At Fisher, incoming MBA students are assigned to a core team that will tackle projects together. As the year comes to a close, this is a huge shout-out to my amazing core team a.k.a. Team 9! Neethi, Adam, Sangyoun (Shin) and Andrew have made the core team adventure a valuable experience from the start!
Beginning with team announcements during pre-term and into our first team-building exercises, we took time to get to know each other and have fun. During pre-term, before classes began for the semester, we had the chance to compete in a mini-case competition and take on a ropes course! Not only did we win the case across the teams presenting in our room– we also won the photo contest from the ropes course (see one of the winners below)! We spent these challenges taking time to get to know each other’s backgrounds and not taking things too seriously, resulting in effective teamwork and great times!
Throughout the year, we have worked hard to keep each other in mind outside of class projects… from having birthday celebrations to venting about the internship search to sharing favorite snacks. Most importantly, we are all very lucky to have Neethi who brings delicious snacks for our group meetings and Shin who brings some of his favorite snacks from Korea (see below).
Overall, we stay motivated, but have fun while we’re working on assignments together! This semester, we’ve discovered the power of communication and working as a virtual team. With interviews ramping up, along with group projects, we have realized the power of working together remotely.
After things die down in a few weeks, we’re looking forward to a celebration together over Korean BBQ! From case analyses to marketing plans, we have found ourselves frustrated, giggling, sweating from spicy ramen snacks, and in deep concentration to meet deadlines among all of the other activities going on at school. It’s been a challenging and rewarding experience, and I wouldn’t trade my core team for another!
What do you get when you combine a real-life HR business problem, a room full of PepsiCo products and snacks, and brainpower from 8 of the highest-ranked HR Master’s programs in the United States?
The 2018 HR Invitational Case Competition!
Every February, the Fisher College of Business invites teams from 7 of our peer schools to participate in the “External HR Case Competition,” giving students an opportunity to stretch their problem-solving muscles against students from other HR master’s programs across the country. This year, we had teams representing Cornell, University of South Carolina, Texas A&M, Rutgers, Minnesota, Illinois, and West Virginia University– and competition was fierce! (okay, friendly, but fierce)
The case competition is structured such that the business problem is presented by the sponsoring organization at 8:00am on Friday morning and teams have 24 hours to generate a solution, organize a pitch, and prepare to defend their ideas in front of a panel of judges from the sponsoring teams. This year, PepsiCo and Eaton co-sponsored the competition, providing both a challenging, real-life HR problem and a variety of Pepsi and Frito-Lay treats to keep teams sufficiently sustained over the course of the weekend.
The case is kept top-secret until the big reveal the morning of the competition to ensure no team gets an advantage. This year, the challenge turned out to focus on compensation. Specifically, Eaton wanted ideas for how to structure compensation for a new branch of the business which was home to mostly software developers and engineers. These folks did not fit into the traditional compensation structure, and they needed a compensation system to match and reward innovative product development. It was a doozy!
A variety of solid and creative ideas surfaced with the ultimate goal of driving innovation and retaining tech talent at Eaton. Some of my favorites include Hackathon, training simulations, and spot awards for extraordinary ideation. All of these were strategies to appropriately reward employees for innovation and to ensure they felt that the company invested in their success. Competition was tough and I am proud to report Ohio State took third overall.
Last year, I had the honor of representing Ohio State on the external team, so this year was all new for me as an observer. Although I wasn’t judging the competition, I sat through all the presentations and was able to glean some insight into what judges look for in a winning teams. A few of my takeaways are below.
Are you answering the question? But really, are you?
1. Answer the question. I recall a piece of general feedback from the judges last year. I remember it so vividly because it was both shocking and accurate. He said, “You’d be surprised how rare it is for us to see an answer that actually answers the question.” Thinking back on the day prior when we were prepping our presentation, it was so easy to lose sight of the “why.” You get caught up in wanting to be different, or creative, or edgy with your idea that you lose sight of the reason for the Ask in the first place. I cannot stress the importance of returning to “why” in every step of the ideation process, and especially when organizing your pitch.
2. Give them a road map. If this problem made it to the case competition in the first place, you can bet it’s complex. You can also bet on the fact that the organization has likely tried most of the obvious solutions. So think about it: the last thing you would want after having pored over an issue for months is an idea you can’t wrap your head around. So, your role as a consultant is to find the intersection between simple and clever. You want the judges to walk away with a clear understanding of the idea, and an even clearer understanding of how to go about implementing it. Give them a road map.
3. Don’t be something you’re not. People think that in order to win, you have to have all the answers (or at least convince the judges you do). This just isn’t true–at least not anymore. It is refreshing to see a team present with humility and authenticity–to be thought partners rather than parents telling them what they should do. Offer your recommendation, and what you believe are the positive consequences that will result from it. The best consultants built trust and buy-in by solving the problem with their client.
These are just a few of my musings after reflecting on last weekend. As always, I was impressed with the respect and graciousness of all teams that attended. Not only was it a robust learning experience for students, but I think Eaton got some exceptional ideas for solving their challenge.
Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with one of Ohio State’s finest MAcc students, Katharine Garrett. She is a very energetic, smart, and authentic individual. We were able to talk for a little bit about her MAcc experience earlier this week.
Garrett: I chose to get a MAcc degree because I wanted more of a challenge and the combined degree gave me an opportunity to get a master’s degree without extending my education (Fisher offers select undergrad BSBA students concurrent admission into the MAcc program). I also believe that a MAcc degree will give me a starting advantage in my career.
Chehade: And why did you choose Ohio State?
Garrett: Ohio State’s MAcc degree is nationally ranked and I was excited about the opportunity to learn more about accounting from both an academic and practical perspective. Additionally, a unique thing about Ohio State’s MAcc program is that you are given the opportunity to take other graduate-level business courses such as HR and finance while you are a MAcc student.
Chehade: Almost being ¾ done with your MAcc, what so far has been your favorite experience and memory?
Garrett: Presenting and watching other student’s presentation for Professor Zach’s final project. Professor Zach provided us the opportunity create and build our own project to investigate anything we found interesting. This led to some of the most interesting and educational presentations I have ever seen. I most enjoyed watching other presentations and seeing what amazing projects and analyses my classmates were able to put together. Truly inspirational!
Chehade: Now I am going to ask you some quick questions: What’s been your favorite course so far?
This semester I am taking Intro to Organizational Business Coaching taught by instructor John Schaffner (“Coaching”, for short). This is the second time I’ve had Mr. Schaffner and he is authentic, relatable, insightful, and brings a sense of humor to the classroom – with just the right amount of snark sprinkled in. I thought I would give the world a taste of just that in this interview with the man himself.
Jen: Okay, what exactly is coaching?
Schaffner:Coaching—and this is the definition we use in class—is taking a very important person from where they are to where they want to be. It is oriented around this idea of the “ideal self,” and is predicated on the belief that the person you are coaching has all the answers within them. A coach is both someone who co-creates a relationship to an ideal goal and is a thought partner for the person they are coaching.
Jen: And why is coaching important in organizations today?
Schaffner:Well, my research really talks about the headwinds of VUCA—Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. And I think in a lot of organizations where coaching is prevalent—Google, for instance, has a Director of Coaching—it is because the issues that the folks at these organizations have to deal with involve paradoxes.
Related to that, in class we discuss the difference between a puzzle, which has a finite amount of pieces arranged to form one solution… a problem which can have a myriad of viable solutions—think work-life balance. Problems have a multiplicity of solutions while a puzzle does not. And finally… the idea of a dilemma, which is a problem that isn’t really solvable—world hunger and racism are gnarly problems that we can’t seem to figure out, at least not in the way that we’re thinking about them. All of these exist in the workplace, and coaching can help us begin to tease apart some of these issues that are roadblocks to our goals.
Jen: What are the three most important qualities of a good coach?
Schaffner:Oh, three most important? So we’re in this like “top 10” list world right now, aren’t we?
Schaffner:Well, I would say compassion. Compassion is empathy in action. I can feel bad for you, or I can ask you about how you’re feeling and truly listen and explore that with you. Compassion is elemental to being a good coach.
Then there’s listening—listening is fundamental and it’s something that we struggle with these days. There are more distractions these days that inhibit our listening than there are augmentations. The digital world, the internet– are things that preclude us from listening as well as we should or could.
And, I also think there has to be a sort of core curiosity and desire to help if you’re going to coach. Curiosity helps you guide the individual to think around the problem in ways they haven’t before. The motivation to help is part of this new world of coaching which is oriented around compassion, compared to coaching for compliance. Example—imagine if I said, ‘Jen, you really haven’t met your goals this month. Why haven’t you met your goals? Okay, now I’m going to suggest some ways you can meet those goals.’ No– those goals may not be your own, but rather the agenda of the organization. That’s really where coaching started. Coaching with compassion, which is the basis for this class, is oriented around the goals of the individual.
This ties into your previous question—why is coaching needed in the workplace? I think the business world is entering this new consciousness where concepts like well-being and looking at associates very holistically is relatively new. When I was in business school 17 years ago, that was far from the way we thought of things. Well, people in HR have been thinking about this forever, but what has recently emerged is this notion that things like well-being have an impact on the business from a quantitative perspective.
Jen: In class, you talk about how important it is to “ask a good question” when coaching. How do you do this?
(Laughs). There it is! That’s a good one right there. Let’s break that down and find the source code. A good question has to do with getting people to think differently and make connections differently than they have before, much like a good metaphor does. That opens up a part of your brain where abundance and creativity live. So, asking a good question kicks you into that mode. We’re the only creatures on earth that create metaphor—unless, like, Dolphins are doing it and we just haven’t figured them out yet. I think they might be. Anyway, and it sounds corny, but a good question allows you to get to a very human level with someone. It’s free of judgment, and in many ways it’s focused on getting at truth—and we can discuss what truth is but that’s probably for another conversation. A powerful coach seeks the truth for the person they’re coaching.
So far, the class has helped me practice strategies for listening to truly hear and understand (not just respond) and craft questions that are powerful and thought-provoking to move the conversation forward. I had my first practice session coaching a fellow classmate last week, which was awkward and clunky and an exercise in vulnerability for both of us. But it feels good to be improving and I’m excited to continue to become a more powerful communicator with clients I am coaching. And, for when I’m really stuck, Schaffner gave us a fail-safe if we run out of things to say to our client:
Every year, Fisher hosts an internal case competition for all first-year Full-Time MBA students. Teams who win get an opportunity to represent Fisher at the Big Ten Plus MBA Case Competition, which is held at Fisher, in April. The internal case competition was held last weekend.
Exactly a week ago (Friday), my team, along with 17 other teams, were presented a case at 8 AM. It was a “live” case– meaning that the company is currently going through this situation and we were asked to solve, invent, and/or create a new idea. We had to work with a fabrics and crafts store (one you have certainly heard of) that recently opened a new kind of store specially catered to bulk ordering. Our mission was to find innovative ways that would grow the new store’s customer base without cannibalizing the original brand.
Each team was assigned a room and told to submit all materials by 7 AM the next day (Saturday). We were given snacks and food throughout the day. My team (consisting of Kyle, Mariel, Carl, and myself) came up with a plan of attack: we were going to take some time to generate ideas, do preliminary research, then get together and hatch out a model. We were then going to delegate each a portion of the project to a team member. Carl was our slide deck specialist, Mariel was awesome at market research, and Kyle was our financial guy. I was in charge of putting the different components together and filling in as needed.
We worked in 3-4 hour chunks, stopping for lunch and dinner. I am not going to go into detail for the rest of the day, but there were some unforgettable moments: 1) Mariel brought in chocolate covered espresso beans and we were on a caffeine high for a few hours, 2) Doing push-ups as our group activity in order to keep Mariel’s fitness plan in check, 3) Doing laps around the building to keep my sanity after being in school for 15 hours, and 4) stuffing our faces with fruit snacks.
We left on Saturday at 12:30 AM and were back in the building at 8:30 AM. You could see walking zombies everywhere as some groups left at 3 AM, and others arrived at 5 AM to tie up some last minute details. My team presented well, delivered what we needed to know, and we walked out in good spirits. We celebrated by grabbing a beer at the nearby Varsity Club with some other groups (a popular hang-out for Fisher grad students).
The results came in and my team didn’t win. There was a brief moment of sadness, but we knew that we worked well together and had a wonderful time. The journey and experiences we shared are something that I will never forget. Here are some of my key takeaways:
Find a team that you can trust and respect. Build the relationship by meeting outside of school for meals, drinks…etc. My team met several times at our favorite Condado Tacos several times before the competition.
It is impossible to be productive for 12 hours straight. Mix it up with some funny moments, sleepy periods, and productive sessions to get the best out of everyone.
It is interesting to see how a group works under intense pressure, high competition, little sleep, and in close proximity. It sometimes brings out the best and worst in yourself and others.
If you focus on just winning, you sometimes miss out on special moments shared.
I am proud to present my team: the MACK Consulting Group. Pictured below (from left to right): Kyle, Mariel, myself, and Carl. I’m also proud of Kyle (who won Best Presenter) and Carl (for winning Best Q&A). Go, team!
My favorite course so far this semester (and arguably the MHRM program so far—although I’m finding it remarkably difficult to choose between it and my former favorite Organizational Development & Change) is Strategic Management of Human Assets taught by Professor Steffanie Wilk. The course is required in the MHRM core curriculum, but what makes it different than most MHRM core classes in structure is that many MBAs choose to take it as an elective. We have the option to take it during the day (Tuesday & Thursday 1:00-2:30 PM) and Thursday evenings (Thursdays 6:15-9:30 PM). I personally chose to take the daytime option because I was excited to learn from and interact with some MBA students I don’t as often get to interface with.
In short, the class is about strategically aligning human resources policy, practice, and decision-making with the strategy of the organization. During the first week of class, we defined the three primary strategies by which businesses compete: cost, quality, and innovation. We took some time the first week to define what each of these strategies can look like (and not look like) based on industry, sector, and product, and then we dove right into debate about competitive advantage. Some insider thoughts from Jen’s notebook:
Business seeks to find efficiencies to ultimately provide a lower cost product or service than competitors (example: Costco)
Business focuses on quality of product or service and precise “moves” hinge upon how customers define quality (example: Wendy’s)
Business focuses on differentiating products or creating new product lines to leverage new markets (examples: Amazon & Apple)
a condition that, when present, makes magic
In other words, your competitive advantage differentiates you from competitors, makes money, and is sustainable over time. In other, other words, it’s the secret sauce of the organization.
We are currently in the midst of what Professor Wilk likes to call “Airplane Week.” We are discussing the commercial airline industry and how two distinct airlines—Southwest and JetBlue—compete using their respective strategies and competitive advantages. Today we debated what, precisely, differentiates Southwest from competitors and how the strategy impacts culture, recruiting, hiring, training, rewards and performance management processes.
I was genuinely fascinated by the discussion, and impressed with the effort it takes for organizations like Southwest to appear like they function effortlessly in day-to-day operations. And, I’m already looking forward to Thursday when we’ll talk about JetBlue and how they approached the competitive landscape as a start-up airline in the late 90s.
I am back in Columbus after an exciting break full of travel, and I was met with cold temperatures and a little bit of snow! I wrote about one of the very fun trips I took over Christmas break in a recent post. Another trip I took over break was to Houston, Texas, to go apartment-hunting and do a little sight-seeing, as that’s where I’ll begin work after graduation.
Since it’s the beginning of a new semester and also since this semester is made up almost entirely of electives, I thought it would be good to do a preview of my first quarter of classes. The SMF curriculum allows you to choose from any of four different concentrations if you wish, but you are not required to follow any track. This flexibility in choosing your classes is one reason I was attracted to the program. I decided to use this flexibility to my advantage by taking classes from all the different areas of concentration offered in the SMF curriculum. In the area of corporate finance, I’ll be taking Mergers & Acquisitions. This course also happens to be taught by the SMF program director, Professor George Pinteris. In the area of investment management I’ll be taking Portfolio Management and Fixed Income. Within the risk management area, I’ll be taking Derivatives Valuation. Finally, within the real estate concentration, I’ll be taking Real Estate Valuation. This course in real estate will also give me the opportunity to pursue a certification in Argus, a real estate valuation software.
I am very excited for all of these classes, as I think they represent the spectrum of finance offered to SMF students. I also think that these different areas of the SMF cur,riculum give me the chance to practice honing different skills. For example, the Mergers & Acquisitions course will help me to hone soft skills through the heavy class participation required, while the investments and risk management courses will be much more quantitative in focus. Finally the real estate valuation course will teach me technical and applied skills by learning a specific software used in industry.
I’m ready for the exciting and challenging semester ahead of me!
My favorite class this semester, and thus far in the MBA Program, has been Organizational Coaching with instructor John Schaffner. This course not only provides the opportunity to learn more about yourself as a leader and how you can improve, but also how to bring out the best in others to help them achieve their personal goals. As an added bonus, Professor Schaffner is hilarious and makes the class very engaging.
I spent seven weeks in this course with about 25 other students. The class began with each student personally reflecting, and included an exercise where we had to create our “Life Map.” This map looks like an EKG reading, where the peaks and lows are representative of the best and worst moments of your life over the years. While this exercise is very personal, it allows you to be introspective, and by going through a coaching session with a partner in the class, you gain additional insight into how some of your life experiences translate into your style of leadership. After completing our life maps, we spent the remainder of the course completing additional exercises to learn more about ourselves and then practicing different strategies for developing and maintaining a coaching relationship.
Coaching is a co-active relationship, and as the coach, you work through the process of deepening the client’s self-awareness by asking the right questions to help them realize they truly are capable of solving any challenge they are experiencing, whether personal or professional. Through practicing effective listening, awareness, and communication, you are able to develop skills that are critical to success in any leadership position.
Fisher just recently introduced a course called LEAP+TC (Leadership Effectiveness through Applied Projects + Team Coaching) where students gain hands-on experience managing a project with a non-profit organization in Columbus to further develop leadership competencies, practice team building skills and apply the skills they’ve learned in the classroom. I’m glad to have the opportunity to learn more about coaching to better prepare me for my career post-MBA!
While sitting down with a prospective candidate of the SMF program and Nicholas Denker at lunch the other day, I had time to reflect on what Ohio State has to offer students. You should know the vast amount of resources you have at your disposal here at Fisher College of Business, although I can’t name them all within this short blog post!
Just within the first half of the year, I have learned from professors who have very recent work experience, professors who hail from other nations and give new perspectives on issues, and even a professor who was in the armed forces. All have been excellent and helpful. Just because this is a large school does not mean professors are not able to meet with students. Professors always encourage us to stop into office hours to see them.
Also, the wide variety of working professional and academic professors is a huge benefit to students. Their experience and connections give students more knowledge than we know what to do with. They expect the best out of the class and, in time, the transformation from student to professional takes place.
The SMF program brings in speakers from all different types of industries, as well. On most Friday mornings, there are presentations (set up by Fisher faculty and staff) featuring a variety of leaders. You can come in and listen to industry experts who are actively working. Not only will you be able to gain insight from their presentations, but a select number of students each week can have lunch with the speakers to ask any questions that come to mind. This perk is not limited to just the business college. The entire university brings in highly-regarded speakers. Just this past week, OSU hosted J.D. Vance to talk about his work, The Hillbilly Elegy.
Fisher College of Business has a vast alumni network, as well. The success of past graduates helps us as future graduates achieve even more. To be able to go on LinkedIn and see that alumni of Fisher are working at almost every company I look up is reassuring that I can do great like my colleagues before me. These alumni know all too well the difficulties that may lie ahead for students. From my experience, these alumni have responded when I reach out to them and provided great advice for me to move forward with. Put in the work and Fisher will reward you with the knowledge you need to succeed.
The curriculum is designed to allow students to apply what they have learned throughout the first semester of the program in that Capstone project. The “objective of the course is to apply the concepts and techniques we have learned in core coursework in a real-life setting by performing a financial analysis and valuation of a publicly-traded company” (syllabus).
In this report, each team is supposed to include the following sections:
Overview of the company.
Discussion of business model and identification of key value drivers.
Discussion of business risk factors.
Discussion of DCF valuation.
Conclusion and recommendation.
Throughout the first semester, we’ve taken core classes in Economics, Statistics, Financial Software Application, Corporate Finance, and Investments. We’ve also developed our teamwork skills through various group projects and presentations, as well as through our core Leadership class. All of these knowledge and skills that we’ve been developing for the past three months at Fisher are put into practice in this capstone project.
The first rough draft deadline is approaching and my team and I have been working hard to come up with a strong report. I am definitely excited to have the final product on hand!