By Matthew Biddle
A group of alumni executives sits in the front row as a team of first-year MBA students outlines the problems facing their assigned company and proposes strategies to resolve those issues.
As more teams come forward, some recommendations are straightforward — improving quality control processes or halting expansion plans, for example — while others introduce bold, new directions.
One team, analyzing a national chain in the vitamin and supplement industry, advises shrinking retail space in stores to accommodate a fitness room that could attract new customers and open up additional revenue streams. “Go big or go home, right?” one executive remarks positively, opening the question-and-answer period.
The alumni grill each team about their analysis of the company and its competitors, and the financial implications of their recommendations, before joining the MBAs in a private conference room to deliver candid feedback about their performance.
“It sounds like you’re moving chairs around on the Titanic,” says Chris Maugans, BS ’10, JD/MBA ’14, associate attorney at Goldberg Segalla, challenging one team to defend how their solution really addresses the root problem facing their company.
The board presentations are the final project for Harold Star’s “Strategic Management” capstone course, which pushes students to think like CEOs, exposing them to a wide range of business models and giving them the tools to recognize problems, diagnose their causes and prescribe solutions.
For Maugans, it was one of the most important classes he took in the School of Management, so he was eager to come back as an alumni board member to help current students build their skill sets.
“I found the course to be extremely challenging, but equally thought-provoking,” he says. “It taught me how to identify and dissect complex issues and present recommendations in a clear, succinct manner. A large part of my role as an attorney is doing just that — identifying and analyzing issues and presenting potential solutions to clients.”
Laura Berrady, EMBA ’07, director of population health management at Optimum Physician Alliance, also jumped at the chance to serve as a board member after taking Star’s course during her Executive MBA program. In the private feedback session, Berrady says she and her fellow alumni were supportive, while also delivering honest advice on ways the MBAs could improve in the future.
“It’s so important for students and alumni to connect,” she says. “When professors incorporate alumni into their curriculum, it can enhance students’ perspective on course materials, showcase the diverse ways the material can be applied and ultimately begin a dialogue between alumni and students.”
In total, 22 high-level alumni participated across the three days of final presentations. Michael Keane, BS ’00, PMBA ’04, chief operating officer – wealth management at Wilmington Trust, says the project closely mirrors what students will face in the business world.
“Everyone has to be able to take a stance on an issue, articulate their thoughts and defend their position,” he says. “Taking classroom concepts and applying them to real-world situations, with interactive discussion and debate, is exactly what they will need to do in the workplace.”
Before facing the alumni board, the students presented to and received feedback from several second-year MBAs who took the course last year. Brittany O’Dea, MBA ’18, participated in those sessions, challenging her first-year colleagues with questions about their profitability, target customers and strongest markets.
O’Dea says the holistic view she gained through analyzing an entire company, and career-focused feedback she received from the alumni board, were invaluable when she joined Delaware North as an operations analyst.
“I’m on a five-year corporate strategy team and was able to replicate the process from the classroom in a real corporate setting. It added so much value to our team,” she says.
“This assignment combines everything you learn into one cohesive project, so you can understand how every piece fits together and affects the corporation as a whole,” she continues. “It’s really an executive-level experience you get while you’re in the MBA program.”
Thank you to the executives who served on the board of directors for this year’s “Strategic Management” course:
Executive Director, Center for Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness, UB School of Management
Jennifer Ball, EMBA ’14
CFO, Aspire WNY
Thomas Barney, MBA ’00
Vice President and Treasurer, Delaware North
Laura Berrady, EMBA ’07
Director of Population Health Management, Optimum Physician Alliance
Bryan Brauner, EMBA ’14
CEO, Twin City Ambulance
Steven Briggs, EMBA ’14
Vice President of Sales, Dynabrade Inc.
Joel Colombo, CEL ’10
President and Managing Partner, 360 Professional Services Group
Michael Cropp, MD, EMBA ’03
President and CEO, Independent Health
David Ehrenreich, BS ’09, EMBA ’13
Business Intelligence/Systems Manager, Hearst Digital Marketing Services
William Grieshober Jr., EMBA ’06
General Counsel, Rich Products Corp.
Peter Howell, EMBA ’07
Vice President, Commercial Banking, HSBC Bank
Michael Keane, BS ’00, PMBA ’04
COO – Wealth Management, Wilmington Trust
Thomas Kowalski, BS ’75
Senior Executive Officer, Farrow U.S.
Joseph Kuchera, BS/MBA ’81
Vice President, Product Stewardship and Compliance, Unifrax
Anthony LaRosa, BS ’10, MBA ’12
Project Manager, M&T Bank
Sam Marrazzo, EMBA ’14
Chief Innovation Officer, Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus
Chris Maugans, BS ’10, JD/MBA ’14
Associate Attorney, Goldberg Segalla
Michael Olfano, BS ’92, MBA ’94
CEO, PCA Technology Group
Vince Polino, EMBA ’14
Market Sales Manager – Brewery, Alfa Laval
Adam Pratt, CEL ’08, EMBA ’13
President, Sherex Fastening Solutions
Joshua Randle, MBA ’12
COO, I-Evolve Technology Services
Daniel Wangelin, CEL ’17
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