December 16, 2014
By Mike Killeen
Margrette Newhouse knows the business world can be messy.
Business executives don't get a neat, concise case study when designing strategy. And, they have to communicate in a way unique to business.
That's why Newhouse, a former bank executive who now holds the Saint John's University John and Elizabeth Myers Chair in Management, decided to change the ground rules for students in her Advanced Global Strategy class at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University.
She's leaving the "traditional Harvard Business Review" approach behind.
"In business, you don't have the neat case set of facts that are presented to you and the financial figures leading you into what could be the key questions to be asking. It's a lot messier than that," Newhouse said. "I embarked on this idea of doing a series of live case experiences, to have the students pull it all together and really let them experience how strategic challenges are recognized and addressed in the real world as well as how multi-faceted the strategy happens to be."
Fall semester, the capstone class for the global business leadership major undertook three case studies. First, the students completed strategic research, analysis and recommendations in a both a written and verbal report for a mock global business expansion for Lego.
The students then transitioned to their first "live" case with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Minnesota and North Dakota. The BBB was considering expanded service options for key regions in Rochester, Duluth, Fargo-Moorhead or St. Cloud. On Nov. 20, they presented their findings to Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. (Badgerow is a former member of CSB's Board of Trustees.)
"In my opinion, working with real life companies is not only more exciting, but it gives us the opportunity to practice our business and professional mastery skills in a way that typical textbooks couldn't provide," said Josh Fox, an SJU senior from Hastings, Minnesota, who is in the class.
Four students made the presentation to Badgerow. The class recommended expansion into the St. Cloud market because of its future job growth, a growing population, a large number of smaller businesses and a high number of college students in the area.
"When Margrette told us that we would not only be doing research and creating recommendations for the BBB, but that the CEO of the company was willing to come in and listen to our presentation, it made everything more exciting and real," said Erika Rodby, a CSB senior from Orono, Minnesota, who is in the class. "It wasn't just another grade in the grade book. This project actually went toward helping the BBB decide which location was the best location for them.
"I wanted to push myself and do my absolute best work to impress the CEO and show her how much we cared about this project," Rodby said.
The class spent the last several weeks of the semester engaged in a strategic review of Polaris Industries product portfolio. On Dec. 10, they visited Polaris corporate headquarters in Medina, Minnesota, to pitch their recommendations to members of the Polaris Business Development team including John Melsen, a 2004 graduate of SJU, and Patrick Ulman, who collaborated with Newhouse on the design of the project and corporate visit. The students also met with SJU alumni Bennett Morgan '85 and Mike Malone '80, who serve as Polaris' COO/president and CFO, respectively.
Newhouse said it is important for students to be "workforce ready" beyond an internship experience in areas such as business communication and assessment and feedback. Students have to manage their attendance with assigned personal time off days, and their final exam was a one-on-one performance review with Newhouse.
Both Fox and Rodby said the class helped prepare them for a career in business.
"I have witnessed a shift in both my own thinking to always try and pull out the 'whys' and 'so whats' of each document and to back that information up as clean and as straight-forward as possible," said Fox, who will graduate in December and work at Precision Landscaping and Construction in Hastings. "Margrette has really stressed how important time is to many corporate executives and how important bullet pointing, bolding and pulling out all the important information is to make it fast and easy of a read as possible."
"I have always considered myself fairly knowledgeable when it comes to strategic thinking, but this class really put it into perspective how much more there is to learn," Rodby said. "One can never learn too much about strategy, especially since it is always changing with technology enhancements and the economy. I definitely feel more prepared for my future career after having completed this course."