Tag: Full-time MBA

Purina CEL team (left to right): Lucy Sun, MSAA

This spring, our team of two MBAs and five specialized masters students had the opportunity to work on a data-driven consulting engagement for our client, Nestlé Purina PetCare, through the company’s partnership with Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning and the Center for Analytics and Business Insights.

With a rich history in pet care, Purina is a globally competitive leader that makes world-class products and drives pet nutrition forward through research. For our project, Purina tasked us with providing recommendations for changing consumer perceptions about senior pet nutrition to increase sales in the senior pet food category.

Our team was very excited for the chance to tackle a real-world marketing project. Team member Margaret Cai, MSCA ’20, shared that she was initially interested in working on the Purina project because it “…provided a fantastic opportunity for me to develop my thoughts and create valuable suggestions.”

Under the guidance of faculty advisors—Professor Michael Wall, Professor Seethu Seetharaman, and Professor Meng Liu—our team was able to pair what we’ve learned in the classroom with data insights and industry research to develop a marketing strategy for senior pet food.

A new virtual reality

What started out as a normal semester took a turn when our campus had to react to the COVID-19 pandemic. For our CEL team, this posed unexpected challenges and disrupted our normal working environment—quite suddenly, we had to account for having team members across four time zones.

While half of our team was still in St. Louis, other team members returned to family homes in Columbus, Ohio; Big Sky, Montana; and Vancouver, British Columbia. We had gone from sharing conference rooms to being spread across two countries!

Despite our new situation and rapidly changing policies around COVID-19, we wanted to make sure that we could still deliver an excellent work product to our client. Our team moved quickly to adjust plans and work processes to accommodate our new reality.

Fortunately, we were able to use tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom video conferencing to help our remote team collaborate effectively. Being able to speak with other CEL teams and share our experiences also helped us all find ways to navigate our new environment and manage our projects.

Team member Kevin Jin, MSCA ’20, said, “In this special period, the CEL program gave me not only experience with a real business project, but also emotional support from team members and faculty.”

Real-world experience

In early May, the team was able to virtually present key insights and recommendations to about 30 Purina team members. With positive feedback from Purina and enthusiastic discussion, it was a wonderful conclusion to the semester.

WashU practicum students virtually shared their final presentation with the Purina team.

Navigating this unique experience with our clients at Purina provided a great learning opportunity for the student team. Team lead Leslie Ramey, MBA ’20, said, “I think the uncertainty we faced during the semester helped us focus more on building relationships to support our project work. The circumstances definitely pushed me further as a leader, and thanks to great support from Purina and the CEL, we were all able to have a positive experience.”

Team member Angela Li, MSCA ’20, said the project gave her a new perspective because she found that real business problems were more complicated than those faced in the classroom and this drove the team to be creative in their approach.

“[The project] gave me a chance to apply the knowledge and skills I learned from school to the real business world…. This experience allowed me to take a glance at my future career life, and consequently helped me prepare for it better.” Lucy Sun, MSAA ’20, agreed and said the project also helped improve communication skills.

“We needed to express our ideas and thoughts with team members and also explain our results and findings with our clients” she said. “After this project, we all could communicate very effectively.” 

For other students hoping to engage in a CEL practicum project, team member Margaret Cai said her top piece of advice is “the more you devote yourself, the more you learn,” which is a lesson our whole team will take with us into our future careers.

Pictured at top: Purina CEL team (left to right): Lucy Sun, MSAA ’20, Margaret Cai, MSCA ’20, Leslie Ann Ramey, MBA ’20, Shantanu Pande, MBA ’21, Kevin Jin, MSCA ’20, Angela Li, MSCA ’20 and Dominique Nie, MSCA ’20.

The first in a series about CEL practicums from Olin MBA students. Today, we hear from the Emerson team. Members of the team are Chi Yee, Annabelle Zhu, Anne Chen, Gaurav Malik, Leo Huang, Claire Liu and Lehai Li.

Emerson, a global manufacturing company that addresses some of the world’s most complex challenges with innovative solutions, is actively seeking to evolve the organization toward more data-driven decision-making in its marketing functions.

Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning team was thrilled to have the opportunity to work closely with key stakeholders from Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions platform to develop a playbook for the company to deploy across its businesses to help better leverage data in its daily workflow.

Cross-company conversations

To better understand the company structure, workflow and respective business unit data utilization levels, the CEL team conducted 30 interviews with key marketing and IT team members. These conversations were extremely helpful in understanding how the various businesses are leveraging data and the challenges encountered as teams are adopting a more data-driven culture.

It was through these cross-company conversations that the CEL team was able to learn more about Emerson’s organizational culture and how it leverages data into business-level decisionmaking.

Pictured above: the Emerson CEL Team: Chi Yee, Annabelle Zhu, Anne Chen, Gaurav Malik, Leo Huang, Claire Liu, Lehai Li

These conversations oriented the CEL team and equipped us to understand overarching challenges in using data to make marketing decisions. Recognizing these challenges, the CEL team is developing a playbook that defines and prioritizes key performance indices across the customer journey.

In addition to enabling business marketing teams to track and measure their overall marketing channel effectiveness, the playbook will also help identify data gaps. Understanding that the playbook must be user-friendly and applicable to business teams that are at varying stages of data use, the CEL team worked closely with Emerson to ensure alignment with current marketing workflows across the organization.

Additionally, Olin Business School professors Michael Wall and Seethu Seetharaman provided the team with a lot of guidance and professional expertise that helped ensure that the CEL team was developing an actionable and responsive tool.

Adjusting to a crisis

The sudden outbreak of COVID-19 created some uncertainty within the scope of this project, especially given the preferred high level of stakeholder engagement preferred. The CEL team worked closely with Emerson, however, to facilitate a smooth transition to online meetings that would minimize any disruption in project delivery.

The CEL practicum was an invaluable experience that allowed the team to gain exposure to challenges that many companies face as businesses continue to embrace more sources of data and incorporate insights into daily decision-making processes.

This project, in particular, allowed the CEL team to hear from executives at the highest levels in the organization and understand how they are thinking about the future of their business. This project gave the CEL team members the opportunity to apply what they are currently learning in their classes to a “real world” corporate challenge.

This project broadened our perspectives beyond the classroom and better-equipped us to become key contributors to organizations in our future careers.

Pictured above: Emerson Representatives: Mark Dunson, Dennis Traver, Jim Squires, Tracy Reiter; CEL Faculty Advisors: Michael Wall, Seethu Seetharaman; CEL fellow: Sarah Fuller; CEL Team: Chi Yee; Annabelle Zhu; Anne Chen; Gaurav Malik; Leo Huang; Claire Liu

Ben Dalton, MBA ’20, is an 11-year US Army veteran and lives with his wife and two children in Ballwin, Missouri. He taught leadership psychology at the US Military Academy.

Ben Dalton, MBA ’20

In the rush to separate because of the COVID-19 pandemic, teams were not prepared to be apart for this long. Co-workers are immersed in their home life more than ever before and have to act like a team at home rather than the touch-and-go points through calls, Zooms meetings, emails, etc.

With the new normal that has lasted more than a few weeks (and as long as two months for some), your work team has established new norms and practices that are either universally accepted or adequate for now until the business and team get back to steady state. When the moment arrives to return to a new normalcy, old norms and new norms must be reconciled. The time to plan team reintegration is now.

I lay out five topics to think about as teams reintegrate. Those areas of focus include: maintaining digital systems, setting clear expectations, planning gatherings for smaller teams, providing mental and physical support, and updating work-from-home plans and policies.

I first heard the term “reintegration” when I was preparing for return from my first deployment.

I was told I would be spending the first 10 days in Colorado Springs, Colorado, upon returning from Iraq—a scheduled plan 4,000-plus soldiers would also follow. The plan involved some time off, some classes to talk about the rules back at home, couples’ classes for those with significant others and medical screening.

The Army protected its human capital by investing in opportunities to transition from deployment to home-state operations. Rather than soldiers paying for their own therapy or classes upon return, the Army spent money to build this reintegration plan and provide additional resources to soldiers (behavioral health clinical support and new equipment).

Similarly, the return to school during a normal year when students return from winter break or summer vacation can create similar problems. When I was a student teacher in college, my first-graders hated coming in from recess. But there was a plan to redirect their attention.

Reintegrating a team into a new normal allows you to protect your human capital. How much focus each of these five topics requires depends on how a team operated or practiced their team norms.  

Maintain digital systems

My neighbors are spread across a few industries. They have set up workspace in their homes in order to get work done now—with a few kids running around. Not everyone is coming back to the office on the same day. Teams using digital platforms or conference call numbers should continue to do so for some time. Adding the Zoom link or the conference number, even when just one team member is not yet back in the office, will allay any fear of being the odd person out.

A Gartner survey sampling CFOs found that more than 70% intend to have some employees permanently work from home post COVID-19. Individuals who stay remote will look for assurance that they are still fully integrated with the team.  

Set clear expectations

Employees have been dealing with many different scenarios in their remote workplaces. The team leader will be responsible for ensuring the team gets back to producing at pre-COVID-19 levels.

Setting clear expectations early and often will open up the conversation.

One approach: Take stock of where the team member is starting. Ask about their remote setting. What detracted from or enhanced their focus and work effort? Then, adjust and align their priorities with team goals.

A few of these conversations may need to happen due to changing strategy or operations within the overall company. This is also a good time to align a teammate’s roles and responsibilities with the company and the team. Do they make sense? Is the teammate doing a different job than they were hired for? To set them up for success, make changes now, while a teammate is in transition. I advocate matching roles and responsibilities to what the teammate is actually doing, not returning to the original roles and responsibilities.

Plan gatherings for smaller teams

As teams come back together, they will want to celebrate. After my deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, my unit always threw a big party a few weeks after everyone returned to celebrate being home—among other things. Given the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and limitations on groups of more than 10, a big party may not be possible.

Regardless, most are looking forward to seeing someone other than their family. The plan can be simple. Be sure to include team members only, get input on the details from the team, communicate the plan to outside groups and incorporate time for people to share (if they want). Host this gathering near or at work to get the group back to a team again.

Imagine seven or eight people coming back from a six-week “vacation.” To get the team involved in the gathering, ask where they ate or wished they had while they were at home. If a team supports others within the organization, communicate to stakeholders when no one will be available.

It is important for all team members to join and not have one person stuck at an on-call station.

A teammate may want to share some of the things that occurred that didn’t make it to a Zoom happy hour or email chain. While these opportunities should not be forced, make sure all teammates have the ability to share if they want to. Just remember all teammates might not return to work at the physical office, ensure the timing of the event allows for all teammates to join in the gathering.

Provide mental/physical support

Students at Washington University in St. Louis receive weekly emails with the resources for mental, physical or emotional well-being. Many of these resources existed before the global pandemic, some are new, and all are accessible wherever a student resides. Some individuals will not be severely affected by COVID-19. Others may be devasted by the loss of family members. This range may continue as individuals return to a common workplace. Team leaders should keep the individual reaction in mind when planning for resources.

Leaders might allow some to work from home more frequently to slowly transition back into the office. If a teammate needs more time because they are uncomfortable with the situation they are in, work a plan to ensure the teammate can get their work done and feel supported. Restate the available resources—not just through email—to ensure people who need help will see it.

Update work-from-home policies

In the Army, after an event is completed, troops conduct an after-action review to determine what went well and what can be improved. Chances are teams and businesses are updating as they go and establishing new rules over time. If work-from-home becomes necessary again, a plan could already be established based on this experience. It may be time to update policies that did not work for remote work or to allow more of employees to work remotely.

As the team leader, solicit feedback from the team or one-on-one: What good came out of the team? What needed improvement? Focus on team improvement, not individuals. Assign teams to design fixes or solutions to the problems and report back. Share best practices with the organization and senior leadership. Publish policy updates to ensure teammates are on the same page.

While these are some ways to start thinking about team reintegration, a team leader should know their team best and decide how to prepare for the comeback.

The classmates of Brinda Gupta, MBA ’20, chose her to deliver the student speech at their graduation recognition ceremony this year. This is the speech she delivered.

Thank you to all family and friends watching this in support of our graduating class today. And thank you to the university and school administration, faculty, and staff who have tirelessly worked to make the Olin experience truly incredible and transformative for us.

Although this is not how any of us expected our program to end, our gratitude for all of you is so steadfast—during such chaotic and unprecedented times, one thing that has truly remained constant is the support and love you have provided to our class and to the greater Olin community.

And personally, a special thank you to my parents and sister, and those who made St. Louis feel like home to me: the Reichold, Weiss and Harkins families.

Most importantly though today, thank you to my fellow classmates for an unforgettable two years. I feel so deeply humbled and honored to represent our class today. I can’t believe how fast this all flew by! Congratulations!

Back to the beginning

Let’s go back to the fall of 2018. We’d just started the program. We were still figuring out how to best work with our core teams, or determining the effort needed to “high pass” a class (and honestly, determining whether that effort was even worth it).

It was a little messy and awkward—but I expected things in the classroom to feel that way in the beginning. What I didn’t expect is how we’d all come together to stretch new muscles outside of the classroom—and how that would transform our experience as a community of learners.

The fall of 2018, this time of awkwardness and insecurity, coincided with one of my favorite times of year and a tradition which I grew up with: the Indian holiday of Diwali.

I was so ecstatic to see how wonderfully WashU embraces this unique holiday—from Dean Taylor dressing in full Indian attire to our administration fully supporting the Olin India Club leadership to host a Diwali event on campus.

This high-energy, on-campus event allows the WashU community to learn more about the Indian culture… through dancing! In a time when we barely knew each other and had so much school work, our class came together to learn Indian dance—something entirely new.

Learning to dance—together

We did not know each other, and we were a uniquely diverse group: Our entire class includes students from countries all over the globe, parents, veterans, nearly 1/2 women and so much more.

This was shown during Diwali: People who signed up to perform were actually unfamiliar with the Indian culture. And, I don’t think my classmates knew what they were signing up for!

We were going to be in full costume and learning choreography that includes a blend of both powerful and graceful steps, jumping with each other in unison and choreographed gestures. 

We would transform our classrooms into practice dance studios by pushing tables against the walls, following the lead of choreographers and trusting each other. Our practices were messy: accidentally hitting or pushing each other, forgetting steps, having people come in and out at different times because of our busy schedules…

We couldn’t figure out how to control a classroom’s temperatures, so there were times when we would just run outside in the middle of practices (even in the pouring rain) for a breath fresh air. We only could practice in the real stage and auditorium once.

But the final show day—a sold-out event, bright lights, music, excellent food, made it all worth it. It didn’t matter how perfect we were on stage. What mattered was that we made it there. 

Not unique

These expansive experiences showed me how people stepped out of routine and out of their comfort zones. It showed me how sharp, funny, and beautiful our class is when are together. And this wasn’t just when we were performing for Diwali.

Our entire class is so nimble and willing to absorb new experiences. One of my best friends Lael led a consulting team all the way in Madagascar.  Students self-designed courses in Scandinavia, South Korea, and Japan. People who worked in the corporate sector their entire life stepped up to help local nonprofits in need.

And, more recently, we managed to rush from our beds to the couch in the morning to get to class in record speeds. These meaningful experiences paired with our classroom learning set the tone for the rest of my MBA experience. 

I am so proud and privileged to be part of the Class of 2020. We are now entering a world that looks much more different from when we entered the program. But I can’t imagine a more resilient class to take on this challenge.

Similar to our Diwali dance practices, it’s the time for us to make space for generosity and nimbleness as we navigate a new world. While we are starting different roles spanning from nonprofit management to overseeing global supply chains, we will all have such a great impact on leaving the world a better place.

The world is calling us now to jump on stage again.

And I’m so excited to see everyone’s path, your own dance routine and continue learning from each and every one of you. 

Thank you. 

Part of a series about summer internships from Olin MBA ’20 students. Today we hear from Claudia Otis, who worked at Microsoft as a finance intern.

How did I prepare for my interview/land the internship?

I applied to the finance position at Microsoft through Prospanica’s job portal. Shortly after, I got an email saying that they wanted to interview me at the career fair.

I researched the company and the cultural change it was undergoing since Satya Nadella became CEO.

I prepared behavioral and technical questions. For example, the reasons why I wanted to work in tech and at Microsoft after working in investment banking.

After I passed the first round, Microsoft called me for the on-site interview. I prepared by doing mock interviews with my career coach at the WCC and with another classmate who was also going to the final interview.

Once the day of the final interview arrived, I just tried to be myself, relate to people and be confident about my preparation. I was so happy when I got the email saying I got the position!

How I am using what I have learned at Olin during my internship?

At Olin, I improved my networking skills, which helped me during my internship to interact with different teams and people, expanding my network within Microsoft.

Thanks to my class of Power and Politics with Peter Boumgarden, I was aware of the politics within the company. I was able to read the room and navigate conversations taking the lessons I learned from the course into account.

The CEL project I did over the spring taught me how to work on a broad end-to-end project and manage relationships with the team and main stakeholders.

How the internship is preparing me for my final year at business school?

Managing my own project at Microsoft has helped me develop the confidence to lead a CEL project in the fall semester. I also feel more comfortable with broad or ambiguous projects. The internship at Microsoft gave me the opportunity to interact with very talented people, interns and full-time employees, and make new connections I can leverage during my last year of the MBA.

This was written by the current Olin/United Way Board Fellows Program students who agreed to share their feedback anonymously from a recent survey. It was compiled by Amy VanEssendelft, CEL Senior Program Manager.

The Center for Experiential Learning provides an opportunity for MBA, PMBA and EMBA students to serve for a full year as a voting member of a local United Way member organization’s board through the Olin/United Way Board Fellows Program.  Al Kent serves as the program director for this opportunity. Al has been a member of over a dozen nonprofit boards throughout his life.

Every year, he outlines goals (highlighted below) for the students who participate in this program.  Under each goal are comments from current students who are participating in the program. These comments demonstrate how each goal is in the process of being achieved, especially with, and in spite of, the current COVID-19 challenges.

Work to define and solve an ambiguous problem

“I really appreciate the support and autonomy I’ve been given for my project.  I have built an understanding of the board dynamic and have gained support from key stakeholders.”  

“As I go forward, I have continued to learn to be agile and adaptive and look at creative ways to develop the advocacy campaign within (my agency) despite the limitations the current environment has placed on us.”  

“The president of my board said something in my first meeting which I remember vividly: If an organization succeeds, everyone is responsible for that success.  However, if an organization fails, it is the board’s fault.” 

Deepen understanding of leadership

“This has given me a different perspective on the leadership role boards play, and is particularly poignant right now during this crisis as our board is faced with incredibly difficult decisions.”  

“Watching how the executive director navigates the board and rallies them to action has been an incredible learning opportunity for me.”

 “In the most recent board meeting, I was able to witness in real time how an organization’s leadership communicates about and responds to a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

“I’ve observed how people bring their diverse backgrounds to the table and how interactions proceed when experienced leaders have a common goal.”

Understand how nonprofits work and learn board governance

“They are mission-driven and conscious about their budget/strategy/customer services just like any other entity.”

“I’m very surprised that a nonprofit could do such an amazing job and run like a corporation.”

 “Now, I see the crucial role they play in setting budgets, hiring directors, and truly deciding the direction of their organization.”  

 “Participating in all the board committee meetings helps me understand how everything comes together.”

Develop a professional network and build passion

“I have had the opportunity to interact with very high-impact individuals who are passionate about their mission and vision.” 

“It is clear that the board members are not just there because they are high dollar donors, but instead because they are incredibly engaged and passionate about the mission.” 

 “Their positivity is infectious and this motivates me to go forward.”