Business students use consulting projects to leverage their position in the workforce
Executive MBA consulting projects show long-term value in a highly dynamic and competitive global economy. Schools require students to consult on a wide array of practical and relevant business cases and students use these projects to hone skills, enhance existing job roles, and better yet, for the displaced worker a leg up in the competition for new jobs. In a shrinking hiring environment such EMBA consulting projects are making all the difference to secure the coveted job or continue up the corporate ladder.
The Middle Manager Squeeze, a term coined by EMBA World in 2005, describes the challenges facing a white-collar workforce prior to the 2008 financial crisis. Workers
face longer work hours and increased demand in output coupled with a plateaued
salary after adjusted for inflation and a higher cost of living, health care, education and the rest. The middle manager squeeze runs parallel to the squeeze on the middle class. Now with nothing more to squeeze, industry has begun to shrink the middle manager. Larry Katz, an economist at Harvard recently reported in MarketWatch that even well-paid positions in the U.S. over the next decade will shift to countries where labor is cheaper. If manufacturing can move to Mexico, South America and Asia, who says a CEO can’t be outsourced next? In the future lots of middle and upper middle class jobs will be in decline, Katz explains.
The job market is changing and on fast track since the 2008 financial crisis. Even some highly paid workers find retooling a necessity to maintain job security. Job changers and those seeking reemployment have more to battle to get even a foothold back into the career track. Companies are finding ways to simplify roles to reduce the need to pay higher wages says Jeffrey Joerres , CEO of Manpower Group, a Milwaukee-based staffing service firm. No position is untouchable and even Wall Street firms announced job reductions in the upcoming third and fourth quarter of 2011.
Faced with uncertain job prospects in an already crowded unemployment line, what is a
worker to do? The academic route is one of the first to consider and the Executive MBA has shown to hold its value long term. The 2010 EMBA survey by EMBA World showed that most Executive MBA graduates remain employed and 40% surveyed of those surveyed were still with the same employer. This bodes well for EMBA graduates and for prospects thinking of attending business school and deciding between the traditional MBA, part time MBA, or the Executive MBA. The EMBA is designed for people who wish to secure the degree within two years and not drop out of the workforce. The EMBA typically includes one or more consulting projects with practical application either at the sponsoring company or organized through the university. Either way, students are using the EMBA consulting project to further enhance their skills and draw upon the projects
as strategies to secure new jobs or reinforce their current place of employment.
The EMBA consulting project is a win-win-win. Employers embrace highly intelligent
and motivated students, problem solvers to costly problems, and at a price that a McKinsey consultant or Boston Consulting Group specialist could not entertain. Universities build bridges with corporation, provide memorable experiences and
skills to students, and fill the semester with a practicum. Students garner real life experiences, network with hiring professionals, and leverage the project to their own needs whether applying the findings to their own employer or when securing a new job.
What kinds of business school consulting projects exist and how applicable could
they possibly be to the real world? They range from marketing to finance and typically incorporate a broad range of coursework and interpersonal skills. They typically are part of the capstone, which is a final project or exam representative of the two year EMBA program. Going into the project the EMBA students are unfamiliar with the company. They must conduct an in-depth analysis, synthesize and distill their findings, develop a strategy and recommendations for the client, and present those recommendations to the
client. It may sound cliché but this truly is a hands-on experience.
Here are just a few examples:
- London, England’s prestigious Thurleigh Investment Managers needed a model to measure at which points markets reach unsustainable levels. Other projects have included
studying market penetration strategies of western companies into the Chinese market, reports Erin Ericsson, graduate of the Said Business School, Oxford University.
- Lucent China wanted to move from a product organization to a service/solution organization. What are the steps and what is the strategy to achieve this goal? Another project was BMW Financial Services in Beijing who not only wanted to grow the financial services products for automobiles in Asia but beyond. What is the strategy asks Dr. Francis Petit, Associate Dean for Executive MBA Programs, Fordham University.
- Our EMBA program includes the Business Practicum course, in which students complete a 3-month consulting project for a real client who would otherwise have to hire professional consultants. The projects are very high level, the list of
companies is quite impressive– including NASA, the Cleveland Indians, the
Cleveland Clinic describes Ann Csongei, Communications Coordinator, Nance
College of Business Administrations, Cleveland State University.
Social responsibility and green jobs are increasingly finding their way into class consulting. As Francis Petit of Fordham University describes, more organizations are interested in corporate social responsibility (CSR) as well as “green” and “global”
strategies for competitive advantage. Said Business School offers a business consulting project that focuses on social entrepreneurship in the Australian outback. If you interview for an EMBA be sure to inquire where the business consulting project will take place and the business case for study.
There is mixed reviews in terms of corporate participation and this may be due more to local industries than anything else. The retraction in financial services in New York City puts the burden on JP Morgan Chase to find resources to manage and facilitate their business school consulting project. “It is not easy to find managers willing to take on another responsibility given their increasingly heavy work load or decimation of
certain departments,” describes A J Blake, vice president of Corporate Communications. Other tactics that schools employ is to build stronger connections with local companies and build the plans for a master project that may entail several phases each carried out by subsequent classes. This way the school stays connected long term and so do the alumni in helping prepare the next class for their project. “Some companies who sponsor students each year roll out a sequence of projects that build on each other; that is, in Year 1, the first class does one phase, in Year 2, the next class undertakes a new phase that builds on class 1’s capstone, and so on.
For EMBA students what does this mean and how can the experience be leveraged upon graduation? Consulting projects are a highlight of the EMBA experience. It reinforces the materials taught in class and brought relevance to classwork never experienced in the
outside world. From my own experience, it can be a thrill to hear my host company in publications. My EMBA class at Fordham University ’00 helped Lenovo, the largest computer manufacturer in China devise, a strategy to become a major computer manufacturer worldwide.
When they reached global Fortune 500 status two years after our presentation in Beijing it was like a page right out of our project. The Lenovo board apparently took our acquisition strategy to heart.
“I take pride in the accomplishments and personalities I encountered while on the job. I
was thrilling to dig deep into the change management and new product
development case study at Texas Instruments, says Casey Wildeham, of the
McCombs School of Business, University of Texas in Austin. “I developed great
team leadership skills and referenced the results of my project during my
interviews. Now I am applying similar skills at Dell Computers.”
Such successful examples in the classroom are drawn out in job interviews, resumes,
cover letters and with employment agencies. These highly practical experiences
separate candidates into an entirely different class. During interviews students
draw experience from the consulting project to the prospective position. Such
parallels will make all the difference between two candidates – one with real
world experience and one out from the cold.
“Whether you are on the job or looking, the business school consulting project is an
asset that needs to be highlighted at every possible opportunity. It is unique,
practical, hopefully still relevant, and the one aspect on your record that
separates you from the next candidate”, says Marjorie Perlmutter, senior
director of Employment Enterprises, a private hiring consultant firm in New
York City for top 100 public companies.
In the years to come as the middle manager market shrinks and the skill set of the
white-collar employee changes, practical and unique experience will become even
more important to maintain employment. With a consulting project that shows
real bottom line value measured in real savings or real income growth gained
from an impressive business school consulting project may make all the
difference between you and the other candidate fighting for that one position.
By Jason Price, Director, EMBA World (2011)