Develop an optimized supply chain strategy for an Alabama craft beer company. Develop a marketing strategy for a booming marinade business. Explore new ways a downtown Auburn boutique can generate business online without alienating core customers. These are just some of the case studies Harbert College of BusinessMBA students are handling.
Each fall semester, teams of on-campus and off-campus MBA students are assigned business-related issues from a variety of corporate partners. Projects often revolve around market strategies, industry analysis, SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats), with detailed recommendations. The four-month class is officially titled “Integrated Business Projects and Case Analysis,” but all involved simply refer to it as the “Capstone Project.” Students meet with corporate representatives, who come to campus, to discuss the assignment – then get to work.
“In terms of preparation for a career, in general, the capstone course encouraged and challenged me,” said 2015 graduate Jay Edwards, a financial advisor trainee at Raymond James in Memphis, Tennessee.
Edwards worked with two classmates last fall on a project to review Regions Financial Corporation’s methodology for risk-tiering third-party vendors and validate its alignment with the Federal Reserve Board’s Guidance on Managing Outsourcing Risk. “It taught me how to take open-ended business issues and utilize the unique strengths of each member of our team to create an effective solution within a specified time frame. In a sense, the course provided us with the opportunity step out of the rigid, step-by-step learning processes that the academic world provides, and taste the challenges of solving business issues that do not always have clear answers.”
Vivian Xiong, a Quantitative Development Program Analyst at Regions Financial, didn’t draw the Regions assignment. The 2014 MBA graduate was paired with others to help resolve issues for the Alabama State Port Authority.
“It put me in the real business word environment what we have to make the management level decisions.
“While facing the new task, I had to get a quick response: identify the problem, analyze the problem and solve the problem. Working with other teammates, analyzing business problems, writing business proposal and recommendation and presenting your work to the public, these are all facets of this project brought to me which definitely helped me to adapt to my career quickly.”
Working in a team environment is a critical component of the project.
“Having very little understanding of the abilities of the individuals in my group, I was challenged with developing professional relationships with the members in my group in order that we might individually utilize our unique talents to add value to the final product as a whole,” Edwards said. “All of these elements, combined with our experience in working with high-level executives, have provided me with an extremely valuable experience that I believe will be uniquely foundational for the start of my career in the financial services industry.”
This semester, students are working to:
- Develop an optimized supply chain strategy for Back Forty Beer Company
- Recommend a physician and medical services strategy for recruiting physicians to Montgomery for Baptist Health System
- Help Heartstrings, a downtown Auburn boutique, find a strategy to generate business online without alienating its core customers
- Develop a strategic market assessment for Pitney Bowes, which recently acquired a business into its portfolio that will provide Personalized Interactive Video as another channel of communication to its customers
- Develop a marketing strategy for rapidly-expanding T.Lish, which produces popular dressings and marinades
- Develop and implement a plan for the Huntsville, Alabama, YMCA that will reverse a trend in decreased membership and maximize revenue growth for the future.
Teams will submit their recommendations to clients on Nov. 30 and make formal presentations before client representatives on Dec. 4.
“For the student who is not in the business environment before, or expose in, it will give you all of that,” Xiong said. “It combines theory with practice. Everything you have been learning, reading, and absorbing throughout your education and experiences will be put to the test. Not only do you make real world decisions but see the consequences, impacts, and aftereffects of every single choice.”