Tag: Full-time MBA

Lungile Tshuma, MBA

Now a few days from completing the ‘round-the-world global immersion our first-year MBA students began in late June, I’ve made a few observations, picked up a few impressions and heard from a few students. They’re the basis for this month’s column.

I’ll start with a particularly poignant moment I was fortunate to witness at the students’ closing dinner in Barcelona on July 23. As they prepared to decamp for China, Lungile Tshuma rose to offer a toast.

His toast both celebrated the diversity of our latest class of first-year MBA students and affirmed an important goal of the programme: fostering strong bonds among them.

With this new format, we also hoped to distinguish our programme — and, by extension, our students — with a unique focus. Launching the students on a 38-day study of international business from day one carried some risk, but we’ve seen the payoff.

Our faculty, for example, have already spoken about the deep bench this opportunity has attracted. We knew this challenge would attract a certain category and quality of student and on that score, we believe it has already succeeded.

As Senior Associate Dean Patrick Moreton, a chief organizer of the programme, recently told the students, “You’re absorbing and engaging with the environment in a way we’ve never seen before. You’re doing a great job and while you might not be seeing it, we’re feeling good about the learning outcomes we’re getting.”

That dovetails with reports I’ve heard from diversity organizations we support such as Forté and The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, where prospective employers were pulling aside our students to ask what drew them to the programme and how it had fared for them so far.

It also dovetails with a personal desire I have harboured for this experience: watching leaders emerge. By definition, this experience was built to “disorient” students and create a global foundation for their future core classes. In each locale, our class includes at least one person who can call that country home and I was eager to hear how they’d respond.

Thus, classmates like Aurora Chen, Frank Chen, Flora Feng, Zach Frantz and others could help organize social events, dinners and provide medical experts while in China.

Beyond these isolated leadership moments, however, I’ve also been gratified to hear from partners we’ve worked with — including the Gramona and Pere Ventura wineries in Barcelona — who have appreciated and valued the business insights shared by our students, even at this early stage in their business school education.

Many of our students have also been forthcoming with feedback throughout their journey, which has led to adjustments in schedules, workloads and assignments Throughout. One such example is that the faculty was making adjustments to accommodate more field experiences in the Shanghai community.

As the first students to embark on this experience at Olin, I’m grateful they’re actively participating as we iterate on the go. I’m truly looking forward to greeting our newly “disoriented” and “globalized” first-year students — whom Lungile has described as “diversely one” — when they return stateside next week.

Pictured above: Lungile Tshuma, MBA ’21, toasting the diversity of the current class of first-year students during the final day celebration of their time in Barcelona.

Krutika Sood, MBA ’20, a member of the Missouri Botanical Garden team traveling to Madagascar wrote this for the Olin Blog. Krutika worked with fellow MBA students Lael Bialek and Coilean Malone as well as faculty advisor Karen Bedell and CEL Fellow Megan Cowett to complete the project.

On March 8, 2019, three MBA candidates and one CEL Faculty Advisor set out on a 31-hour plane journey from St. Louis to Madagascar. After an eventful week learning about the distinctive flora and fauna found in the forests of Madagascar, only two of those MBA candidates made it back to St. Louis on the March 16, 2019 (Don’t worry, the other two members of the team made it back after a 42-hour journey on March 17, despite a missed flight).

The reason our team set off on this journey was to visit the Madagascar Program team of St. Louis’s own Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG).

The MBG was founded in 1859 by Henry Shaw. Today, the MBG is a National Historic Landmark and a center for science, conservation, education and horticultural display, and is considered one of the top three botanical gardens in the world. The Madagascar Program, started in 1987, is MBG’s largest and most successful international program.

Biodiversity hotspot

Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot and global conservation priority as it is home to about 14,000 species of flora (95% of the species are endemic) and only 7% of its forest cover still remains. This, coupled with the fact that Madagascar is one of the ten poorest countries in the world, has defined the two core goals for MBG’s Madagascar Program:

  1. To conduct botanical research and exploration on one of the world’s most distinctive and threatened floras.
  2. To conserve biodiversity through local engagement to improve natural resource management and the quality of life improvement in local communities.

The Madagascar Program consists of two major components – the Research Unit and the Conservation Unit. Our team was tasked with understanding the functioning of the Research Unit in order to recommend an optimal operational and financial strategy geared towards sustainable program growth. As a consulting team, our main goal was to provide recommendations that are realistic, actionable, and in alignment with the mission and goals of the Madagascar Program and the MBG.

Value of overseas site visit

This experiential learning opportunity has been valuable and enriching for us because it gave us a chance to utilize our collective professional and academic experiences to tackle a complex problem for a real client. We were able to gain valuable work experience during our MBA program that challenged us to think creatively and acquire knowledge about the symbiotic relationship between firms, local communities and the environment – a very crucial relationship in today’s business world.

Furthermore, collaborating with various stakeholders across three continents (USA, Europe & Africa) has been both a highlight and a challenge with this project. It taught us how to adapt and be effective in a dynamic and ambiguous environment, a.k.a, any real job. This project also allowed us to experience a new country and immerse ourselves in a different culture.

We didn’t get much sleep, but we did get to eat delicious food, see exotic forests, dip our toes into the blindingly blue Indian Ocean, and meet some adorable lemurs. Overall, it was a rewarding experience and we would surely choose to do it again. Working on a CEL Practicum has definitely been the highlight of our year.

Pictured at top: Duckenson Joseph, MBA ’21, questioning a store clerk at one of the Shanghai coffee shops he visited with his counterparts on team 10.

After living in China as an expat for five years, Zach Frantz came home to the Midwest to start his WashU MBA. A few weeks later, he was back, viewing China with fresh eyes as he launched into a study of business models in a global environment.

Frantz, MBA ’21, was one among nearly 100 first-year students on the final leg of a long ‘round-the-world trip to launch their MBA studies. After two weeks in St. Louis, the students spent a week in Washington, DC, two weeks in Barcelona and on July 25, landed in Beijing to start the final phase of their journey.

Zach Frantz, MBA ’21, with his teammates in Shanghai collecting data on potential Chinese competitors to Strange Donuts for their business models course.

The students had two days to explore the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace before they decamped by bullet train on a four-and-a-half-hour trip to Shanghai on Sunday.

“For sure, I’m looking at China and business models very differently. Before, I’d try to look at a business model and see how a company makes money, but this has really given me a much stronger framework to understand how decisions are made,” Frantz said in the midst of a morning excursion with his team, collecting first-hand data on pastry and coffee shops.

That excursion was a key component of the “Business Models in a Global Climate” course taught by Daniel Elfenbein and Anne Marie Knott. The students have divided their time between lectures and simulations conducted inside a downtown Shanghai hotel ballroom and trips into the field to collect real-world data to bring the lectures to life.

The course turns on a simple question: Should St. Louis-based Strange Donuts consider an offer to expand in the Shanghai market? Answering that question required a foundation in business models and an in-the-field examination of the competitive landscape.

Great progress—and adjustment

For the most part, the students’ time has been heavily programmed with classwork, team projects, outside reading, presentations and field excursions.

Susie Bonwich at a pastry shop in downtown Shanghai, collecting data to use in a recommendation: Should Strange Donuts enter the Shanghai market?

Before Friday morning’s excursion, Associate Dean Patrick Moreton—the chief organizer of the global immersion—congratulated the students on the progress they’d made over their first week in Shanghai.

“You’re absorbing and engaging with the environment in a way we’ve never seen before,” Moreton said, citing the papers, presentations and simulation results students have submitted. “You’re doing a great job and while you might not be seeing it, we’re feeling good about the learning outcomes we’re getting.”

Moreton also noted that the faculty and staff were responding to student feedback by tweaking and adjusting the workload to ensure students could balance learning with additional opportunities to get out into the community.

Frantz was enthusiastic about the work, however. A Midwestern boy who worked as a math teacher for four years in Kunming in China’s Yunnan province and a year as a translator in Shenzhen, he chose WashU Olin because he was ready to return to his network of friends and family in the Midwest—and because of Olin’s newly launched global immersion.

MBA students in the global immersion developing a strategy for the next round of a retail computer simulation they ran during their second day in Shanghai. They ran three simulations in the morning, visited Chinese convenience stores in the early afternoon, and completed three additional simulations in the late afternoon.

He said the program had already given him new data-driven tools to help him evaluate business in a more sophisticated way and that he was excited to return to St. Louis to start the core curriculum.

“If school is easy, why would you pay a bunch of money to come here?” he asked. “I came here to be challenged and push myself.”

Coursework and data collection in the field continues next week with course by Fuqiang Zhang and Lingxiu Dong on “Business Operations in a Global Context.” Students complete their trip around the global on August 15 when they return to St. Louis.

Pictured at top: Duckenson Joseph, MBA ’21, questioning a store clerk at one of the Shanghai coffee shops he visited with his counterparts on team 10.

Brinda Gupta, MBA ’20 nabbed a second-place award for her research on earned income tax credits at the university-wide Graduate Research Symposium. At the symposium on March 19, 2019, Gupta presented work she supports through Washington University’s Social Policy Institute.

The study, in partnership with Intuit Inc. and Duke University, posed the hypothetical probability that earned income tax credit recipients would postpone use of their tax refund for six months if offered modest savings bonuses. The EITC is a refundable tax credit and is an opportunity for recipients to increase savings in low- and moderate-households. However, refunds are often used for other purposes such as making large purchases and reducing unsecured debt.

Individuals are likely to save part of their tax refund if they are offered modest bonuses. This has significant policy implications because it suggests that people will save their refund at a much lower rate than what is proposed in a senate bill.”

This work has been done through the Social Policy Institute under the guidance of professors Michal Grinstein-Weiss and Mat Despard. This work is also timely given Olin’s focus on business and policy, such as coursework MBA students take in Washington, D.C. in partnership with the Brookings Institution.

“My role at the Social Policy Institute has magnified my classroom experiences in unique ways such as applying lessons about cross-sector collaboration, industry’s impact in policymaking, and behavioral economics,” Gupta said.

Washington University’s Social Policy Institute will be formally launched in September 2019. Dean Taylor, Kurt Dirks, and Bart Hamilton serve on its faculty steering committee.

Judges, students, faculty, and staff were excited by the study and research presented. Gupta was the only Olin student who presented at the symposium.

“Winning second place alongside PhD students from across campus was extremely humbling and inspired me to continue to take on more responsibilities with the institute team next year,” Gupta said.

The OAS Ventures Team, Jordan Gonen, BSBA ’19, Mickal Haile, JD ’19, Claudia Ortiz Albert, MS ’20, Andrew Schuette, PMBA ’19, Alex Teng, MS ’20, and Kristen Xin, MSCA ’19, contributed this post on behalf of Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning.

The global middle-class and wealthy demographic is expected to reach 47% of the world’s population in 2030 from 34% in 2015. This segment of the population is more concerned with how their calories are produced than how many are produced. Specifically, they are concerned about sustainability, transparency, water conservation, carbon footprint, efficiency, traceability, and local food production.

To address the demands of a growing middle-class and wealthy population, our client, Ospraie Ag Science Ventures (OAS), makes investments in early-stage biopesticide and biological startups where they can address the following demands of this demographic: sustainability, carbon footprint, and efficiency. Carl Casale, the CEO of OAS, former CEO of CHS, former CFO of Monsanto, and Olin alumnus, brings a wealth of industry experience to his investments.

Our student team, diverse with backgrounds in healthcare, investment banking, law, venture capital, computer science, and data analytics eagerly commenced this project in alignment with OAS’ mission of finding ways to leverage capital to address these concerns.

Increasing effectiveness in ag-tech

In our introductory meeting with Carl, we learned a great deal about OAS and the broader ag-tech venture landscape. We also talked through several potential opportunities to increase the effectiveness of deal flow. After several explorations, the team determined our primary objective—increase Carl’s advantage by streamlining and standardizing the diligence process to make it repeatable, reliable, and scalable.   

We began the project by looking to clarify ambiguity in the process and codify best practices. The team investigated OAS’ existing protocols for examining a prospective investment’s intellectual property. We employed a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods to experiment with numerous hypotheses. We explored several potential solutions, encompassing everything from python queries to white-label software platforms to human resources.  This iterative, sprint-style project management approach helped us to uncover new information quickly, trim fat, and work towards our north star.

Over the course of the semester, Carl has been incredibly helpful, always willing to share resources or make relevant introductions. We spoke with a number of relevant stakeholders and industry experts that greatly enhanced our research and learnings. Dozens of phone calls and meetings later, the team has solidified measures and delivered our final recommendations to Carl and the OAS team at an off-site in North Carolina in early May.

Real-world problem solving in action

Participating in the CEL program has given our team a unique opportunity to apply traditional classroom concepts to a dynamic, real-world business environment. From this immersive experience, we have implemented and strengthened several fundamental professional skills, such as user research and strategic design, which have provided tangible value to our client.

Furthermore, we have learned to think as a team while being pushed outside our comfort zones and given the opportunity to explore ambiguous problems and make consequential conclusions. This has been an awesome first-hand experience of real-world problem solving in action.

Students listen as WCC Director Jen Whitten discusses the importance of competitive advantage in all stages of your career during the students’ immersion in Barcelona in July 2019.

In the midst of spreadsheets and cases and site visits and speakers, full-time MBA students are also spending time thinking about themselves and their career journey.

On Day 4 of the Barcelona leg of the MBA global immersion experience, MBA students attended a Weston Career Center-led session “Defining Your Competitive Advantage.” The students were divided into four groups for the session, which relied on a mix of presentation and small group exercises.

Jen Whitten, associate dean and director of the career center, began the session by discussing the importance of knowing who you are, what’s important to you and where you want to go. She stressed that you must be clear on these things to be able to effectively present yourself and your story.

When an opportunity arises—and that could be any time—you need to be ready to convey your best self, whether it’s while you’re networking or interviewing.

A team of MBA students get to know each other—and themselves—as part of a small group interview exercise in Barcelona in July 2019.
A team of MBA students get to know each other—and themselves—as part of a small group interview exercise in Barcelona in July 2019.

Students paired up for personal interviews, each spending five minutes talking about himself or herself. When the class came back together, they shared their thoughts on what they heard from their partners. That was followed up with the pairs conducting second-round interviews with thought-provoking questions as prompts, including:

  • What’s the one activity you most love? How have you made it part of your career?
  • What do you do better than anyone else?
  • Tell me about an experience you’ve had that most others don’t.
  • What do others tell you is your greatest strength? What do people come to you for?

While in Barcelona, Whitten will conduct another session with students to discuss ways to leverage LinkedIn and how to enhance their social media presence. In Shanghai, the career coaching continues on two fronts, starting with developing career search strategies and effectively targeting organizations.

The second area of focus is preparing for case-based interviews by integrating classroom learnings and strategic insights into your personal narrative.

Pictured at top: Students listen as WCC Director Jen Whitten discusses the importance of competitive advantage in all stages of your career during the students’ immersion in Barcelona in July 2019.