Student Perspectives On The MBA Program Of The Year

The centerpiece of the new MBA program at Washington University’s Olin Business School is a new 38-day global immersion that starts right after a one-week orientation on campus. What was it like to travel and learn with an entire cohort of first-year MBA students to Washington, D.C., Barcelona, Spain, and Beijing and Shanghai, China?

To find out, we’ve put together this panel of three Olin students who lived the new global experience that helped to make the school’s newly revamped MBA the Program of the Year in 2019. Joining the live-streamed discussion are Lungi Tshuma, a former professional rugby player; Jennifer Lanas, an educator from Pittsburgh who has an upcoming summer internship at Cisco, and Zach Frantz, who had worked in China for five years in a variety of jobs and expects to land an internship in supply chain and operations.

This is the second of three-panel conversations. The first, featuring Olin Business School Dean Mark Taylor and two of the school’s professors, explored the background behind the updates to the MBA curriculum and what Olin learned from the global immersion itself.

An edited transcript of our student conversation follows:

John A. Byrne: I’m betting that all three of you saw the new global immersion as a major attraction and it became one of the reasons why you decided to come to Olin for your MBA, yes?

Jennifer Lanas: Absolutely. Jiggle the car keys. Gas up the jet, let’s go.

Byrne: And did the immersion fulfill your expectations?

Lanas: More than ever. Truthfully, we circumnavigated the globe together. And over the course of six weeks, we developed friendships. We learned business by actually doing business and contextualizing information. It was a dream come true for me.

Byrne: What were the surprises for you, Zach? You had spent five years in China. I imagine that when you went to Shanghai and Beijing with your classmates, you were the guide, you were the leader.

Zach Frantz: After spending five years in China and spending so much time trying to get back to United States to graduate school, when I first learned that I was going go back to China almost immediately upon returning, I was a little worried. I had just came from here, and I didn’t actually want to go back but the program was incredible. I got an opportunity to share a little part of the country which I love with my classmates and do my best to help people get around, navigate the streets, maybe eat some good food along the way. It was a good time.

Byrne: And Lungi, one of the memorable things you said to me earlier your recollection of the night you and your classmates went down near the river in Shanghai. And in that evening with the city glittering all around you, you just had a magic moment that you’ll remember for a lifetime. Talk to me about that moment.

Lungi Tshuma: That was a special moment, one of many. But the reason it was so special is that we were all outside of our comfort zones. But, safely outside of our comfort zones, with the guidance of the school, and the program. We were in Shanghai after having traveled together and seen the best and worst of each other. We were like doing work in the middle of the night but decided to go out to have drinks as well. So it a moment that just put everything into perspective. That’s when we first paused. We took a moment and we were just sitting by the Big Bend with the lights by the canal. And we were just watching the lights having a couple of beers. It was awesome. I felt that this was my new group, my new friends. So that’s why it was special.

Byrne: It’s clear that the bonding that occurred from the trip was very unusual and very deep. I think I heard that second year MBAs wondered what kind of voodoo was going on because your cohort was so deeply connected when you returned to campus.  But the other learning was accelerated development. Did you get a sense that you were learning a lot during the 38 days you were away?

Lanas: I would say that’s true John. Baptism by fire might be an accurate way to describe it or swimming with sharks, so to speak. That’s not to frighten anyone. The idea is that you belong to a cohort, and it’s a diverse, eclectic group of people. You know, Poets & Quants is an accurate description. You have people who are well versed in the humanities, as well as individuals on your team who formerly worked in strategy and in investments. So you have people on your team who can put together a P&L, who can stand up on the stage and put together a deck that is perfectly executed. So yes, you really are running a sprint every week. And the demands are a little bit challenging. But you know that you have a deliverable and you know you have teammates that you can rely upon to get the job done.

Byrne: And the teams are formed in a way to bring their workplace experiences into the project so that students could add real value, correct?

Lanas: Absolutely.

Byrne: So, let’s take the three parts of the Global Immersion. Give me a sense of what went on in Washington D.C., the first stop.

Tshuma: Yeah, I can speak about Washington. We were exposed to the Brookings Institute, which has long had a relationship with the university. It really did set a good tone for the rest of the Immersion. It was the right balance of getting to know each other as groups and preparing ourselves, and also setting a standard for the educational work in the core courses and the cultural experiences that we were going to experience. So I think it was really like a plane taking off. I think from Washington all the way to Barcelona, Beijing, Shanghai.

Byrne: At Brookings, you had lectures on global economics, public policy, to set the stage for the rest of the trip, right?

Tshuma: In global economics, we spoke about how businesses are more global and how a simple product touches all the ends of the earth before it gets on the shelf. So it was preparing our minds as well. We looked at things like the healthcare system of the U.S. and how it compared to other countries in the world.

Byrne: Where did you stay when you were in Washington, D.C.? – Dupont Circle.

Tshuma:  In a hotel in Dupont Circle. We would get up in the mornings and walk to the Brookings Institute. It was super convenient. And I actually got a chance to even walk to the Zimbabwe Embassy. Everything was well planned out.

Frantz: I thought the most important part of Washington was that it was the first step in getting to know your teammates and trying to figure out how to work within these diverse groups. I’m a firm believer that you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone to spark personal growth and development. And we got pushed in a lot of ways on the global immersion trip. But one of the main ways was we were forced to figure out how to work with a group of people whom we’d never met before, We have different backgrounds, and a lot of us were doing things that we’ve never been exposed to before.

Washington, D.C., was great because we had a group project and we had a deadline, and we had to allocate responsibilities, but it wasn’t necessarily related to business. So we were able to work with our teammates to figure out our group dynamic and how to get things done in an area that we didn’t necessarily need the expertise to excel. And so that was a great first step for our work.

Byrne: What did the group project involve?.

Frantz: Over the course of the week, we had been learning about economies from all over the world. We also had learned a little bit more about American history. We did some cultural excursion tours because a number of our classmates had never been to Washington D.C. before. Each member of the group went to a different museum and we came back and synthesized what we saw and gave a presentation that echoed the core values of our program.

Byrne: And then, on to Barcelona. What was that like?

Lanas: To actually be there in the city and to see what’s happening at a granular level for a thriving, vibrant city facing some geopolitical turmoil was exciting. You understand that Barcelona is a microcosm of a much larger global story. So not only was our cohort putting together, many of us had to pull together our first P&Ls while were in the midst of this vibrant European city. During the day, we’re engaged in classes that were demanding to enter into the world of management and strategy. And we’re relying upon each other as teammates to understand and contextualize this information. My project was with a bio-dynamic vineyard.

We had to understand why this is a value proposition worth pursuing and how might we, as consultants, help to advance this mission. From my standpoint, I wanted to use it as not only a business case but also a way of exercising design thinking in the group. So, we used design thinking strategies to help us understand and exercise our strengths, our brand as a team, and then advanced that moving forward. There were a lot of team-building exercises that we did in Barcelona that were fun, engaging, and interactive. And again, how could you not be there and appreciate the culture? There was so much that I got out of that experience. It’s B-school. So yeah, you get up early. You stay out late. You figure out a way to make it all happen.

Byrne: And where did you stay?

Lanas: We were just off of La Rambla, which is a large promenade in central Barcelona. And Barcelona is an entirely walkable, beautiful city. We were in the heart of it all.

Byrne: I’m sure everyone ate well, in Barcelona.

Lanas:-My teammates have the greatest taste in paella and I proudly say so. And the Cava can’t be beaten.

Byrne: Was your winery making Cava?

Lanas: Yes. And that’s it in the distinction. Cava has been historically at a different price point. It’s not champagne, or it’s not wine from the Napa Valley. So how do you change the perception of Cava, and to which market should it be branded? So that’s one of the questions that we had to solve as a team. My team was representative in terms of gender. And that’s something we should say here: our cohort of 100 students achieved gender parity. And those are the things that we really stand by. We are racially and ethnically diverse. We stand by our values. We as a team came together again, in a very representative fashion with very different perspectives to solve a problem for a winery in a different country on a different continent. That was a pretty awesome project overall.

Byrne: Lungi gave us his magic moment of the trip. What would have been yours?

Lanas: Don’t get me wrong. I do like a good party. But I am a quiet walk-and-talk type of person. So I think it was walking with my teammates through the winding streets of the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona. So winding through a quiet sleepy Sunday, and hearing music. It seems like every corner you just see another guitarist just strumming away and that for me is something that was palpable. I’ll take that away with me forever.

Byrne: Did the school pay for tapas?

Lanas: You know, I definitely have to say that I wouldn’t be here or anywhere for that matter throughout my educational journey as a former teacher. Scholarship considerations matter. So the fact that the global immersion was included within your tuition was a remarkable game-changer.

Byrne: Plus, in China, you actually had your own hotel rooms?

Franz: That’s right for a full three weeks in Shanghai. Living in style.

Byrne: Okay, Zach, you’ve got to tell us about the China trip now.

Franz: I was just going to say that while the school did not pay for our tapas us out, they did pay for maybe 20 buffets a week. And no one needs that many buffets in their life, but we got them.

Byrne: Well, I think you all probably gained weight during this trip, right?

Lanas: Well, there’s quite a bit of walking, This is a once in a lifetime opportunity so you need to see it all. Many of our professors also are up at the crack of dawn, with their run clubs. So whether you’re joining a professor on a run or you want to take a nice stroll by yourself to take in the solitude of the city, you’ll walk it off.

Byrne: Actually, you are making me recall an interview with one of your professors who told me that his magic moment was taking those early runs with students and really getting to know students as he had never had before. That was really special to him.

Lanas: It’s a sense of community that you can’t build anywhere or anyway else.

Byrne: Zach, so this was a return to China for you? How was it different?

Franz: One key thing was despite the fact I had been in China that long, I wasn’t necessarily working in what could be considered traditional business industries. So through our two projects in China, we were able to develop a go-to-market strategy for Strange Donuts, a local franchise here in St. Louis, and then also took an operations course in the latter half of our portion in Shanghai where we got to take factory tours of a major apparel manufacturer in China and to the Nike fulfillment center in China. It’s just outside of Shanghai and is responsible for the fulfillment of all of its orders in China.

It was fairly heavily automated and they were always looking for different opportunities to automate it. I remember them talking about how the picking section was actually the most manually intensive aspect of their distribution process within the factory. But it also was too costly or impossible to be automated at this current date.

Byrne: So what was your magic moment?

Franz: Honestly, I think mine is the same as Lungi’s. You know, it was at the perfect moment ’cause it was right at the end of our tour. We were about to fly back to the United States. We just came out of a good night together meeting MBA students in Shanghai who were from Fudan University. We had a good event, everyone was feeling good. Only a couple days left to go on the trip, and just the Shanghai skyline is really quite something. You know, looking at a nice feast allows you to reflect upon how much you’ve accomplished over the past few weeks with the great people around you.

Byrne: It sounds like it’s something that none of you will ever forget. All right, Zach, Jennifer and Lungi, thank you so much for joining us.



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