Archive for November, 2011

Interning and Working at SMEs: Part II – See Your Impact and Get Feedback

November 23rd, 2011 by under Career Search. No Comments.

Pei-Wen “Patty” Chen MBA ’12 biking in Virginia, where she interned with CV International.  “In essence, working at a smaller company makes it easier to have the opportunity to make a big impact than when working at a bigger one.”

Those MBAs that return most satisfied from internships are those whose efforts  have been recognised and implemented, rather than those disillusioned by having  work lost in the ether of corporate dialogue. – Daniel Callaghan

Last summer, 2nd Year MBA Patty Chen worked at two internships and gained a great deal of experience in global sales.

As an assistant sales manager at the Shanghai appearl agency Great Union, Patty coordinated the development process between Chinese manufacturers and US designers.

At the freight forwarder CV International, Patty also worked in sales as an executive sales assistant developing business leads for trans-Pacific shipments.

Directly Proportional Results

What Patty appreciated most about her experience at these medium size businesses was the trust and control she was given to deal with customers.  When there was a problem with one of her customer’s shipments, Patty dealt with the problem directly rather than transfer the problem to others and waiting for their responses.  As a result, she had more control over service and her customers’ experiences were directly reflected by her performance.

Culture at SMEs

Workplace culture is important to Patty, who found that communication styles vary among SMEs just as much as they do within large firms.  Whereas some firms and contexts encourage communication around management process, operational issues may be as prescriptive as at large firms.

Contextual management is highly effective in businesses of all sizes, but at an SME the distance between points of communication is shorter and we have a better chance to influence the organization and develop our leadership.

This is Part II in a series on working at Small and Medium Size Businesses.


Interning and Working at SMEs: Part I – Opportunities to Grow Abound

November 16th, 2011 by under Career Search. No Comments.

Karan Arora, MBA '12. "The best part about working with a small company is that it does there are no water tight compartments in which you have to work. You have the freedom of doing different things, and of doing things differently."

As the first year MBA students continue to dig into their internship search, I thought it would be helpful to provide a look at the experience of 2nd Year Smith MBAs who decided to work at Small and Medium Size Enterprises (SMEs) rather than at larger firms.

Say Yes to SMEs

Karan Arora is a 2nd Year MBA who worked at Yesware, an early stage internet company at a startup incubator in Boston, MA.  As a product management and Marketing Analytics intern, “there was no one thing that [Karan] did on a daily basis.”  “I wore many hats and did a little bit of everything – Marketing Analytics, Marketing Strategy, Product Management, User Experience Research, Promotional Campaigns etc. The fact that I was able to do a lot of different things in a short time was awesome!”

A recent Financial Times op-ed reflected Karan’s experience about how working at start ups and small or medium sized companies can open opportunities to make larger impacts on their organizations and be better exposed to senior management.  Yet, according to the op-ed’s author, Daniel Callaghan,

MBAs often cite their reason for going to business school as wanting to have a bigger impact in the firms they work for.  They want to contribute more, to make a difference and be recognized.  Yet this is often forgotten with students quickly seduced by the corporate hospitality of the on-campus recruiters, the dinners, the pay cheques and the bonuses.

Working at an SME often provides students with wide latitude and opportunities to gain responsibilities and leadership.  Karan immensely enjoyed being able to create a new product line that he thought of himself.

When I first looked at the product that the development team was working on, I instantly thought that we could adapt it to make it useful for composing cover letters for MBA/Grad Students. When I floated the idea to the team during an informal lunch conversation, the CEO and the CTO of the company encouraged me to take the project further. They gave me the tools, resources, advice, and enough free time to work on this project. We eventually pitched the idea to several prospective customers from universities around the world. It was such a rewarding experience.

The Differnce Matters

Prior to coming to the Smith MBA program, Karan worked experienced firms with over 50,000 employees, including Nokia, Samsung, and LG, but now he wants to work at an SME after graduation.  “Small companies really value people who take initiative, are creative and most importantly, consider the success of the company as their personal success,” Karan says.  “I think I did pretty well this summer and demonstrated all of these qualities while working with Yesware and as a result the company offered me a part-time role for Fall and Winter semesters. To anyone who has never worked in a startup/small company before, it is a *must* try, and what better time to do it than now when the startup scene is buzzing.”




We Won!!! Hitachi Pioneers!

November 1st, 2011 by under Finance, Leadership and Managing Human Capital, Strategy, Triple Pundit. No Comments.


Celebrating with Dinner at Poseidon Seafood!

Last weekend, I attended the finals of the Hitachi Pioneer Employer Competition, which were hosted at the Net Impact Conference in Portland, OR.  I’m proud to say that we won the Curriculum Change Award and got 2nd Place in the Business Case Competition.

The competition is focused on business practices that improve the bottom line by investing inpeople who hold front-line bottom of the corporate ladder positions, such as janitors, fast food and service retail clerks, and workers on the shop floor.  Coming from the labor movement and the non-profit sector, this competition allowed me to combine my experiences with the business strategy I’d learned at Smith.

Beyond A Positions

As first year MBAs last year, we read about how certain companies focus on building the human capital of their “A Positions,” which are both important for firm operations or the customer experience and which demonstrate high variability.  For example, Southwest Airline’s gate attendants occupy A Positions, in which managing passengers and the operational process is paramount to retaining customers and efficient movement – the applicant pool Southwest might draw from might have a wide distribution of people skills, but Southwest needs to control the customer relationship.  In contrast, airline pilots are critically important to the safe running of the plane, but they generally display less variation because they come from a group of relatively certified and experienced people.  Southwest pays their gate attendants well and looks after their professional development so that the firm can attract and filter the right people for this job.

But what about the people who work at the bottom of ladder but don’t occupy A Positions?  That was the challenge that I saw in the Hitachi Pioneer Employer competition.  What would incentivize a company to invest in its workers?

Great Team, Great Process

My teammates, Fernanda Lopez and Yen “Lacey” Nguyen and I had been participating in this competition since last Spring, when we passed the preliminary round by writing case recommendations for a manufacturer who is trying to turn around a struggling company by investing in their human capital.  We also developed a plan for introducing the business literature and cases on pioneer employers into the Smith school curriculum.

In the Fall Semester, we analyzed a new business case about an expanding service retailer and implemented changes to the school curriculum.  We spoke with professors and academic deans to understand what they valued in their curriculum.  The insights we learned was that professors wanted to be able to better coordinate their curricula and reduce overlap between classes.  At the same time, they were very protective of the core curricula.

The solution we developed was a series of teaching plans, including recommended readings, questions, and background information, targeted for individual classes.  We used a modular format to show professors how they could swap their canonical cases with ones that covered pioneer employer practices at the same times as demonstrating the core points they wanted students to address.  For example, we wrote how the same case could be used to show investment in workers; influence tactics; and bases of power.  Three professors adopted recommendations from our proposals.

Both business cases were excellent exercises in finance as much as in human capital management and strategy.  I’m really proud that I was able to develop a financial model that directly connected workers compensation to productivity and demonstrated how it paid off in terms of the firm’s strategic competitive advantage.  I won’t go into specifics because the case may be used again in competition.