A group of eight MSF students and their mentor landed a second-place win at the 2020 Chicago Quantitative Alliance Investment Challenge.
The Chicago Quantitative Alliance “is a professional investment organization comprised of leading quantitative investment practitioners. The CQA membership includes investment managers, academics, plan sponsors, consultants, and other investment professionals. The primary goal of the CQA is to facilitate the interchange of ideas between quantitative professionals.” (CQA Website).
The Investment Challenge allows students to experience every aspect of portfolio management through the Stock-Trak investment simulation platform. Teams are judged on their return value, risk adjusted return and a presentation on their strategy.
Olin’s team consisted of eight students, as well as Cobo HE, MSFQ ’20.
Yitong Cai, MSFQ ’20
Jie Cheng, MSFQ ’20
Miao HE, MSFQ ’20
Xinyuan Hu, MSFQ ’20
Yiming Huang, MSFQ ’20
Aurora Liu, MSFQ ’20
Jingqui Zhao, MSFWAM ’20
Weihao Zhou, MSFQ ’20
Other winning teams included UC San Diego in first place and Union College in third.
Cobo He, student advisor, expressed gratitude for the faculty who worked with him and his fellow students. “I’m especially grateful to Profs. Guofu Zhou and Hans Fredrikson, who gave us some useful investment advice and shared their insights to help us. And Professor Timothy is so responsible and did a lot to follow up and help us.”
Alex Ignatius, MBA ’21, wrote this on behalf of her team from the Center for Experiential Learning for the Olin Blog.
The restaurant industry was hit hard as the coronavirus swept through the United States. Some businesses shuttered their doors, others converted their operations to curbside pick-up and delivery. Nearly everyone was forced to make deep cuts to their front-of-house and culinary workforce.
As part of Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning, our consulting team analyzed how a leading New York-based restaurant group should most effectively re-open, recruit staff, attract customers and remain profitable coming out of the COVID-19 crisis.
Over the span of four months, and with support and guidance from Lamar Pierce, professor of organization and strategy at Olin, our team of MBAs and master’s students in customer analytics and financial analytics quickly immersed ourselves in the complex business of hospitality to provide objective recommendations on the viability of our client’s current policies.
The biggest hurdle our team had to overcome during this project was: How do you maintain team camaraderie and productivity during a global pandemic? It’s a challenge every team no doubt faced as quarantine took hold around the world. Three team members from China had spent the previous months worrying about their families under lock-down back home, only to have the tables turned as strict shelter-in-place orders took effect in St. Louis and across the United States.
“Growing up as the daughter of a restaurant critic, and working in the restaurant industry for a decade, I was very excited to be a part of a project that really dove into the issues of compensation, mission and communication with the guest. Add to that the pandemic that traumatically shut down most hospitality establishments, we soon became involved with a project much larger than just the client themselves, but with the entire hospitality industry.”
Susie Bonwich, MBA ’21
During moments of crisis it is important for leaders to “bring the weather” – to set the tone for how to adapt and move forward in the face of uncertainty and disruption. As a team lead, I channeled this mantra – preparing very intentionally for each internal and client-facing meeting to be sure that our meetings were a highlight of the team’s day—and the client’s. One team member joined each client call “sitting” in a different one of their restaurants. This brought a big smile to everyone’s face when we logged in each week.
Our cats also became important members of our extended team. Their analytics skills, however, were not up to snuff (see photo at top: clockwise from top, Alex Ignatius, MBA ’21, with Olivia; Steve Lach, MBA ’21, with Queijo; and Vanessa Liu, MSCA ’20, with Happy).
The second key learning is how moments of crisis can bring incredible opportunity. Our project began as an exploratory mission for this restaurant group to look at some of the policies and decisions they had implemented over the past five years.
“It’s a rewarding experience to work on such a challenging but productive project. I learned a lot in the process of working with people from different backgrounds and tackling a real-world business issue together.”
Jinghui Yan, MSCA ’20
But once COVID-19 set in and the disastrous impact it was having on the restaurant industry became clear, our work on behalf of the CEL quickly became elevated to a key strategic priority. What started as a simple CEL project became one of the most important questions on everyone’s minds: How do restaurants think about re-opening and re-recruiting their laid-off employees after the quarantine lifts? As a business, how do we balance purpose and compensation for our employees, and how do we think about the guest experience and the reality of reduced covers when we must reconfigure dining room layouts to accommodate new social distancing standards?
We were able to make a meaningful difference to a business that desperately needed help during a time that was isolating, lonely and distressing. This CEL project gave us a sense of purpose when so many of us were feeling trapped.
“This project gave me an opportunity to apply what I have learned in class to empower real-world business decisions. There is no better way to experience business and implement your skills than a practicum project.”
Vanessa Liu, MSCA ’20
Our team rose to the challenge, conquered the complexities of analyzing ambiguous data, extracted significant insights and presented a final report with actionable recommendations to an audience of 25 client team members and WashU faculty over Zoom.
As shared by a professor and mentor to the team, “This is the work caliber of a full-time consulting organization working three-plus months at 80 to 100 hours a week—and you all did so with significantly less time and in the midst of a global pandemic that shifted the operations of (the client) as well as the industry as a whole.”
This CEL project was significant to our personal and professional development at Olin and is the type of real-world business experience that will continue to inform our work long after graduation.
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.”
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.
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.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down campus and
eliminated the possibility of in-person celebrations, WashU Olin still plans to
recognize all our graduating students this year.
Washington University’s Chancellor
Andrew Martin announced his creation of an Alternate Commencement Committee
on April 17. That committee will examine the best way to honor the class of
2020 throughout WashU when it becomes safe to do so. While no formal
announcements have been made, the committee plans to have more information
In the meantime, WashU Olin will move forward with virtual
graduation recognition ceremonies that supplement, but do not replace, the
university-wide celebration. On May 8 and May 15, Olin will release virtual
graduation videos for each planned ceremony at the time of the original event.
Each video celebration will include remarks from Dean Mark
P. Taylor and Chancellor Andrew Martin, student speakers, announcements of
student award recipients and remarks from the Reid Teaching Award winners. Though
the degree candidates will not be able to “walk” during the ceremonies, their
names will scroll on the screen during the presentations.
Executive Education: EMBA & WashU at
Brookings master of science in leadership, 10:30 a.m.
Friday, May 15
BSBA, 11:30 a.m.
Graduate programs, 3 p.m.
We welcome any photos or reflections from your participation
in our graduation ceremonies. Please share any images or videos with us
@wustlbusiness and use #WashU20. Though this isn’t the ceremony any of us
expected, we offer our heartfelt congratulations to the class of 2020.
Shivani Jain, MBA ’21, wrote this for the Olin Blog.
In the fall semester, 2019, we, a group of four MBA and specialized master’s candidates, became a part of the St. Louis Impact Initiative (SLII), an organization known for “Bridging the gap: Empowering Entrepreneurs Together.”
It lies under the philanthropic arm of the BALSA Group, which supports first-time entrepreneurs in the St. Louis area by providing necessary support and resources to grow their enterprise.
We dedicated ourselves as student consultants to Karen Rogier, inventor, and sole proprietor of a unique product—the moving device by the commercial name of MOVEREZE. The name comes from the ease of gliding heavy boxes down the stairs.
Karen, our enthusiastic client, has a story of her own behind this bootstrapping venture of bringing the product to life. She was struck with the idea while helping her son and daughter-in-law move boxes from their apartment to their new home.
Using the MOVEREZE device, they were able to conveniently carry multiple boxes at once, saving time and reducing the effort of going up and down the stairs. Karen wishes to “bring her invention to the masses.” We feel energized every time we talk to her, and she responds with a refreshing attitude to succeed in this endeavor.
Our team performed extensive market research suggesting that there’s no such product available currently; its simple design and ease of use by any age group or gender struck a chord with the focus group during the product testing we held at Olin Business School last month. This patented product looks similar to a yoga mat, with handles on both the ends to stack heavy boxes and pull them down the stairs single-handedly beating the brow sweat.
It is crafted to provide long term durability and can be effortlessly rolled and stored in any corner of your house or car, not requiring a dedicated space and is hazard-proof. It’s worth a buy for those tough moving or shopping days. It’s even nice and warm picnic days when you want to carry heavy picnic baskets to your car or your child’s car seat or stroller down the stairs with ease even if you’re not a regular gym-goer.
Moreover, it’s a boon, especially for those of us who live by ourselves or in a building without elevators. We are currently helping Karen market the product and bring the business to life.
This moving device is now available to be purchased on the website and we are working to partner with other retail and online stores to make it widely available. Check her website to buy the device and show her some support by spreading a word about this wonderful product to your friends and family.
Are you an angel investor or professional and want to know more about this enterprise or support Karen in building her business through marketing strategies or social media promotion? Please contact us!
Direct Supply is a company that specializes in providing equipment, e-commerce, and service solutions to the senior living industry. With 35 years of history, it has many customers. For this project, we focused on the business’s products. Our goal was to leverage data to draw insights that Direct Supply could use to improve customer experience and operational performance.
Field trip to Direct Supply
To better understand Direct Supply’s business model, the team went on a one-day field trip to Milwaukee, where Direct Supply is located. After the interaction with the sales team, marketing team, data science team and supply chain team, we had a more robust understanding of the business and the ways our project could be transformative
We also understood that the project is not solely about writing code and answering the questions, but also about testing the viability of our recommendations.
Real-world challenge and timely adjustment
As we dug deeper into the project, we found that the initial hypothesis that we were working with wasn’t feasible. “Welcome to the real world,” said our professor, Seethu Seetharaman. As we sought to pivot our analysis, Professor Seethu and Professor Michael Wall offered us a lot of help in redefining the questions and finding other approaches to solving the problem. We finally figured out an alternative approach that could fulfill Direct Supply’s initial goal.
Projects won’t always go
smoothly as planned, and challenges would always appear along the journey. The
faculty advisors, CEL committee and CEL fellow were helpful in ensuring that the
team was on the right track.
This was a precious experience for the team. The project offered us a great opportunity to get involved in solving real-world business problems. It was definitely the highlight of our academic experience at WashU.
Pictured at top: A client representative; Preston Tharp, MBA ’20; Nithin Ramachandran, client; Aria Ren, MSCA ’19; Franklyn Nnakwue, MBA ’20; Cathy Wang, MSCA ’19; Ryan Sun, MSCA ’19; Amy Yu, MSCA ’19; Michael Wall, CEL/CABI faculty adviser; Prateek Deval, MBA ’20; Seethu Seetharman, CEL/CABI faculty adviser.