The Smith Experience

April 3rd, 2014 by under CSVC, curriculum, Smith Experience. No Comments.

When I was deciding where to go to business school, one of the most appealing aspects of Smith was the opportunity to have so many out-of-classroom learning experiences. In particular, the Smith Experience offerings stood out as a really unique chance to get hands-on work experience during my time in school. Over the past few months I’ve been lucky enough to take part in one of those Smith Experience programs through the Social Venture Consulting Practicum.

Throughout this semester, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a team of my classmates on a consulting project with a real client. For our project, we have been working with Nexight Group, a local consulting firm specializing in technical and management consulting in the fields of energy, engineering and infrastructure, to perform market research and develop an enhanced marketing strategy for the firm’s new client outreach.

Not only has it been a great experience to work with a firm that is so committed to creating a positive social value with their work, but also the opportunity to gain a comprehensive firsthand understanding of the inner workings and structure of a consulting engagement have been invaluable. Especially for a career transitioner like myself who is trying to enter the consulting industry, I cannot think of any experience that would better prepare me for a career in this field. This has been an experience that would have been very difficult to find anywhere else and I’m lucky to be at a place with such great opportunities right at your fingertips.

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Business Meets Sports

March 10th, 2014 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

At any business school, you constantly hear about graduates going into careers in marketing, consulting, or finance among other traditional career paths. You don’t hear about too many MBA’s going into the sports industry. This is partially because a lack of available positions in the field, but traditionally the MBA skill set isn’t thought of as a common match for the sports world. That outlook has changed significantly in recent years, and one of the major contributing factors has been the rise of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, which held its eighth annual event last week.

Every year more and more applications of quantitative analysis are being applied to sports in an effort to improve both the games and the business of the games. While Maryland doesn’t have anything quite on the level of Sloan, as a board member of Smith’s Media, Sports, and Entertainment Association, I have gotten some great exposure into potential career paths that lie at the intersection of business and sports.

Anyway, in particular, I find the application of analytics to sports to be fascinating and the Sloan conference does not disappoint. If you have any interest in how this research is being used, here are some of my favorite papers from the conference:

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Leadership Under Fire

February 28th, 2014 by under Case competitions, Communcations, First Year, MBA. No Comments.

Last week, I got the opportunity to watch some of my fellow classmates participate in an annual Smith event, Leadership Under Fire. The event was a competition among six groups of first-year MBA students where each group was in the role of top executives facing a major business crisis for their company. In an effort to manage the crisis, each group provided a written press release and held a mock press conference with real members of the media acting as the press corps.

While it was especially entertaining to watch some of my classmates squirm under the heat of pressing questions from the press, I came away – as I often do – incredibly impressed with everyone’s performance. As important as the quantitative skills learned in business school are, the event really emphasized the value of being able to clearly communicate your point and keep your composure under pressure.  All of the technical skills in the world won’t do you any good if you crumble in the spotlight, so it was especially encouraging to see how well my classmates handled themselves.

The event also highlighted how great of a job Smith does at providing opportunities to get a well-rounded educational experience. At times, it can be easy to become so focused on your work in the classroom that you forget how important it is to make sure you are learning in all aspects of your professional development, and Leadership Under Fire served as a perfect reminder of that.

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A 21st Century Classroom

February 14th, 2014 by under coursework, First Year, MBA, technology. No Comments.

The future role of technology in education is a topic that has already come up numerous times in my courses so far, and it’s a very interesting topic for debate. With the rise of Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs), Khan Academy, and other online courses, it’s clear that significant changes lie ahead in the world of higher education. What I hadn’t considered is how technological advancements in education would effect my snow day.

Well, I found that out last week as 10 inches of snow kept us away from campus on Thursday. Fittingly, my Strategic and Transformational IT class already had a technological contingency plan in place for dealing with this type of situation. Rather than lose a day of class, we all remotely connected on Thursday afternoon via Adobe Connect and went about class as usual. Having used Google Hangout and Go2Meeting in the past, there was nothing mind-blowing about the technology itself, but it was the first time that I had used something like that in an official classroom setting. And while I have always been a bit skeptical of the ability to replicate the classroom experience over a computer, I came out of the experience surprised and impressed with how similar it felt to a normal class.

In addition to the innovative approach to snow days, the course also features a blended learning plan, combining online lecture videos with in-class discussions. While I still believe there are valuable educational benefits that require in-person discussions, I must admit that my experience in this class has really opened my eyes to new ways of learning. Even if it comes at the expense of my snow day.

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What is Social Value Creation?

February 7th, 2014 by under CSVC, First Year, MBA, Social Value Creation. No Comments.

In recent years, much more attention has been paid to social value creation as a major part of the business world. Just from speaking with my classmates, it is obvious that most of them are committed to doing more than just helping a company become more profitable in their future careers, and that may not have been the case in previous generation.

Smith has clearly embraced this trend, most notably through the establishment of the Center for Social Value Creation (CSVC). This semester, I’ll take part in my first official engagement with the CSVC as part of their social value consulting practicum. Over the course of the next few months I will be working alongside three of my classmates on a project where we will be developing a strategy for a local consulting firm to help provide their services for social value driven organizations.

The project is really exciting, and our initial meetings have got me thinking about the real meaning of social value creation. In particular, we were asked to read this article by Philip Auerswald in preparation for the project, and it offers a very interesting perspective on the concept. While we may think of social value creation as solely the work of non-profits and businesses charitable foundations, Auerswald provides a much broader definition, describing social value “as a new solution of a social problem, which is more effective and more sustainable than already existing solutions and it is more directed to the needs of the society than of a private person.”

There is definitely room to build upon Auerswald’s view, but I think it provides a really good starting point for how we view social value creation and its expanding definition. Personally, I’m looking forward to exploring that definition over the course of the semester, and I’m lucky to have the opportunity to do so through the CSVC.

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Under Armour on the Rise

January 31st, 2014 by under MBA, Under Armour. No Comments.

As a lifelong Notre Dame football fan, a Smith student, and a Baltimore native, I got to see my worlds collide earlier this month when it was announced that Under Armour had signed a deal with Notre Dame to provide the school’s athletic apparel for the next 10 years. The deal is reportedly “the largest financial commitment ever made by a brand to a university,” marking a huge milestone for the company founded by Smith alum Kevin Plank.

As Under Armour’s first contract with a university ranking in the top ten in merchandise sales, the deal solidifies Under Armour’s place among the giants of American athletic apparel with Nike and Adidas. And it’s especially impressive that the relatively new brand was able to break through with one of the country’s most traditional and historic programs. While I don’t know how supportive the Notre Dame fan base would be of uniforms like these, I can’t wait to see what the partnership has in store for the new-look Irish.

In addition to the Notre Dame announcement, Under Armour also released its 2014 fourth quarter numbers this week, which brought more good news for the company.  Reporting higher than projected revenues, Under Armour saw it’s share price jump up 22% yesterday, its second-biggest single day rise in company history. While it’s global development potential remains a bit of an unknown, there’s no arguing the company’s bright future domestically as this month’s events confirmed.

It’s an exciting time for Maryland as one of its signature companies continues its rise.  But the big question is: do they make green suits?

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Changing Semesters…and Priorities

January 25th, 2014 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Winter break didn’t only mark the transition from first semester classes to second semester classes; it also meant a major shift in focus for myself and many of my first-year MBA classmates. For much of my first semester, my time was mostly devoted to a heavy dose of coursework with some internship research and exploration sprinkled in there when I had time. But as the calendar switched to 2014, my attention quickly shifted to my search for summer employment.

With application deadlines now staring me right in the face, the pressure to find a job definitely turned up a notch in January. Luckily, at Smith we get a nice 3-week break to handle the onslaught of resumes, cover letters, behavioral interviews, case interviews and other fun activities that come along with the internship search process.

One of the most frustrating parts about the search is that it often feels like so much of an employer’s decision-making process is completely out of your hands. While this is of course true to a certain extent, one of the most important things that I learned over break – as obvious as it may seem – is just how much you can improve the way you present yourself to companies through practice and repetition. Whether this applies to writing cover letters, doing mock interviews, or networking, I was actually able to see marked improvement in my performance through regular practice over these last few weeks. This obviously isn’t an earth-shattering revelation, but for whatever reason it took a few weeks without the normal distractions for this to truly sink in with me. Now I just have to hope that it pays off when it counts and we’ll find out soon enough.

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DC: The De Facto Capital of the Emerging Markets

November 20th, 2013 by under DC, emerging markets, First Year, MBA. No Comments.

Last week, I happened to attend a speech Chris Schroeder, author of Startup Rising (a book about the rise of entrepreneurship in the Middle East), and read this article on IBM’s Insights on Business Blog on the same day and reminded of one of the reasons why I love living in DC: it’s connection to the global world.

In these two cases, it is DC’s ties to developing countries and emerging markets in particular that was on display. As Tim Docking referred to it in his IBM blog post, DC is the “de facto capital of the emerging markets.” Despite living in the nation’s capital for the past three years, I don’t think the significance of that fact has ever been more apparent to me than it is now.  Whether it’s through a case from our coursework, one of my international classmates, or a guest speaker like Schroeder, it’s difficult to spend too much time at Smith without being reminded of the huge role that emerging markets will play in the future of business and the global economy.

Coming from an industry that was relatively sheltered from the international landscape (American politics), it has been an incredibly eye opening experience to learn so much about social and economic developments in different parts of the world. One great example of this type of relevant development that Schroeder discussed in his speech is the story of M-Pesa in Kenya. M-Pesa is a mobile banking and money transfer system that has thrived in Kenya over the past five years. The service now has over 18 million subscribers in Kenya, or approximately 41% of the country’s entire population. The most interesting part of Schroeder’s takeaways from the success of M-Pesa is that this is a product produced in a developing country that is potentially applicable all over the world. No longer are solutions simply being brought from the developed markets into developing countries, but rather, these developing countries now have the capabilities to provide solutions for the rest of the world.

Even though I’ve only been here a few months, the exposure that I’ve had to different cultures and communities has really changed my perspective on these matters. While it might not have been obvious to me before, I can now see exactly what Docing meant when he described DC as the “de facto capital of the emerging markets,” and I’m finally starting to take advantage of it.

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Case Interviews: A Love-Hate Relationship

November 1st, 2013 by under career search, case interviews, First Year, MBA. No Comments.

Two months ago, if you had asked me for my thoughts on case interviews, I wouldn’t have had any idea what you were talking about. Fast forward to today and I’ve become all too familiar with the process.

For those not familiar with case interviews, it is a type of interview (especially popular among consulting firms) where the interviewer proposes a business scenario and you have to provide your analysis and recommendations given the information provided. That information could be as broad as “our company wants to launch a new product, what should we do?” or as specific as calculating a firm’s ROI given projected revenues, costs, or margins.

The first time I actually did a mock case interview, I think I began to reconsider whether I wanted to go through with this whole “job search” process after all. It can be very intimidating to be asked to solve such a complex problem in a small amount of time, especially with someone right in front of you watching (and judging) your every move. But as the initial shock of this process wore off, I began to actually appreciate the opportunity that comes along with a case interview. I had always been a bit cynical about how much employers could really gauge an applicant’s ability to succeed in a position through aptitude tests and behavioral interviews.  Well, for better or worse, many of my concerns about the interview process are rectified through case interviews. They really do offer the interviewer an opportunity to see the interviewee’s thinking process and critical thinking in a much more in-depth way, making for what I believe to be a much more accurate screening process.

Having said that, it doesn’t make them any easier. There are still the occasional moments of panic when your brain seems incapable of delivering any reasonable words to your mouth, but that is just part of the challenge. Plenty of people can sound smart when they know the answer to a question, but it’s far more telling to see how someone handles themselves when they don’t know the answer, and that’s what the case interview really tests. While I can’t say I relish every opportunity to do a case interview yet, I’ve come a long way from that first time when all that came to my head was trepidation and fear.

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Baptism by Fire

October 23rd, 2013 by under coursework, curriculum, First Year, MBA. No Comments.

It’s hard to believe, but we are now officially done with our first round of finals and a quarter of the way through our first year of the MBA program. With one term in the books, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on what I’ve gotten out of these courses and it is pretty amazing to think about how much I’ve learned over the past two months (although it’s felt more like a year).

Coming from a non-business background, my academic experience over the past two months has often felt like being dropped in the middle of a foreign country and being asked to learn the language. Maybe there is a bit of hyperbole there, but I think it’s a fair comparison when you look at the process. As people who have actually had the experience of learning a language amidst native speakers can attest, this can be a painful and frustrating process, but it is often the most efficient way to learn a foreign language. And I can certainly say the same for my first term of business school.

While I am still far from being an expert in accounting, economics or finance, just having a strong fundamental understanding of these fields has allowed me to view the world through an entirely different lens, and I can’t imagine a better way to gain that perspective in so little time.

Now that I feel equipped with the tools and resources needed to understand complex business problems, I feel ready to take my skills out of the classroom and into a real-life business. Luckily, at Smith there is no shortage of experiential learning opportunities, and I can’t wait to get started with them. But I’ll save those details til another day.

 

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