MBA candidates: Hands-on business consultants

Three concepts integral to success in today’s business world are competitiveness, profitability, and the ability to collaborate in teams and across disciplines. And few methods of teaching these concepts are more effective than hands-on application alongside classroom lessons.

At the Lundy-Fetterman School of Business, that takes shape in a win-win consulting-based initiative, its signature capstone course — MBA 790: Strategic Management-Live Case Seminar.

In the spring I 2019 term, the program welcomes its third cohort class of 32 graduate business students. To date, the course has seen 11 MBA teams consult with 11 area businesses.

 After being exposed to fundamental aspects of the art and science of business consulting, teams made up of 4 to 5 students each are paired with client companies in the Triangle region. Their semester-long assignment is to analyze and understand the company’s market potential, identifying opportunities to improve competitiveness and profitability. To do so, they conduct primary and secondary research, including owner interviews, a look at employee culture, database searches, and financial and industry analyses – all done under a strict confidentiality agreement.

Throughout the term, each team is mentored by Campbell MBA faculty, an embedded Business librarian and Blackboard technology specialists, as well as professionals from the North Carolina Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC), the organization providing the clients. The projects culminate with submission of a comprehensive written case report and oral presentations made by each MBA team to their peers, faculty, and SBTDC advisors, the latter of whom present the recommendations to the client.

Client evaluations of past cohorts utilized a combination of pre- and post-testing, satisfaction surveys, and learning transfer assessments. The results have overwhelmingly demonstrated a mutually satisfactory and rewarding experience for both the students and their client-companies. Client feedback has praised the responsiveness and analytical depth of our School of Business students as they hone their consulting skills. Of the welcome professional advice they have received, client assessments included these:

“The student team worked diligently to gather and analyze the information within the limited time they were given for the project. Their recommendations were very useful.”

“Everyone was very easy to work with. They exceeded my expectations for the depth of their analysis.”

“I believe that the MBA students responded well to my business needs.”

 “The team members were very professional,” said one client, noting the digital marketing expertise students provided, including help with questions raised about social media marketing, as well as pricing/finance strategy. “They were very understanding and worked together well to provide a quality output.”

In addition to the opportunity to engage with actual clients facing actual business environments and issues, another crucial aspect of the course involves working through the team dynamics required for a successful collaborative effort.  Organizations constantly cite the ability to work in a team to develop innovative solutions utilizing analytical skills as a top priority. The MBA 790 Live Case Seminar provides an outstanding learning vehicle for student members, who often bring diverse functional skills to the team that need to be harnessed and melded into a coherent, collaborative unit while working to identify and serve the client’s needs. It is this challenge that students often cite as the most beneficial result of the experience during a post-project debrief.