Before earning a bachelor’s degree, business majors take a semester-long capstone course that culminates in a project presentation. Sixty seniors were enrolled in the fall semester’s Strategic Management capstone class taught by Professor of Strategy Helen Rothberg, which she describes as “a very intensive, intelligence-driven, analytical course, but one that is grounded in practical application and experience.”
From December 7 through 10, 12 student teams made capping presentations – but not just to Prof. Rothberg and their classmates. On hand were executives and alumni from four industry-leading companies – one each in medical imaging, gas and oil pipeline infrastructure, biotechnology, and defense – who listened with interest as the students gave well-researched analyses of their firms.
The idea of inviting industry executives to the presentations came about not in a board room, but a lunch room. As a faculty member of the Academy of Competitive Intelligence in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Prof. Rothberg meets with and teaches business professionals from around the world. “They were talking at lunch about ‘consultant fatigue,’ and how tired they were of spending six figures on analysis that they know could be done better,” she recalls. “I said, ‘Well, my students can do it. All you have to do is fly in, and be part of the Q&A process.’ ”
The capping assignment in Strategic Management is a tall order by any standard. “This is their milestone,” says Prof. Rothberg. “It integrates all of their learning from the core curriculum, and extends it with strategic theory and practice.” She ticked off the factors each team must address: “Who the company is, the macro environment they compete in; the industry environment and how it’s structured; the competitor environment and how they compete against each other; the company’s internal structure, history, culture, leadership; its infrastructure; the financial analysis. All of this is used to make a recommendation that answers the question that drove the analysis in the first place. They do all this in 45 minutes. And then answer difficult questions posed by the execs.”
To say that the business representatives were impressed with the students’ work is an understatement. Christel Gilbert, a field intelligence manager at GE Healthcare, was “so wowed,” says Prof. Rothberg, “that she has contracted with one of the students to write a review of the competitive landscape that she can utilize with her team.” An intelligence analyst from the pipeline firm was “so wowed” by an acquisition recommendation made by one team that he’s asked them to rework it so he can show it to senior management. The defense exec was “so wowed” that he plans to share copies of the best papers with his group. “One said he would see if there was room on their team to make a hire by the end of the year,” Prof. Rothberg says.
Perhaps most impressive was one team’s recommendation that medical device manufacturers pursue a strategic alliance with an influential hospital. Gilbert reports that numerous industry players are in fact doing just that – and one manufacturer has recently announced an alliance with the exact hospital recommended in the team’s presentation. “Not only did this team provide a well-thought-out strategic recommendation supported by thorough research,” she says, “but the industry players are actually pursuing their exact strategy.”
Although the business people come away with valuable information, it is certainly the students who gain the most from the capping weekend. “In my opinion,” says Prof. Rothberg, ‘there’s nowhere else that mimics the real-world experience of having to think on your feet, defend your work, and admit when you don’t know. And the students love it. They see what worked and what didn’t work — and then to be invited to have your work used? What’s better than that?
“I invite any of our alumni who would like to have their company considered for strategic analysis to contact me.”
This story and others are courtesy of and originally published in the Marist School of Management monthly newsletter. To read more stories like this click here.