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Dixie Dean, Johnny Haynes, Cliff Bastin, Danny Blanchflower – legendary names for English football fans, but, until recently, meaningless to Kevin Fuller, a 29-year-old American studying for an MBA at Manchester Business School (MBS) following a stint with IBM, the computer services group, in Washington, DC.
Yet it was Fuller’s appreciation of sports other than football – or “soccer” – that made him so valuable to the UK’s National Football Museum (NFM) as it juggled plotting a strategy for its “hall of fame” with navigating a move from Preston to Manchester in July 2012.
As any visitor to the US knows, Americans love halls of fame. Each sport has its own, from the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, to the Professional Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs. Election to a hall is a big step in the direction of sporting immortality.
“I remember avidly following the Baseball Hall of Fame voting every year growing up, so it was an amazing feeling that I could help craft the selection process for the NFM and shape the direction of the institution,” says Fuller, one of a group of MBS students working on the project.
The NFM, which is home to the biggest collection of football memorabilia in the world, was in the middle of relocating to the Urbis building in Manchester, and wanted to evaluate and improve a number of aspects of its operation.
The MBS students were assigned to review the English Football Hall of Fame, which is housed in the museum, to develop an improved selection process and recommend associated events and sponsorship opportunities.
“The Hall of Fame had been an underutilised resource for the museum, so our main goal was simply to raise the profile of something that should be a big deal in a football-mad country such as England,” says Fuller. “The biggest challenge was nailing down exactly what the true goal of the Hall of Fame should be and whether it had changed after the move to Manchester. Is it purely about honouring the best players and managers in England’s history, [is it about] driving more visitors and income to the museum – or somewhere in between?
“Our recommendations provided a selection process that increased transparency, sustainability, and overall public awareness and participation. And we built that process around supporting events and sponsorship to best celebrate the greats of the game.
“Now that the museum has been open a few months, we’re looking forward to seeing the new process in action during the next selection cycle.”
Kevin Moore, director of NFM, has been impressed enough with the results that he has taken on another group of MBS students on further projects at the not-for-profit organisation, including feasibility studies into creating touring exhibitions and a second, satellite site in London.
“It is a great chance to work with students from all over the world, and each is a fresh pair of eyes on our challenges and opportunities,” he says. “We are a charity and simply would not have had the resources to do this kind of strategic thinking while making the move from Preston. Of course, students need managing, but so do paid-for consultants. And I find that the more time you put into these student projects, the more you get out.”
MBS students have the opportunity to work on three such client-consulting projects during their 18-month MBA: after working with a local not-for-profit organisation, they move on to work with a UK company and then an international business project.
Access to a pool of talented, experienced and international MBA students can be an inexpensive – and often free – boon for smaller organisations that have neither the time nor money to think about new or speculative projects, particularly in the current economic climate. At MBS, for example, clients are promised up to 2,000 hours of consultancy work, plus support from an academic who understands their industry. Typical project fees are £500 (waived for non-profits), plus students’ travel expenses.
But large, well-resourced multinationals benefit from MBA consulting projects too, according to Jessica Droste Yagan, director of sustainable supply for McDonald’s, the US fast-food chain. She took on a team of MBA students from the “sustainability lab” course at the Kellogg School of Management in Illinois. “We gained valuable insights from the Kellogg team about how we can better communicate with our supplier partners about sustainability,” she says. “They had access to review all of our current communication on sustainability as well as to interview a number of suppliers about their experience working with McDonald’s.”
Out of the 10-week project came a fresh framework and some tools and metrics for McDonald’s to use when measuring sustainability. One of the students on the project, Victoria Zimmerman, worked in the fast-food retailer’s supply chain on sustainability during the summer and was able to see several recommendations come to fruition.
“Nothing is better than real-world practice managing a relationship and project deadlines. Getting an inside look at the operations of an organisation lets you understand how concepts you learn in class are applied successfully,” she says. “And in an emerging field that is currently being defined differently by every organisation, the chance to contribute and see behind the curtain how sustainability is incorporated into corporate strategy is an experience that cannot be replicated in a classroom.”
McDonald’s also values the opportunity to share its thinking with students, says Droste Yagan. “We appreciated the direct deliverables from the team’s work, which were valuable and high quality, but also the ability to support a new generation of business leaders who understand the importance of sustainability to long-term business health.”
A project in Munich for Siemens, the engineering group, by Ashridge MBA student Gordon Henrik Wollgam generated similar mutual benefits. Siemens wanted to learn under which policy and market conditions a set of innovative green technologies could be successful in areas such as offshore wind and smart buildings.
Wollgam created a tool to assess the chances of success in the marketplace and, thanks to the offer of a contract extension, he stayed on at Siemens to advise on the implementation of his recommendations.
“It gave me real insight into how business issues are handled by a market leader,” says Wollgam, who is now employed by Roland Berger, the strategy consultancy. “I learned what are the burning questions for businesses in the area of sustainability, but I’ve also learned how to manage demanding clients – two key preconditions to being successful in consulting.”