mid-February.
  • Schedule at least 2 informational interviews during winter quarter and at least 4 informational interviews to be conducted during spring break.
  • Meet with career services every other week to conduct practice interviews to hone interview skills.

And now I am following up with my career coach (who I am sure has been waiting for something like this to happen!) and reaching out to networking contacts to learn more about companies and positions that interest me.  And of course, the career center is thrilled to see me moving forward, and my friends and colleagues are offering to make connections to help schedule informational interviews with other well-placed alumns.  I’m sure most business schools have similar systems and networks to help  students move their careers forward.  What I think is uniquely special about Foster is that our alumni network is so committed to remaining engaged with the Foster community that individuals don’t simply take meetings and make connections on a student’s behalf, they care enough to take you to task when they know you could be doing more, and to find a way to re-light the fire that brought you to business school in the first place.

~Blogger Gwyn Gaubatz, Full-time Class of 2013

Experiencing Global Business – India Consulting Project

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

This winter break about 20 students had the opportunity to do something different with their free time by going to India for the Global Consulting Project. The GCP is a school program that is designed to give students immersion in business in another culture (specifically India), but also to use their knowledge and experience to help less fortunate individuals. I’ve always wanted to visit India and the project seemed amazing so I knew right away I’d want to take part.

Our trip included ten days in India working with the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in Ahmedabad, followed by 4 days of travel. My project (team of four) was with the waste pickers team, Gitanjali. Gitanjali is a business that helps female waste pickers earn fairer wages than previously made available to them through middlemen. It then also provides jobs for former waste pickers and daughters of waste pickers through the manufacture of recycled paper products.

In our ten days in Ahmedabad, my team got to visit the dump, interview waste pickers, visit a slum and the home of a waste picker, visit a sorting facility, meet with suppliers and retailers, go over financials, and actually take part in the assembly line. It was eye opening to really be exposed to the way business gets done in India because it is considerably different than America. After ten days of immersion, we had a final presentation about our experiences and learnings, and presented a scope document and letter of engagement outlining all things we will be covering over the next three months (winter quarter).

Then the group was off for sightseeing and fun! First stop was Jaipur, where we ate meat and drank our first alcohol (Ahmedabad is dry and vegetarian!). The Kingfisher was pretty good! Jaipur was beautiful and we saw palaces, temples, and the world’s largest sundial. We even rode elephants (I’m not sure I liked that part…).

After a few days in Jaipur, we went to Agra. At 6am we were up to visit the Taj Mahal at dawn. What can I saw about the Taj Mahal other than breathtaking? Wow. Definitely a highlight!

After the Taj, we were off to New Delhi to eat our final meal and see some sites. We did some shopping and then said our goodbyes as we parted ways. Some people were home in time for Christmas while some of us stayed on for further traveling. I extended my time in India by a week and went north to the foothills of the Himalayas for some yoga and relaxation.

India was amazing and I am so glad to have been able to do the things I did. I am looking forward to working further on the Gitanjali project this quarter and creating a business plan that will help create more jobs for underprivileged women.

     

~Guest Blogger Amanda Soloway, Full-time Class of 2013

Multiple Bottom Lines: Ethics in Business

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

I think one of the things Foster does very well is keeping us all grounded.  For a long time (long before me or any of my classmates were here) Foster has tried to uphold a reputation as being the MBA program with a heart. MBA curricula are jam-packed with cases that make you think about ROI, value ad, and all sorts of business mumbo-jumbo that increases the bottom line.

But there are human factors that don’t show up on financial statements, and we’re reminded of those everyday at Foster.  And that’s the part of the Foster DNA I think we’re all most proud of.

For several years now, Foster has taken part in the Case Competition for Ethical Leadership hosted by Baylor University, which brings 12 MBA programs from around the country to tackle an issue in business that presents an ethical dilemma.  Like other national case competitions Foster is chosen to take part in, the Foster Administration covered all costs for us to go participate.   I was fortunate enough to take part with my classmates Ed, Alan and Cate  in representing Foster.

This year’s case explored the dynamics of a Maquiladora near the America/Mexico border, and some of the very sensitive issues that are considered in such relationships with American companies.  Like most case competitions, you’re given a five-to-ten page business case simultaneously with the other teams, and each team has 24 hours to come up with a plan and presentation on your findings, which you present to a panel of judges.  It’s a recipe for very little sleep, but they’re 24 of the most memorable hours I’ll take away from my two years at Foster.  (When you’re sitting on the floor of an airport terminal playing rock-paper-scissors for the last McNugget Sauce, you’ve bonded in a way that nothing else quite compares to.)

And on that note, aside from the experience of the process at the competition, what happens in around the process is equally valuable.  We were dreading the 4-hour layover that loomed on our trip back to Seattle at Dallas/Fort-Worth Airport all week, but we ended up spending it inside an airport bar eating Texas BBQ with MBA students from Pepperdine, Iowa and Minnesota (some of which we’ll see at Stanford this Spring for C4C Sports Weekend.)

The bottom line?  When you decide to enroll (and seriously, why haven’t you yet?) make sure you take part in events like these.  They’re moments you won’t want to miss.

~Guest Blogger Brandon Scheller, Full-time Class of 2013