Tag: CEL

Maggie Glasser, 2022 CEL Impact Award winner, wrote this for the Olin Blog.

Like any other day as a full-time MBA student, my schedule was filled with classes and schoolwork. By 8 p.m. that night, it felt like my day was just starting. I was fully immersed in the land of Excel and PowerPoint, sifting through data and formatting slides in anticipation of our final Center for Experiential Learning client meeting. Also on my list was preparing for tomorrow’s team meeting, where I faced the difficult task(s) related to maintaining my team’s motivation while respecting the normal stressors of B-School. The days were long, but I enjoyed my after-hour work sessions because it was a time where distractions dwindled and productivity climbed.

Like many practicum consulting engagements with the CEL, I was equipped with a team of three to five graduate and/or undergraduate students to solve a real-world problem that was not outlined in a textbook. We channeled our professional and classroom experiences to create meaningful and lasting value for our corporate client. As the team lead, I was tasked with the additional responsibility of creating sustainable team dynamics. For me, this meant blending personalities, developing candid communication and establishing accountability so that we could effectively align on a common goal and create valuable experiences.

I approached the projects with professional expectations and delivered a “this-experience-is-what-you-make-it” message with my teams from the get-go. The CEL is organized with the goal of providing just that: the structure to support teams through a professional consulting engagement along with the autonomy to craft your own experience. Here’s a three-point guide explaining how I shaped my CEL experiences to drive returns beyond business school:

1. Create a foundation of support and discovery

My first engagement with the CEL was in spring 2021, when I was offered the opportunity to serve as team lead for a family-owned and St. Louis-based HVAC company, Hoffmann Brothers. As a team, we were tasked with developing a systematic approach of analyzing geographic market entry. Our first objective was to create a structure for the project by developing a Statement of Work. Soon after, the chaos commenced. Within two days, we went from a team of six to a team of four and a personal matter placed me on a short leave of absence. It was during this time that the CEL leadership team not only stepped in, but also stepped up. A combination of one faculty advisor, one CEL scholar and the CEL program team helped us navigate through these unexpected distractions alongside demanding client expectations.

In many ways, the project enabled an ecosystem of discovery. As a project team, we merged our diverse experiences and perspectives to unpack a complex business problem in a supportive and risk-tolerant environment that left room for learning through mistake and recovery. As the team lead, I put leadership theories from the classroom into action by embarking on a journey of trial-and-error to uncover who I really wanted to be as a leader. In managing the delicate balance of project management and personalities, I started to construct a sustainable leadership style based on my own discoveries and real-time feedback from others.

After this engagement, I was hooked. I not only made the decision to pursue a career in management consulting but was also offered the unique opportunity to re-engage as the team lead for Hoffmann Brothers the following semester.

2. Build a structure to facilitate and accelerate growth

Equipped with a new problem, a new team and a new skillset, my goal was to surpass the high standards that were established during my first engagement. This time, our project focused on the second pillar of business growth strategy: generating value, driving profit and creating sustainable competitive advantage through service line expansion. Our team was collaborative in nature as we supported and challenged each other to reach the next level. As their leader, I started with a foundation of skills and ideas formed by the first engagement. This allowed me to refine my processes and build a structure that helped the team increase individual efficiencies and unlock their collective potential. Together, these conditions created the simultaneous reality of learning and working, which lead to explosive growth for my team, our client and myself as a leader.

Fall 2021 Hoffmann Brothers CEL Practicum Team. From left: Johnnie Teng, Darwin Bhatt, Maggie Glasser, Yijie Zhang, Brendan Barry, Xin Wang.

The CEL is organized like a management consulting firm in that there are layers of opportunity. Team members, equivalent to staff-level consultants, conduct research and interviews, build models and own individual work stream(s). Team leads, or project managers, structure the project, communicate with the client, manage output and synthesize the team’s work into a cohesive analysis. Lastly, CEL scholars, or senior executives, oversee the entire operation, ensure quality and consistency of outcomes, and nurture client relationships.

3. Polish skills to drive lasting outcomes

After two successful engagements as a team lead, I was asked to join the team of CEL scholars. Accepting this role provided an avenue for me to improve my management skills in new and different ways. In addition to my responsibility to support four new team leads as individual leaders, I also advised their project teams in pursuit of achieving their shared goals. For me, this meant balancing the hands-on approach I adopted as the leader of my own teams with a hands-off approach that left the team leads the room to craft their own experiences. The direct result pushed my boundaries as a leader into an entirely new dimension: I reinforced the art of asking thoughtful questions, shifted from listening with an intent to respond to listening with an intent to understand, and started offering options instead of prescribing methods.

As I reflect on my CEL experiences, I am now able to recognize the compound effect(s) it indelibly had on my growth as a leader. Each day, I had a platform to test a range of skills in small ways, and the effects multiplied. While any single engagement with the CEL delivers value, it was the aggregation of my three experiences that will ultimately drive lasting impact in the next phase of my career as a professional consultant.

Pictured from top left to bottom right: Maggie Glasser (team lead), Claudia Zhang (team member), Kranthi Reddy Puligari (team member), Alex Ignatius (CEL scholar), Chumar Williams (team member).

The Center for Experiential Learning fellows program works to shape great business students into great business leaders. The CEL fellows, an impressive group of MBAs, just met for their second Captain’s Table, where they discussed the challenges and setbacks that come with leading a team.

The group split up to discuss a case that depicts a team leader dealing with a team member who is smart, but unmotivated and disrespectful. Looking to open up the fictional teammate’s untapped potential, the fellows debriefed with Kurt Dirks, vice chancellor of international affairs and Bank of America Professor of Leadership, and drew out the following lessons that focus on values-based leadership.

Communicate expectations early

CEL Director Daniel Bentle quoted George Bernard Shaw: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

It’s important to set expectations and set a tone from the beginning. The team leader in the case did set expectations from the start, but she made the grave mistake of not including the team. If you build expectations with your team instead of alone, the expectations will feel more like an agreed-upon team contract than a set of rules to break.

In addition to setting expectations, the team leader should facilitate an understanding of each teammate’s motivation in the project. For example, the disrespectful team member was mainly focused on job searching. If the team lead had capitalized on this information early on, she could have worked to use this information to motivate him. Explaining how the project could be a great conversation topic in interviews or good content for his resume would be a great way to get this team member on board.

Build trust with your team

Building trust with each individual teammate is an essential step toward team success. Conn Davis, MBA ’17, said, “The key to business is personal relationships.”

Following Davis’s advice, the fellows agreed it was important to set up one-on-one meetings with each teammate to get to know them. Showing interest in your team on a personal level helps to build trust and works to reinforce the expectations you’ve previously set.

Listen and adapt

Even if you follow the above lessons, road bumps are bound to happen. For example, the teammate focused on recruiting may come in late to every meeting. Using lines of communication, you might find out that it’s because he has a meeting right before that he’s running from.

Listening to his reasoning and adapting to shift the meeting 15 minutes later will increase team efficiency. As a successful team leader, you have to be ready to adapt to produce the greatest results.

Jeff Brown, MBA ’19, wrote this on behalf of his practicum team from the Center for Experiential Learning. MBA ’19 team members included Jeff Brown, Abdul Rehman Azmat, Grace Lee, Ricardo Marrujo Mexia, and Samuel Roth. The project advisor was Rich Ryffel.

Our client was Doyon Limited. Doyon is an Alaskan Native Corporation (ANC) and the largest private land owner in the United States. At the beginning of the project, we knew little about ANCs or about the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act that led to their creation.

What we soon discovered, however, was that Doyon has a responsibility to protect Native Alaskan land and resources and to help its shareholders flourish. The part we were to play in helping Doyon fulfill this mission involved strategic planning as Doyon seeks to diversify beyond its core upstream oil and gas ventures.

Structuring the problem

Our first task was to bring structure to ambiguity—to bring ourselves down from 30,000 feet to ground level. This proved to be more difficult than expected. The complexity of the project put us in danger of venturing down numerous rabbit holes and getting lost in the minutia of the industries we were tasked with analyzing. However, our ability to clearly define the project via a statement of work hammered out together with the client helped us to create a project framework and stay on track.

Interacting with the client

In our first week on the project, we had the pleasure of meeting Doyon executives in person. Throughout the day, we interacted with the client professionally and—just as importantly—personally. too. This time spent together allowed us to better understand Doyon’s business and helped build a rapport that was useful during subsequent meetings. We became more confident that we could ask difficult questions, and at the same time, the client gave honest feedback on our work. In the end, because of the trust we built, we delivered a better final product and more value for Doyon.

Housekeeping and administration

Sometimes the little things can have major implications in a client relationship. After our first virtual meeting, our advisor, Rich Ryffel, gave us a piece of advice that we will use moving forward: “Make sure to keep meetings within the scheduled time or the value of your time will be diminished in the client’s eyes.”

Rich explained that not only should you respect the client’s time but that the client should respect yours, too. Mutual respect can keep both sides from making unreasonable asks and help maintain a productive working relationship.

Getting to know the local culture

Phase 2 of the project took us to Alaska, where we visited Doyon’s offices in Fairbanks and Anchorage. We also presented the results of our analysis and recommendations on which industry to make the focal point of phase 3.

The team spent the first two days as tourists, attending cultural events and visiting various attractions. We watched the beginning of the Iditarod, hiked a waterfall trail, and even caught a glimpse of Denali. When the meetings started, we were given a tour of Doyon’s in-house museum of native Alaskan artifacts and had lunch featuring dried salmon that is apparently such a delicacy that buying and selling it is regulated by the federal government. These experiences taught us a lot about native Alaskan culture and drove home the importance of Doyon’s core values.

Understanding the client’s businesses

Through meetings with various subsidiaries, we developed a better understanding of those businesses’ relationship with the holding company. We learned about utility joint ventures, oil exploration, pipeline building, oil and gas engineering services, and government IT outsourcing.

The meetings illustrated the real-world implications of findings from Frost and Sullivan, Ibis, Bloomberg, and others. Each night, after a long day of meetings and dinner, we rushed back to the hotel and worked well after midnight to incorporate what we had learned into the presentation we were preparing for senior leadership.

Adapting the message

Finally, the team met with the CEO, COO, and CFO to present our mid-project recommendations. Each executive brought a different perspective, and with that perspective, a different level of interest in or resistance to our recommendations. The discussion was not always easy, but the reactions we received taught us that, when presenting to executives, we need to consider all the vested interests in the room so that recommendations may be as acceptable, practical, and actionable as possible

Pushing till the end

Our final presentation went off with a hitch, and our team leader, Jeff Brown, was even invited to present our findings to the Doyon board of directors at their annual meeting. The feedback from Doyon was positive, and we wrapped things up with confidence that Doyon could integrate our recommendations into its long-term strategic planning process. While we learned a lot about business throughout this process, the best part of the experience was the time spent with the team and the client.

Having fun with the team

As MBA classmates, we already knew each other to varying degrees, but sharing this experience brought us closer and created moments that we’ll remember long after we’ve forgotten the actual project. One such memory was the birthday party that we threw for Grace while in the middle of putting the final touches on our executive summaries.

We surprised Grace with a card and cupcakes and sang happy birthday in the meeting room. It was just one moment during one meeting, but the experience was indicative of the good times the team shared together and of why we are much closer now than at the beginning despite the intensity of the experience.

Working with the client

Working with the client has taught us how to lead meetings with confidence, how to communicate more clearly, and how to read the client for clues about where they are taking the conversation. All these skills came to bear during our final presentation, which was done remotely via WebEx.

In a video conference, reading nonverbal cues can be very difficult, and the meeting flow can easily break down. By the time we delivered our final presentation, we had already completed five previous video conferences. As a result, we were familiar with how to manage the pauses, how to read the client’s questions, and how to reply in a way that moved the conversation forward.

These experiences will be invaluable in our future career and made us look back on our final presentation with so much pride about the work we’d done.

Pictured at top: Team members Jeff Brown, Abdul Rehman Azmat, Grace Lee, Ricardo Marrujo Mexia, and Samuel Roth, all MBA ’19.

Students in the CELect Entrepreneurship Course, held at the T-REx startup accelerator, are sharing their team projects with the Olin Blog. Undergraduate student team George Dunning, Devin Goodkin, Brian Kim, and Josh Rotker describe their experience working with local startup Tallyfy.

Our group met at the first class meeting, where Prof. Cliff Holekamp explained basic strategies to estimate market size using top-down and bottom-up approaches. During this time, we were also able to form a work plan for the semester by identifying our project, delegating responsibilities, and creating a timeline for the deliverables.

One week into the project, we met up with Tallyfy CEO Amit Kothari to flesh out Tallyfy’s needs. Amit is extremely passionate about Tallyfy’s vision and provided us with a plethora of insight on the company’s past, present, and future. He ensured that we were well-equipped to approach the project, and made it clear that he is readily available for communication throughout the duration of the project.

Our team has been consulting with Amit to deliver a go-to-market plan for their newest application, One URL, a process-tracking and workflow tool. Amit tasked us with identifying which markets offered the greatest potential for this new app.

Part of the challenge is narrowing down the vast array of potential markets. We first created a set of criteria for the types of companies and business processes that could best utilize One URL. In our initial brainstorming, our team was able to identify over 30 markets, which we then limited to 10 initial markets.

This stage taught us the value of utilizing research and data. While we initially assumed certain markets would be a perfect fit, those assumptions happened to be short-lived. Prior research and current applications negated the feasibility of implementing One URL into what we originally thought were strong industries. With a deep dive into each of the 10 markets, we narrowed down the top potential to four markets.

We have also utilized interviews as a tool for this process. Talking to professionals within these potential markets has provided incredible and tangible insight. With this information, we can better understand the needs of niche markets and identify the decision makers Amit would need to reach out to in order to implement One URL.

Throughout the process, Cliff has pointed out pitfalls, helped us align consumer willingness to pay with Tallyfy’s price strategy, and clarified the types of markets to pursue. Additionally, Cliff has advised us to interview as many business professionals as possible, in order to fully grasp the “business pains” this product will solve.

Our plan is to deliver a detailed and implementable go-to-market plan for One URL. We will do so by conducting more in-depth interviews, sizing the market, getting as much feedback as we can, and writing out the plan. We look forward to delivering it to Amit and his team!

Guest bloggers: George Dunning, Brian Kim, and Josh Rotker, all BSBA ’18, and Devin Goodkin, Arts & Sciences ’18. 

This month the inaugural class of the Bauer Leadership Fellows Program, which provides leadership development training for students in Practicum consulting teams, traveled to Creve Coeur Lake in West St. Louis County  to learn the sport of rowing from WashU Coach Andrew Black.

The fellows were divided in two groups to navigate the trials and tribulations of teamwork.

To some, rowing may seem unrelated to business leadership, but the Bauer Fellows quickly connected the dots and uncovered important takeaways. Here’s what fellows Molly Goldstein and David Allston learned while rowing on the lake:

1. Leadership requires trust and humor

Teams build a stronger rapport by being light-hearted, getting to know one another, and cracking a joke when necessary. With this stronger camaraderie, Molly noticed that the fellows trusted each other more in the harder moments of exercise. As a leader, she finds it crucial to foster spaces where the team can build rapport, since trust is essential for team success.

2. Communication is key to navigating a difficult situation

The fellows had limited knowledge of rowing terms and maneuvers that would help them move together on the water. But through trial and error, they found a rhythm of words and gestures that allowed them to communicate well and, ultimately, win the race. As a leader, Molly knows she will encounter teams who struggle to communicate. She believes a part of her role will include supporting the team though the initial hardship of finding common language to improve project execution.

3. Be patient and humble

Both Molly and David highlighted that it is okay to be a beginner—and when your team faces a new experience, it is important as a leader to have patience. Molly says:

“Rowing is something I’d never tried before—and I don’t think I’ll be ready for competition any time soon! But the challenge of a new task is something any good leader seeks. As a leader, I will encourage myself (and my team) to find opportunities to try new things and find new strengths we didn’t know we had.”

When it came to David’s experience in the boat, he noticed that the veteran rowers acted as strong leaders; instead of being hard on the novice rowers, they pointed out mistakes and supported the team. Contrarily, the other team did not feel this same support and were left frustrated and disengaged. David concluded that patient leaders are crucial to making a team feel excited, engaged, and valued.

David noted, “Leadership happens everywhere in an organization, and good leaders are always leading, even when they are not in charge.”

In unfamiliar situations, think through how you can communicate better, build trust and camaraderie, and be patient—you too could be a leader, anywhere, when the time arises.

Guest Blogger: Allison Halpern, BSBA ’18, Bauer Leadership Center