The business school here is doing an excellent job of prepping future business leaders and I think this is going to end up being incredibly helpful for us."
Kunyu Li and Whitley Dykes began serving handmade Chinese food to international students at Auburn University in 2017. The couple’s mission turned into a popular food truck – Dumps Like A Truck – and a small restaurant on North Donahue Drive – The Irritable Bao, specializing in dumplings.
But how can this popular Auburn eatery enhance its production process? What should the family business’ future marketing strategy be in order to achieve long-term growth?
Enter 136 Harbert College of Business MBA students. The college’s Team Resource and Applied Consulting (TRAC) program tasks students to tackle real-world business problems similar to what they might encounter later in their careers. After four months of crunching data, formulating business plans and identifying consumer trends, presented their findings – which remain proprietary -- before Dykes and Li – and representatives from seven other firms on Friday, December 6.
“The students came up with a lot of great ideas that we can implement going forward – things we haven’t thought about,” said Dykes, former Student Services Advisor at Auburn Global. “They offered not just a consumer’s perspective, but a perspective that comes from a very educated person. The business school here is doing an excellent job of prepping future business leaders and I think this is going to end up being incredibly helpful for us.”
Li, who grew up in China where she perfected her craft for making dumplings, agreed.
“For us as a startup business, especially since we’re so new in the community, the students offer professional perspectives on things that we don’t have the resources or the experience,” she said. “They offered us great insight and it’s going to help our business grow in a very practical way.
“One of our biggest challenges is how to meet the need of our community and our customers, but we have limitations. The students’ suggestions, if we can implement them into our business, is going to help us to meet more needs and more people, which makes it more sustainable for us as business owners and part of the community.”
Shipt, a membership-based delivery marketplace in Birmingham, used the students’ consultation in order to better utilize a gig economy – a labor market comprised of employees with short-term contracts and discover driving factors for people to seek gig work instead of traditional retail. Company representatives didn’t leave Auburn disappointed.
“Getting fresh perspectives from people outside of the industry can provide a unique perspective that we can’t get,” said Chris Comeaux, Head of Platform at Shipt who earned his MBA at Auburn in 1997. “Then as they collaborate with one another it’s interesting to see certain themes bubble up over and over and it’s also interesting to see something just completely out of left field that we would have never given a second thought to.
“Every group had some sort of recommendation that we were already at some level of implementation. There were also some things that said, ‘This is where you need to be in 10 years.’ They were right on the target.”
Win-win situation for Auburn, corporate clients
The TRAC Program, formerly known as Auburn MBA’s Capstone Program, is a win-win for graduate-level students and corporate clients alike, according to Peter Stanwick, Associate Professor in Management who guides students through the semester-long program.
I’m always so proud because this is a great representation of the quality of our MBA program. These students are developing ideas based on the technical and analytical skills they have learned here at Auburn."
“It gives our industry partners a huge diversity of ideas,” said Stanwick. “I’m always so proud because this is a great representation of the quality of our MBA program. These students are developing ideas based on the technical and analytical skills they have learned here at Auburn.
“This is not an artificial setting, like when you are taking an exam and presented with all of the variables. With this project, students must do research, develop great ideas and then make recommendations without perfect information. This helps with their confidence moving forward. They realize now that they are capable because they have demonstrated to themselves and to company executives that they can do it. It’s great practical, real-world experience.”
‘It enables me to present projects before my boss…’
Hilary Butler, an online MBA student and Senior Director of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, is eager to apply this experience in the boardroom.
“The TRAC program has prepared me for knowing how to approach projects in a very strategic way and ask the right questions and be able to implement that in my current job as well,” said Butler, who will graduate in May. “It enables me to better present projects before my boss and say, ‘This is my idea,’ ‘This is how I want to formulate this,’ ‘This is how I want to implement it, and here’s what it will cost the company.’”
Auburn online MBA student Marissa Steinberg, Assistant Manager for Global Creative Operations at Estee Lauder in New York City has already enjoyed a sparkling career. After all, she was previously Producer/Editor at NFL Media, and Strategic Initiatives and Business Integration Coordinator at Coca-Cola. But she believes the TRAC program will make her an even more influential leader in the workplace.
“This program is making me more comfortable with public speaking and giving presentations – working in team environments where people have different personalities,” said Steinberg, who is graduating from the program this December.
Auburn online MBA student Scott Emmers, Financial Analyst at Lulu Press in Raleigh, N.C., believes he can use experience gained through the TRAC program and implement it.
“This has assisted in being able to see different aspects of what a company is looking for in gaining market share and gaining profitability,” he said. “It’s also trying to understand different exit strategies for the company if they are to succeed.”
Online, resident students come together
Stanwick praised the aspect of online MBA and resident MBA students working together, sometimes remotely, in the TRAC Program.
“Students are able to work with people around the world,” he said. “They come from different backgrounds, different experiences and degrees. For the on campus students, working with the online students -- who have extensive work experience -- has extended their career network and a lot of them have told me that their online teammates have become mentors for them. This moves the program beyond the classroom.”