It’s Finally Here!: The 1st Smith Strategy and Operations Case Competition

May 14th, 2012 by under Consulting, Supply Chain and Ops. No Comments.

After seven months of work and planning, we finally held the Smith Strategy and Operations Case Competition!

I had been working on this project with my classmates in the Supply Chain and Operations Club, the Healthcare Business Association, and the Business Enterprise Technology Association for a very long time.

The Process

In October 2011, my classmate and I approached USAID to ask if they would like to be the subject of a national case competition.  USAID was excited about the idea and we worked with them to identify a current challenge they are facing for which MBAs could propose solutions: cost control and service level improvement for their global condom supply chain.  Condoms are a critical health commodity because of the role they play in preventing the spread of infectious disease and enabling family planning.  Both of these metrics are closely tied to economic development.

Beyond helping USAID solve this challenge, this was also an opportunity to engage business students in global health issues.  75% of the participants didn’t have any experience in the health care industries and none had experience in global health.  This was a chance to show business students how their skills could be used to make a difference to improve a field that traditionally draws from students and practitioners in public health and the nonprofit sector.

After developing a scope of work and agreeing on a contract with the Agency, I led a small group of MBAs to write a case analysis to be the basis of the competition.  I enjoyed my supply chain coursework and this was an opportunity for me to put it to real world use!  Working with USAID and its partners from John Snow, Inc., we sifted through thousands of shipment and inventory records to write the case report and create a data file that participants could use in their analysis.

My classmates also managed the marketing, communications, logistics, and fundraising for the event.

Learning from Experience

Having participated in at least five case competitions (I’ve lost count!), it was really fun to take the best practices I had seen in other competitions and apply them to our own competition.  In particular, I recognized that participants really value a high level of service from hosts.  At the Hult competition, each team had their own liaison to escort them between rooms, get water, food etc.  We didn’t provide nearly that level of service (we didn’t have enough people), but we tried to make sure the communication and on-site process was free of complications that would distract the participants.  We also made sure to keep the team and judge identities anonymous throughout the competition.  Judges were drawn from academia, consultancies, USAID, and USAID’s contractors.

There were hiccups, of course – like a table of wine collapsing, spilling alcohol everywhere! – but I think we performed admirably given this was our first time handling the competition.  It’s definitely an experience next year’s club leaders can use to improve the competition in the future.  I’m proud of how we came together as a team to make the experience relatively seamless.  In the end, USAID seemed happy with the way the event went.

Outcomes and Debrief

There were very impressive recommendations from the 1st Round and Finalist teams.  My personal favorite came from the the team from the Kellogg School of Northwestern University, who suggested publishing a “dashboard” summary to consignees to give them feedback on whether their orders were fitting parameters (e.g. frequency, size, time to desired delivery date) that improved the overall supply chain.  This would be published to all consignees with a list of Best and Worst consignees.  This would provide some social pressure on poorly performing consignees to change their ordering behaviors.  I thought this was an elegant solution because it was low cost, relatively simple to implement, and hit at what I think is the key problem: influencing behavior in the absence of a price mechanism.

The winners of the competition were: 1) MIT Sloan; 2) Northwestern Kellogg; and 3) The Ohio State University Fisher.

After the competition, we will synthesize the best proposals in a debrief meeting with USAID and present some of our own proposals.  It would have been unfair for my research team to enter the competition and we are really glad to be able to present our own solutions to USAID as well.  We used what we learned this year in spreadsheet modeling to model the placement of regional distribution centers and create an improved demand forecast.  I also applied my interest in public policy to suggest changes to the choice architecture of consignees and suggest minimum order quantities that would make better operational sense for USAID.

It’s been a fun project, but I’ll be relieved when this engagement is finally done!

Congratulations to all the competing teams and to my fellow competition organizers! Thank you to all the professors, staff, and professionals who supported us to create meaningful output for USAID!



Preventing Scurvy, or: Smith School Business Summit brings together Practitioners, Students, and Thought Leaders

May 7th, 2012 by under Economics, Leadership and Managing Human Capital, Strategy. No Comments.

Last Friday, I attend the inaugural Smith School Business Summit.  One of the best things about the Smith school is that its multiple campuses (College Park, DC, Baltimore, and Shady Grove) tap into the resources and talent of industries all over the DC, Maryland, Virginia area.

Located at the University of Maryland BioPark in Baltimore, the Summit is the first of what will be regular retotating symposia between the campuses.

How to Prevent Your Organization from Getting Scurvy

The evening was opened by a speech by Prof. Oliver Schlake, who is renowned at the Smith School for captivating presentations and story telling.  Prof. Schlake used the example of overcoming scuvy in the British Navy to explain how organizations do not bother to innovate during good times and then spend lots of energy on innovation when times are bad.  When times are good, organizations lack the urgency to transform themselves because they are too focused on incremental changes and current operations; in difficult times, the need to innovate becomes an imperative.  However, the organizations that are innovating during good times are able to weather difficult times more robustly.

Captain James Cook succeded in circumnavigating the globe without losing a single sailor to scurvy, a significant and unsual accomplishment for the time!

Captain James Cook attempted to overcome organizational inertia within the British Navy by experimenting and bending the rules to influence sailor behavior.  Through trial and error, he came to the belief that eating limes and sauerkraut and preventing sailors from eating fat from the bottom of cooking pots prevented scurvy.  At first, he tried stockpiling limes for his voyages, but was prevented by the Admiralty.  Then he tried to get his sailors to eat sauerkraut; however, sauerkraut was considered a poor man’s food at the time and sailors disdained it.  Captain Cook used reverse psychology by having sauerkraut served only to the officers and making it public that only officers may eat sauerkraut.  His crew objected and demanded to eat the sauerkraut!  He also used punishment to discourage scriping the bottom of pans.

Cook’s intution was right, even if he didn’t know why: 1) lime and sauerkraut contain the ascorbic acids that allow the body to produce collagen; and 2) the iron from cooking pots prevents the absorption of ascorbic acid!

Cook’s experience demonstrates how innovating in an organization with a lot of inertia requires experimentation, perseverence, and tacitcs to change behavior and culture.

Envisioning Outcome based Medicine

Prof. Schlake’s keynote was followed by a series of panels on finance, health care, organizational culture, sustainability, and product life cycles.

The health care panel I attended had a diverse group of panelists, from medical device makers to insurance carriers, to health care financers, to international development executives.  The panelist discussion mostly revolved around the differences between paying for services and paying for outcomes.  Currently, US healthcare costs are based on services used (labor, equipment use, diagnostics run, etc.).  Theoretically, the panelists argue, using health outcomes as a price/cost basis instead would incentivize new arrangements of care that would lower costs and improve outcomes.  An example of this would be increased coordination and communication between primary care providers and specialists.  This could be encouraged by giving primary care providers a bonus for improved outcomes for patients that see specialists.

However, such a system would require not only new incentives and ways to communicate, but also new ways to evaluate and track outcomes.  For example, if each care provider could see the total cost of caring for a patient across all providers, then each of them could be incentivized for lowering total costs.  The growth of Accountable Care Organizations is an example of the way the industry is shifting toward outcome based medicine (a.k.a. value based purchasing a.k.a. paying for wellness).


Smith’s Got Talent!

April 16th, 2012 by under Reflections. No Comments.

Alice did a beautiful rendition of the Fugees.

I had a blast last week at the 2nd Annual Smith’s Got Talent performance.  The twelve performances by Smith MBAs included improv comedy, music, dancing, and even a poetry reading of Dr. Seuss!

I participated as well as part of a six person hip hop dance crew.  My 2nd year classmate June is a great choreographer – we did a medley of “Turn up the Music,” “I’m Sexy and I Know It,” and topped it off with “Run the World.”

Graham covers John Denver

I’m really glad I participated in this because the MBA can be very draining.  One of the lessons from the program is that it’s important to have balance and not permit excessive work to result in the atrophy the other parts our identities and lives.

One of the great things about the Smith community is how diverse and creative we are.  Business students aren’t just suits – we’re multi-faceted.  Event’s like Smith’s Got Talent are great ways to discover new things about the people we work with, have fun, and spend time as a community.  I’m so glad to be at a business school that appreciates the multiple qualities we bring with us.

Bollywood by Lakshmi

The Swagger Jackers danced it up!


“What is a Crack in the Door becomes a Door Wide Open:” Bradford Banquet Speaker Offers Words of Wisdom

April 9th, 2012 by under Professional Development. No Comments.

The Bradford Banquet is always a great venue to meet really involved alumni.

Last week, the Black MBA Association and the Latin MBA Association hosted the 19th Annual Bradford Minority Awards Banquet, an event which celebrates excellence in the African American and Latin American communities at the University of Maryland.  The event is a chance to celebrate student contributions to African American and Latin American communities and to recognize alumni involvement with the business school.

Henry Hernandez is an independent consultant responsible for providing thought leadership and strategic direction for diversity and inclusion processes for clients. He has held executive offices at American Express and Pitney Bowes.

This year’s keynote speaker was Henry Hernandez, a former Vice President for SAIC.  Mr. Hernandez’ speech was extremely relevant to the theme of this year’s event: “Leveraging Diversity in Your Personal Brand.”  Trained as a Mechanical Engineer, Mr. Hernandez said that taking risks, having your had up to volunteer for the tough jobs, and leveraging past success into new opportunities is what allowed him to move fluidly into the CIA as an Intelligence Officer, and later into an MBA program and a consulting career.  However, he recognizes that this is sometimes a difficult thing to do for ethnic and racial minorities because of cultural reasons for not wanting to stand out or to not wanting to grandstand and take credit for hard work.

His advice to differentiate ourselves to build our careers and our personal brands included:

  • Figure out what’s important to your boss.  Ask, “What keeps you up at night?” and then try to do something about it.
  • Volunteer for the work no one else wants to do.  People will remember you for it.
  • Don’t burn bridges
  • Keep your relationships warm to maintain the quality of your network; you never know when you will need to use it.
  • Keep your eyes open to opportunities but don’t over think things – you can never fully know the implications of your actions until after you take them.
  • Play up your successes to show what you can accomplish.

I love working with Luanne and Femi, who are among the most energizing and disciplined leaders in our program. Both served as co-Presidents of the Black MBA Association.

Mr. Hernandez is one of the original founding members of the National Soicety of Hispanic MBAs.  Mr. Hernandez later achieved an MBA and served as a strategic consultant for private and government clients.

The Banquet is named after Prof. William D. Bradford, who initiated the annual banquet.  While at the Smith School, Prof. Bradford served as a Professor Finance, Finance Department Chair, Associate Dean, and Acting Dean.

The Bradford Banquet is also the transition event when the Black and Latin MBA boards transition leadership from the 1st Year to the 2nd Year students. Congratulations, everyone!


MBAs Tackle Global Poverty: 2012 Hult Global Case Challenge

March 5th, 2012 by under Consulting, Reflections, Strategy, Triple Pundit. No Comments.


Congratulations to my teammates representing the Smith School! Pictured (left to right): Amos Cruz, Pradeep Suthram, Nick Donlan, Stephen Huie.

I’m proud to say that my Smith teammates and I came in 2nd place in the Education Track of the 2012 Hult Global Case Challenge!

The 2012 Hult Challenge

I spent last weekend in Boston, MA with over 400 MBAs and Masters in Public Policy students who were competing in the Boston regional round of the Hult Global Case Challenge.  This year, there were three competition tracks: Education; Energy; and Housing, each of which highlighted a particular non-profit in each field.  Over 4,000 teams worldwide applied to participate in the competition and the selected 200 teams were distributed to competitions on the same day at Hult’s campuses in Boston, Dubai, London, San Francisco, and Shanghai.  The winning teams of the regional rounds will go to New York City in April to meet U.S. President Bill Clinton and present in their solutions.

One Laptop Per Child

Amos Cruz, Nicholas Donlan, Pradeep Suthram, and I spent the past two months preparing for our case, which focused on the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program.  OLPC distributes its XO laptops worldwide to provide creative learning tools and connectivity to the world’s poorest children.  OLPC is looking for innovative ways to improve its strategy as the growth of netbooks and introduction of similar education products by firms like Intel have given OLPC a lot more competition.

Our team’s solution was to develop OLPC’s ability to implement its laptop deployments by developing a consulting and capacity building/training arm we called OLPCi – “i” for implementation.  This would reduce the risk of poor execution and create an ecosystem for the evolution of OLPC’s open source Sugar platform and more consistent feedback channels, training and content, development for teachers and communities.  We developed a rollout plan focused in Latin America, where OLPC has had its two largest deployments that gradually phases into countries with more resources and infrastructure.  The goal of the phased rollout is to allow OLPCi to develop its organizational capital over time so that it can develop the skills required to be successful in deploying XO laptops effectively to the poorest communities.

Good Times…Thankfully It Won’t Be the Last

We heard some really interesting ideas from other MBA teams, including those from the Energy and Housing tracks who developed recommendations for SolarAid and Habitat for Humanity, respectively.  This was a great time to network with like-minded MBAs who are interested in social change and I even made a couple of contacts for my technology commercialization project.    I also got to hang out again with MBAs from other schools who I had met at previous competitions – here’s my shout out to the students of the Jesse H. Jones School of Rice University!

I’ve participated in six case competitions and this one is probably my last one.  It was a great team – I didn’t want to do it at first, but when I saw the team that Amos was bringing together, I knew I had to say yes.  Amos was an educator and IT systems implementer while in the Peace Corps; Pradeep is a creative entrepreneur, budding VC, and systems influence guru; and Nick had deep experience in sales and finance.  I brought experience in education, community organizing, and marketing.  Together, we questioned assumptions, developed frameworks for analyzing the situation, and came up with some concrete solutions and a rollout plan you could begin next Monday.

I realized during the final four hours of preparation before our presentation, that I will miss the adrenaline and excitement of preparing for these competitions.  I also realized that two years ago, before beginning my Smith MBA, I would not have been able to accomplish what we did as well as I can now- structure an approach of inquiry; quickly identify and assign critical tasks; brainstorm business model design; and articulate a concrete solution for change.

Yet, these MBA skills will go with me wherever I go, as will what I have learned from all of the people I have met and worked with over the past two years.


Women Leading Women: Veterans Share their Professional Development Experience

February 27th, 2012 by under Leadership and Managing Human Capital, Professional Development. No Comments.

The Value Proposition is ecstatic to have Julie Mullins, MBA ’12 guest blogging this week about a professional development event featuring one the Smith School’s most accomplished alumni, Lisa Anders, MBA ’95:

Lisa Anders, MBA '95, has over 18 years of construction managment experience for public and private clients.

It’s no secret that women have a history of being minorities in leading business roles. According to Catalyst, women in the US collect nearly 60% of the four-year degrees, but hold around 14% of senior executive positions at Fortune 500 companies. However, on Friday February 10, the Women Leading Women event was held at Smith to celebrate just the opposite.

With energetic and confident words from the evening’s moderator, Dr. Joyce Russell, to the encouraging life stories of Lisa Anders (Smith MBA ’95), the evening had an undeniably positive vibe. As women flooded Frank Auditorium from all over Maryland, DC, and Virginia, whatever feelings of the week’s pressures were lifted after embracing the enthusiasm of the room.

Lisa Anders was inspirational, to say the least. Her words touched a chord with me as she spoke of following her passion in life. As a little girl, Lisa had a dream of working in construction. Despite this being a male-dominated industry, she followed that passion to the job she currently holds as the VP of Business Development for McKissack and McKissack. It is here that she works on large, meaningful projects such as her most prolific role as the Senior Project Manager for the recently completed Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.

A few key takeaways that Lisa provided to break through the glass ceiling:

  • There are many differing personalities in the workplace. Take the time to listen to and understand each individual to properly tailor your message. This earns respect regardless of the audience.
  • Seek out projects and opportunities that interest you. You can do this by fostering relationships and making key personnel aware of your interests/focuses/goals.
  • Don’t ever shy away from your dreams. Don’t settle for less just because you think society says one thing or another about the path you have chosen. Lisa liked building.  She could have shied away from the construction industry because it is a male-dominated industry. Instead, she has added diversity to the field, which brings about new strengths, skills, and ideas.

Smith School MBA alumna Lisa Anders discussed leadership and professional development at the 2012 Women Leading Women event.

The night was completed with a wine and cheese networking reception, providing the opportunity to meet and chat with new faces, bringing together the area’s current and future leading women. This was an inaugural event, but the 200 women and men (but let’s be honest, it was mostly women) who attended can attest to the fact that it should be a lasting tradition at the Smith School.

To see it for yourself, watch the video of the event.

Prior to her most recent accomplishment, project managing the MLK Memorial, Lisa Anders MBA '95 worked on projects at the National Archives, the Pentagon, and Oriole Park at Camden Yard


International Week 2012

February 20th, 2012 by under Articles for the Smith School. No Comments.

International Night is Always a Blast!

Smith is having its annual International Week event this week – we’ll have dumpling making contests, a talent show, and lots and lots of food!

Last week, I also saw some really hilarious and extremely talented performances by the University of Maryland Chinese Student and Scholar Association for Spring Festival.  Performers included some of Smith’s MS Supply Chain students who sung and danced.  Good Job!



A Semester in Design Thinking

February 15th, 2012 by under Consulting, Marketing, Strategy, Supply Chain and Ops. No Comments.

This semester isn’t just about experiential learning, but it’s also about thinking about design problems and the design approach

Tech Comm – In my Technology Commercialization team, I suggested that we use a Storyline approach to help us research market segments.  We decided that our internal assignment this week would be to come up with 10 situations/problems faced by potential customers and how our technology solves their problem.  Once we identify the situation, their pain (financial, physical, time, etc.), and the cost of their current solution, we can try to quantify the differential value of our offer to them.  This not only helps us set price, but also gives us a sense of the overall size of the market, and the kind of competition and barriers to entry we may face.  Thanks to Prof. Kannan’s Pricing for Sustainable Competitive Advantage course for teaching me this customer centric approach to quantifying market value.

We cut up our storylines on sheets of paper and moved them around a 3×3 grid we stuck on the whiteboard, where Time to Market and Market size were the two dimensions.  This helped us identify common themes (e.g. chronic disease treatment) and challenges (e.g. FDA approval) within the time frames and gave us a sense of how we should prioritize our research and the commercialization plan.

Hult Case Competition – I’m also participating in a case competition to develop new approaches for the One Laptop per Child program to help it reach its goal of reaching 10,000,000 children in the next five years.  With a dream team of classmates with experience in education, venture capital, and bottom of the pyramid product development, we’ve been brainstorming around the product offer, distribution, and funding model by beginning to question our assumptions about the user experience.  We’re trying to focus on the user experience and think about “how might we” rather than the prescriptive “how should we.”

USAID – For my supply chain engagement, my research team is developing an operational model that must serve more than just our client, USAID.  We must also think about how to write a case analysis for an audience of case competition MBA students.  Identifying and modeling goals, constraints, and levers in a manner discrete enough to be quantifiable, yet flexible enough to permit creativity is our challenge.  I’m proud of the work we’ve done so far and I’m looking forward to synthesizing the results.

Imperial Fish Company – My consulting project with Tunisian MBAs also involves designing a marketing strategy for a start up company.  This is exciting because we can build it from the ground up and can pursue possibilities that might be otherwise constrained by opportunity costs in an established firm.  Designing a market entry while keeping in mind the long term growth and business development of the firm will certainly be a challenging task.

Negotiations – Even my Negotiations class invovles design thinking.  Last week, Prof. Langa assigned us to watch an old Frontline episode about IDEO, in addition to our regular reading and out of class negotiation assignments.  Learning from IDEO’s disciplined approach to design by brainstorming, withholding judgement, and letting ideas flow, and only later narrowing down on priorities through a collaborative process might help us think of creative alternative options that can satisfy both sides of a negotiation.  This is also a user-centric approach that requires one to think about design and value from someone else’s perspective; we can certainly use such a technique to better understand the other parties in a negotiation.   Interest based negotiation can provide the information that informs how we can grow the pie for all participants rather than splitting it in a zero-sum fashion.

This is definitely an exciting semester where all my business learnings are coming together to help me synthesize problems and construct novel solutions to real problems.


Superbowl XLVI: Ad Watch

February 6th, 2012 by under Marketing. No Comments.

I’ll admit it: I’m not a huge football fan and my ignorance and disinterest will probably damage my long term job prospects and ability to schmooze and interact.

But I will watch at least one game out of the year, and that game is the SuperBowl, mostly for the advertising.  Here are some of my thoughts on what I considered the top 5 ads:

5) Audi Vampire Campout: I’m not a fan of the recent vampire craze, but the ad highlighting (haha) Audi’s headlights was clever enough to make me take notice.  It’s always interesting to see companies take on a non-related trend (e.g. True Blood, New Moon (or whatever it’s called)), but it’s also a little depressing to see how late this ad was.  It would have been more timely a year ago, but now it seems passe.  Although it was behind trend, it succeeded in getting my attention.

4) PepsiMax Checkout: This was a great continuation of previous Pepsi SuperBowl Ads in which a CocaCola driver tries to sneak a drink of the competitor’s product.  Historical references abounded in this year’s ads (e.g. Volkswagon and Star Wars) and I think viewers feel extra rewarded by referential ads that highlight that they are in the know and part of the joke.

3) GE Commercials: The GE commercials were especially good because it highlighted US manufacturing and connected the worker to the consumer.  This was especially apparent in the evening’s first GE spot in which cancer survivors visit a medical equipment factory.

2) Clint Eastwood’s Half Time Message: Besides encouraging us with his immediately recognizable gritty voice, Clint Eastwood communicated the hardship and pride of getting back up after falling down.  The 2 minute spot by Chrysler was one the most thoughtful piece of the evening because it had the broadest message.  Focusing on Detroit, but containing a message of struggle that’s rooted in an imaginary of stubborn American hard work, the ad probably captured the biggest audience of any of the commercials.  As we learned in Consumer Behavior, emotional appeals have long term impacts on decisions and are more likely to make a call to action successful.

1) Bridgestone Basketball: This was such a clever ad that really demonstrated product quality.  Designing tire rubber for a basketball, you can clearly hear the difference between the bounce of a regulation ball and the Bridgestone special.  A shocking contrast that captured my attention with clever delivery.  Despite the enduring effect of emotional appeal, sometimes you just have to see it to believe it.


A Busy Busy Weekend….

February 2nd, 2012 by under Consulting, Entrepreneurship. No Comments.

These first two weeks of the semester have been as exciting as they have been arduous.


As part of a group of MBA, MPP, and Bioscience Ph.Ds, I am developing a business and commercialization plan for some exciting technology that has been developed by professors and students at the University of Maryland.  I can’t go into the details, but it’s an exciting biosciences project that allows me to leverage some experience from a past internship at Children’s Hospital of Oakland Research Institute (CHORI).

We’ve got a great team, though, also consisting of a Bioscience Ph.D., an MBA, and an MBA/MPP.


I met my Tunisian counterparts for the first time on Saturday!  We had a half hour training in cross-cultural communication and consulting.  It was a great opportunity to not only get to know the Tunisian students, but also, to meet Uruguayan students who are participating in two other projects with the Smith School.  The Tunisian students are very talented and experienced.  I’m really looking forward to working with them.

Over the winter break, I started studying Arabic so that I’d be able to get around when I am in Tunisia.  This will be a great project to combine all of the experiences I’ve had so far in Marketing, Supply Chain, and Strategy.


We had a full day Consulting Boot Camp led by a McKinsey partner.  This Boot Camp brought together over 100 Smith, Tunisian, and Uruguayan MBAs participating in the Smith Consulting Practicums.  I had heard much of this framework last year when preparing for my consulting engagement with Syngenta, but reviewing key tactics for eliciting client communication and sharing success (and horror) stories with each other about past experiences was a fun and valuable.