Student consultants help
businesses make the grade
you'd like to hire a consultant to help solve a problem, but think
that option is ludicrously expensive, call a nearby university and
see if it has students able and willing to do the job.
Increasingly, universities will say yes, because
today's MBA student is tomorrow's six-figure business consultant.
But you can get them to come work for you first
-- and often the price you'll have to pay is nothing, or next to
it. Universities large and small have programs that let their students
good deal for all
For the students, it's great training for a career in business
-- specifically, consulting. "About 50 percent of the MBA students
in our program go to work afterward for one of the Big 12 consulting
firms," says August Schomburg, director of graduate programs for
School of Business at American University in Washington, D.C.
"Consulting is a very good opportunity for them because not only
does it pay well, it also leads to many other things."
For small-business owners, it's a great deal.
Teams of five Kogod students under the supervision of one or more
faculty members undertake 16-week consulting projects for companies
in the mid-Atlantic region. Recent customers have included Johnson's
Flower & Garden Centers and Intelsat, a satellite communications
Students examine the problem the customer wants
solved, decide what needs to be done, get management approval and
then do the job, Schomburg says. Companies are charged only expenses.
At UCLA's Anderson
School, faculty-led teams of graduate students take on more
than 80 consulting projects a year at companies all over the country,
according to project manager Ginger Johnson.
Companies pay $2,500. For that they get six
months of in-depth attention, including at least two on-site visits,
and a 40-page final report. The report provides a strategic analysis
of the company, its industry and markets, and an analysis of the
problem under consideration, including potential causes and strategic
Pro Band Sports Industries Inc. has commissioned three Anderson
School field studies on growth and marketing strategies. "Had we
paid a consultant to do one of the projects that the Anderson students
did, it would have cost us at least $100,000," says Linda Taylor
Fareed, Pro Band's CEO. "And I don't believe professional consultants
could have done a finer job than these MBAs."
Don't think you'll be turning your business
over to some wet-behind-the-ears kids who want to play with your
money. Most MBA students aren't kids. Graduate schools generally
require that applicants to business programs have spent at least
a couple of years working in a business environment. Many MBA candidates
have more experience than that.
But even universities that have only undergraduate
programs sometimes offer consulting services that can be valuable
to their communities.
For instance, at Bradley University in Peoria,
Ill., all graduating seniors in the Foster
College of Business Administration are required to complete
a senior consulting project. More than 2,000 area small businesses
have benefited from this free program in the last 20 years, says
Roger Luman, director of the Bradley Small Business Development
Center and supervisor of the senior projects. Students work with
businesses in the areas of accounting, advertising, market research,
inventory control and other areas of management.
Another option worth exploring is faculty consulting.
At the University of the Pacific's Eberhardt
School of Business in Stockton, Calif., faculty members offer
a variety of staff and executive training, tailored individually
to the needs of the customer, says Victor Preisser, director of
the program. Employers are charged from $15 to $28 per hour for
each person receiving the training.
local when looking for advice
Preisser believes that hiring a consultant from a locally focused
university such as his can be especially valuable because it establishes
a long-term relationship that can have other rewards. "We know the
community, and we go from training to market research to strategic
planning to finding them interns."
If you are interested in hiring student consultants,
here is some advice from faculty members involved in these projects:
- Start by calling a nearby university. While
some nationally focused graduate schools take on projects far
from home, you're more likely to get help from a school that is
in your region.
- Define and focus what you would like to have
done. Time available is usually relatively short. You'll be more
satisfied with the results if you don't spread your student consultants
- Get to know the faculty supervisor and be
readily available to answer questions and provide information.
In return, ask that he or she provide you with regular status
- Make time to participate in creative brainstorming
sessions. Listen to the students' ideas and suggestions. Even
when they seem off-point, they can be offering valuable feedback.
- Push for clear results and a list of action
steps. Don't let your consultants get away with being too theoretical
or impractical. If that's the result, neither of you will benefit.
- If it's not offered, insist on a written
Jennie L. Phipps is a contributing
editor based in Michigan
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-- Posted: April 17, 2000