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Carlson School program gives real-life business experience By SHERRI CRUZ 1049 words 22 December 2002 Associated Press Newswires English MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Northwest Airlines Cargo's business was losing money, so President Jim Friedel hired a consultant to figure out where and how often. Luigi Caceres and his colleagues evaluated Northwest Cargo's business processes and identified several areas within the company where it wasn't collecting all of its revenue. Caceres and his team made suggestions and Northwest designed the solutions, which will be implemented. And that wrapped up the three-month "revenue enhancement" case by the student consultants at the University of Minnesota's Carlson Consulting Enterprise, a student-run business that also is an MBA class. The Carlson School of Management developed hands-on programs such as the Consulting Enterprise to give students an edge in the job market, attract international and national students and, ultimately, to distinguish itself from the competition. The student-run business competes with professional consulting firms. Since the program's inception last summer, it has generated $100,000 in revenue. So far, they have finished several projects for five public and private companies, including Northwest Cargo and Guidant Corp. "We've compared ourselves to other schools," and Carlson's program is richer, said Philip Miller, professional director for the program. Other colleges have field experience classes but many don't have an advisory board whose 13 members serve as mentors or real projects where students interact with high-level executives. Carlson Consulting Enterprise usually accepts contracts that can be completed in three months because students have only 10 to 20 hours a week to work on projects. The contracts are usually priced between $25,000 to $50,000, but the program's goal is to take on $100,000 projects, Miller said. The student business charges half what their professional counterparts do because it's also a learning environment. The Carlson School also operates two other student-run businesses - Carlson Funds Enterprise, which manages two funds, and Carlson Ventures Enterprise, which helps startups develop their business. A fourth and yet-to-be named business that will focus on helping companies build their brands will be launched next year. Students are selected for the class through an interview process that begins in the spring for the fall. Only 17 of the 30 students who applied were chosen for the six-credit, 18-month class. The process will remain selective, but as the program progresses, the college wants to be able to accept 40 students, Miller said. Students attend class Tuesdays, and on Thursdays if there is a speaker. They aren't graded. The classes are a mix of Miller's lectures and student presentations of case studies in
which they share their on-the-job lessons. One thing Ana Ponguta has learned is that sometimes projects aren't as straightforward as they appear. On a recent project she was supposed to analyze data for a Fortune 500 company but the data were a mess, so first she had to clean it up. "That really pushed us to do new things," she said. In the end, they knew more about the data than the client did, Miller said. The students also learned business realities. Just as the student consultants were about to sign a contract to work on a Web strategy project for PricewaterhouseCoopers, the company put it on hold, saying its budget had been frozen. A few weeks later, the students learned what had happened: IBM had purchased the consulting arm of PricewaterhouseCoopers. Next up for the student-run business is a 12-week project for a Fortune 500 company and another project involving logistics and Six Sigma, the quality control method best known for its effectiveness at General Electric. Two of the student consultants have had Six Sigma training, Miller said. The students also are beginning work on two marketing studies for Northwest Cargo, including a Korean market study to help Northwest Cargo prepare for the launch of its direct freight service there next summer. In a tough job market, participating in the class also gives the students an edge in landing a job. In better economic times, many students would have been cherry-picked by consulting firms, Miller said. Now, rather than hiring three students from the Carlson School of Management, the consultants are saying they might hire one student. But when the interviewer says something such as "tell me a story" or "what was your greatest challenge," the students have real experience to draw on, he said. In addition to saving money, Northwest Cargo's Friedel likes working with Carlson Consulting Enterprise because he gets to see the students in action for spring hiring. His company hires three to six people with MBAs a year, not all from Carlson. While Northwest Cargo doesn't need consultants, it needs the management skills that consultants have, Friedel said, including the ability to break down complex problems into bite-sized pieces and then communicate that to people. Recently some of the students gathered in the newly finished university "office" on the lower level of the Carlson School of Management, which includes a large conference table, laptops and plenty of whiteboard. The consensus among the students is that consulting skills are valuable for any of their future endeavors. About half of the students taking the course want to be consultants, Miller said. But Caceres has plans to head to Europe and get into business development. Ponguta wants to work in marketing, and through an internship, she is one of the few students offered a job before graduating in May. She will be a marketing manager for Ecolab. Colombian-born Ponguta is an example of the kind of student Carlson wants to attract - an international student who wants to stay and work in Minnesota. She went back to Colombia after attending the University of Iowa on a scholarship but wanted to return to the Midwest. "I love the people here," she said. She also thought there would be more job opportunities here because fewer people would want to live in the cold weather.
But before graduating, the students face perhaps their biggest challenge - balancing this class with other course work and a personal life. The class is motivating, Ponguta said. But it's not easy, she said. "It's the real thing."