School of Management Newsletter


February 2015


 The “Wow” Factor

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.

Capping

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.” 

Strategic Management students (pictured above) relax after making their capstone presentation in December. Pictured from left: Lidia Cirianni ‘15, GE Healthcare executive Christel Gilbert, Casey Zipp ‘15, Dr. Helen Rothberg, Alyssa Grates ‘15, Eric Mui ‘15, and Katelyn Gallanty ’15.

 Organizational Behavior students hit the bull’s-eye at Target Competition 

School of Management undergraduates doled out business suggestions to executives from one of America’s leading retail chains during the annual Target Corporation Contest, which was held on campus on November 19.

Teams of students from seven Organizational Behavior classes were asked to design and implement improvements to Target’s business model by applying the theories and concepts they had been studying throughout the fall semester. They were also instructed to brainstorm ways in which the company’s mobile app, called the Cartwheel, could be enhanced for use within the store. After presenting their findings to a panel of judges from several regional Target outlets, Team Innovation – a five-member “consulting firm” from Professor John Cary’s class – was named the winner.

Organizational Behavior is the study of the “soft side of business,” says Prof. Cary. “Students learn how individuals and groups interact within a company; and how managers, leaders, and employees operate together on a micro level.” Team Innovation took the competition’s top spot by suggesting that Target could boost employee motivation by setting concrete performance goals and by applying McClelland’s Need Theory, which posits that job effectiveness is tied to a worker’s need for achievement, affiliation, or power. Specific suggestions for improving the Cartwheel app included adding a function to help customers (or “guests” as they are called at Target) locate items, and notifying them when their pharmacy prescriptions had been filled. The students also developed SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analyses both before and after their suggestions had been implemented.

Target

 “These students worked extremely hard to create a professional project,” says Prof. Cary. “I also want to thank the other six teams for competing and sharing their ideas, making this a successful assignment.”

Team Innovation members (from left to right) Caroline Crocco ‘16, Kirstin Chauvin ‘16, Sarah Wojtowicz ‘17, Sam Greene ‘17, and Joseph Guida ’16 are congratulated for their winning project by Target employees

 

 Swimming with the Sharks

Upwards of six million TV viewers spend their Friday evenings tuned into Shark Tank, a reality series in which would-be entrepreneurs pitch their product ideas to a panel of “shark” investors.

Students in last semester’s Marketing Principles classes faced off in similar fashion during the semiannual Gauntlet Competition.  More than a dozen teams spent the fall creating product presentations for evaluation, with five teams reaching the December 12 contest finals; at the end of the day, the all-female “FixItClip” team took top honors.

Each team was assigned the task of dreaming up a unique product that would solve a problem of some type, appeal specifically to women between the ages of 35-50, and sell for no more than $20. Along with a Powerpoint presentation, teams were asked to create a prototype of their product, as well as a 30-second commercial.

“Each chapter in the textbook relates to part of the project,” says Assistant Professor of Marketing Pamela Harper. “Each step in class served as a basis to create a robust plan. One team even conducted a survey, making use of the discussion they’d had in class on marketing research.” Other marketing considerations – such as potential competition, pricing strategy, after-market sales and add-on potential – were also taken into account by the teams.

The “shark” judging panel included School of Management faculty members Prof. Elizabeth Purinton-Johnson and Prof. David Gavin, as well as Gil Tatarsky, an entrepreneur himself who helps inventors secure licensing deals in the direct response TV industry. The panel evaluated the teams on a number of criteria – everything from mark-up ratio to the elusive “wow” factor -- and questioned the student teams on their research findings.

The FixItClip – a one-inch piece of plastic that can be used to extend the life of broken phone charger cords -- won the day because “the team’s presentation was very thorough and professional, but fun and engaging – and the item was practical,” says Prof. Harper. Other products pitched included a clear plastic handbag cover (to protect designer purses in inclement weather), and a toilet timer (a contraption that automatically lowers the toilet seat after a certain period of time).

Harper

Prof. Harper sees several benefits for the students from this type of long-term project. “It ensures that they have a working knowledge of all the concepts – they’re not just memorizing information – and they can apply them to a working plan. In the real world, the expectation will be that they can articulate their ideas in a way that marketers will understand. And they are going to need team-building skills throughout their lives. My hope is that this assignment helps them with all of these skills.”

Students (pictured) Marina Mitas ‘16, Christina Nicholas ‘16, Jacqueline Ohn ‘15, and Megan O’Malley ‘15 make the case for the FixItClip at the Marketing Principles Gauntlet Competition. 

Property: A puzzlement?

DavisWhat constitutes property? For the layman, the answer may seem obvious – but to economists, this question inspires its fair share of debate.

“The mantra of protecting property rights today is the way to run an economy,” says Associate Professor of Economics Ann E. Davis. “But ‘property’ is never defined.  In institutional economics, we don’t take anything for granted. There are lots of different things that can be considered property. Who gets to say what it is?”

In her new book, The Evolution of the Property Relation: Understanding Paradigms, Debates, and Prospects, Prof. Davis examines this concept from its modern origins in 15th century Italy through the present day, and discusses how social and economic forces impact the definition of property over a period of time. 

“The book explores the history of the property definition,” she says. “At one point in history, wives were considered to be property, as were slaves. Property owners are often represented in government, which makes it difficult to change the systems that are in place, like a ‘vested interest.’ ”

Even today, new forms of property are being created for different purposes. Prof. Davis cites the “patenting of life forms” in the creation of genetically modified organisms used for food; she also discusses RGGI (the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative). In this Northeastern market-based regulatory program -- the first in the nation -- “the right to pollute is traded on the market,” she explains. “The market is used as an incentive to discourage pollution. By allowing the sale of these pollution rights, firms that reduce pollution can get extra revenue, providing a financial incentive to those who no longer need them.” Examples such as these “show how the definition of property is flexible, as acknowledged by Nobel Prize-winning economists like Ronald Coase.”

The author researched her subject extensively while teaching at the Marist campus in Florence, Italy, in the fall of 2010. She returned to Italy the following summer, and finished the book during a sabbatical in fall 2013. It will be released by Palgrave Macmillan this month, in both hardcover and e-book form.

While the book furthers research in the field of property rights, Prof. Davis feels that her writing “takes an interdisciplinary approach” that she hopes will be accessible to the general public.

“I want people to be more aware – to open up the ‘black box,’ ” she says. “What kinds of property are there now? Are they good – and if so, for whom? And who is making these choices?”

Alumni Profile – Sean Keating ‘87

KeatingSean Keating readily admits that, as a high school student, Marist was not first among his possible college choices: “I’m the youngest in a family of five. My brothers and sisters went to other schools, and I was interested in going where they did,” says the 49-year-old Brooklyn native, who earned his B.S. from the college in 1987. “But going to Marist turned out to be the best thing I did.” Currently the managing director and head of the New York office for CME Group, Keating credits two Marist contacts with opening the door to his successful career in the commodities exchange arena. We caught up with Keating -- who lives in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, with his wife Julie and teenage children Charlie and Grace – to talk about his job, the changes he’s witnessed in the financial industry, and how his years in Poughkeepsie influenced his work ethic.

Q: Would you briefly describe your job in layman’s terms?

A: To explain to people what the exchange is all about, I quite often reference the end of the movie Trading Places: Traders standing in that pit, yelling and screaming at each other – that is what our business is, or what it used to be. Over the years, it’s gotten away from the “open outcry” form of trading; now our business is probably 95 percent-plus electronic trading.

The exchange provides the marketplace for people to manage their risk in the commodities world. We deal with crude oil, heating oil, gasoline, natural gas, gold, silver, copper, and other products. In the energy markets, companies try to protect the value of their assets – like oil – by hedging their risk. If I have the product, I’m concerned about the value of the product going down, so I sell futures or options contracts to protect against the loss in value of the physical product. On the other side, we have companies that need the product – airlines, gas stations – those folks want to protect against the rise in cost of the particular commodity they need. So they will buy futures or options contracts based on when they expect to receive delivery of the product. The exchange provides the marketplace for these transactions to take place.

Q: Is this the career path you envisioned as a student?

A:  It certainly wasn’t something I envisioned, it kind of evolved through my relationships with certain people – like Jim Daly, who was the head of admissions at Marist while I was there. I worked as an intern for him. Jim introduced me to Tom McKiernan, a former board member at Marist who was in the commodities market, who introduced me to somebody at the exchange. That’s how I got into the business. I started in a market regulations role right out of college, then worked for a private company for 16 or so years doing all sorts of different businesses related to the financial markets. About 10 and a half years ago, I came to the exchange to run a couple of different departments – and here I am!

Q: What are some of the pros and cons of your current position?

A: Pros – Being directly involved in the commodities markets, you see how world events directly affect the value/price of the commodities for which we provide the market for trading. Oil was trading at $90 a barrel a few months ago, now it’s trading at $48 a barrel. That has a direct effect on gas prices. If there are political tensions, storms, you see how those events relate directly to the value of a commodity. But we don’t influence the price, it’s the market participants, and the political and social/economic forces – all these things affect the commodity, whether it’s hogs and cattle or oil or gold. It’s cool to be in the middle of something like that.

Cons – Dealing with irate customers. It’s a very emotional business when you’re dealing with traders; they’re very engaged in what they’re doing. When people are making money, everybody’s happy – if people are losing money, they’re not happy. We deal with a range of emotions with the trading community.

Q: Some people would probably assume, given your level of responsibility at CME Group, that you had an MBA from Wharton – which is not the case. What did you learn at Marist that gave you a leg up on the competition in your career?

A: I think it was working hard and making the most of opportunities that were presented to me.  Looking back to the folks that Jim Daly and Tom McKiernan introduced me to – that was just the door being opened. Everything beyond that was my own doing. Luck had to do with it, meeting other people had to do with it; but the bottom line: hard work is what made it work out for me.

Q: And did that work ethic come about because of your Marist education?

A: Yes, I believe so – along with the upbringing from my parents, the people that I met in college, and the people I worked for in my career. Most of my early career was at Pioneer Futures, which was a small company where I was given a lot of opportunity and responsibility at a young age by the fellow who owned it. He was a West Point graduate, so there were a lot of expectations on his part. So the doors got opened, but everything after that was the work I put into it.

Q: How has the financial industry changed since you began working?

A: It was a very labor-intensive business early on, with the open outcry there were a lot of people involved in it. The building where I work in lower Manhattan was built by the New York Mercantile Exchange. We moved in in 1997; at that time there were probably 6,500-7,000 people here every day. Now with the markets having become more electronic, we get less than 1,000 people in the building a day. So the world has changed significantly – but we’re still doing the same thing.

Electronic trading has been good for the exchange, because people from around the world can see exactly where the markets are trading by looking at their computer screens. It’s a very liquid market: when you’re buying or selling, you click your mouse and it happens instantaneously. Back in the day, you had to play the game of telephone – you call someone, who has to call someone else – before the trade got executed; it took a while for that to happen. Now it happens in milliseconds.

Q: What advice would you offer current B-school students looking to get into your field?

A: Come out with the best possible skills you can get. Do internships as often as you can to get some type of experience. They can only help you.

One of the biggest avenues for people to get into the business is through our market regulations department. There is such a focus on regulations and oversight; that and risk management are probably the biggest areas where I see a lot of opportunity to get into the business these days. You can’t come in and be a trader – the computers are the traders now.

Q: You recently visited the Marist campus. Do you get back often? Did you notice anything different about the college?

A: I hadn’t been back in 20 years. The growth that the school has had since I was a student there has been remarkable. It looks like an amazing place these days. And it was an amazing place when I was there as well.

Getting to know… Professor Ken Sloan

SloanOne might say that Ken Sloan, Marist’s associate professor of management and chair of the management department, has been around the block a few times. Born and raised in Ohio, the 63-year-old earned three academic degrees – a B.S. (in psychology) as well as both an M.B.A. and an M.P.A. -- from Cleveland State University; his doctorate in education was conferred by the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Before beginning his teaching career, though, Prof. Sloan spent more than two decades in the business world. “Right out of college,” he said, “ I worked for a Fortune 500 company [Bobbie Brooks] that doesn’t exist anymore; in government as a labor analyst; and then shifted to the healthcare sector,” landing at the pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers; he was instrumental in helping that company integrate with Squibb after the two firms merged in 1989. Prior to joining the Marist faculty, he taught briefly at Syracuse University, Purdue, and the College of St. Elizabeth in New Jersey.

Having spent almost an equal amount of time in both the business and academic arenas, did he find any similarities between the two environments? “Absolutely,” Prof. Sloan said. “People are people, and the issues, relationships, interactions all have similar patterns. The forces at work are different, though, and that changes the context in which those patterns play out. In the corporate world there was a much greater need to move things along and bring them to closure; in the academic world, issues can linger for a very long time. You need to be careful about generalizing about either the corporate or academic sector; to a large extent it’s going to be dependent on the specific institution or organization. But in both settings you develop a sense of purpose and morale and motivation.”

Although his career at Bristol-Myers Squibb was both challenging and rewarding – “I had gone much further than I ever thought I would,” he says – becoming a teacher had been a goal since his undergrad days. “While at Bristol, I had the opportunity to do something I had wanted to do right out of school but didn’t have the ability to do, and that was get my doctorate degree. Early on, I thought I’d like to take an academic career path, but it wasn’t a possibility. I was the first one in my family to go to college, and I worked my way through; at that time I did not want to take on another several years of doctoral studies and debt. And I felt that the combination of getting the degree after I had all this great [business] experience would be beneficial.”

The professor’s doctoral dissertation examined the concept of experiential learning in a corporate setting. It’s a subject that continues to hold his interest. “While at Bristol-Myers, I headed up a leadership development program. We had a series of experiential assignments that we had expected folks to have had over the course of their career development. The experiences were articulated – in order to be a marketing manager, for instance, you had first to be a sales rep -- but what we had expected them to have learned from these experiences wasn’t articulated. As a result, whether or not they learned it wasn’t particularly well-known. In my research, I looked at what factors facilitate or impede a manager’s skillfulness at learning from experience. It was fascinating to explore.”

Not surprisingly, Prof. Sloan has several tips for students on how to forge their own career path. “If I had to point to one thing, it would be ownership – of who they are and what they want -- as opposed to being a passive player. You need to own it from a relatively early stage. As a freshman, you don’t have to know what you’re going to major in, but you should know what you’re interested in, because what you’re interested in you’ll be good at.

“In a school like Marist, faculty is available: freshman can come in and pick their brains. And there’s a book that I recommend to students called What Color Is Your Parachute? You don’t have to like everything the author [Richard N. Bolles] says, but he’s dead-on when he talks about networking and how to do it.”

Prof. Sloan makes his home in Princeton, New Jersey, with his wife Rebecca. They have two adult children, Philip and Rachel. When he’s not teaching students or attending to administrative tasks, he often can be found hanging out – literally.

“Rock climbing has been an interest of mine for some time,” he said. “I’ve climbed the Grand Tetons, Mount Rainier, Mount Saint Helens after the eruption in 1980. The Gunks [in New Paltz] is technical climbing, which I like better -- you don’t have to do the endurance slog to get to the technical part. I’ve gotten two other members of the faculty involved in it as well.”

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