REAL At Ross: My Favorite Electives

University of Michigan, Ross School of Business

New year, new me, and new semester.

Welcome to the winter term at the Ross School of Business. I remember this time last year: I was so excited because I could finally take an elective class, (which I acknowledge makes me sound a bit nerdy). Core classes, which takes up most of the first year, are important because it builds the foundation of business fundamentals among the student body.

In the second year, almost all classes are electives, which makes the academic experience much more interesting. In addition to choosing classes that are more aligned with your interests, the best part about electives is that you get to take classes with people from other sections, years (MBA1 and MBA2s), and schools at U-M (Supply Chain Management, School of Information, Sustainability… just to name a few).

Now that I am in my last semester, I’m going to dive into some of my favorite electives. Every year, there are classes that are in higher demand for different reasons, whether it is a cutting-edge topic or it fulfills a requirement for a lot of students. If you’re on the waitlist for a class, my recommendation is ALWAYS go to the first week of class and the professor might work some magic. One example of a high demand elective is Business Leadership in Changing Times.

Section photo after our last core Class in Winter 2021

Business Leadership in Changing Times: In this crisis leadership course taught by Professor Mike Barger, a founding member of JetBlue, students role play as the executive management team of a company and its stakeholders going through an actual crisis. I don’t want to spoil too much, but there were some fun guest stakeholders such as “Cardi B” and “Nicki Minaj” – and some of my classmates jumped right into character. Every session is formatted as a press conference. where the actual executive who went through the crisis is also present in the room. The class first starts with prepared remarks from the student management team, followed by a Q&A from student stakeholders to the management team and then to the actual executive. The class ends with a debrief with everyone including the executive.

My team portrayed the mock C-suite of a prominent record company. In this scenario, our company would embrace TikTok as a platform and would work with them to promote the content of our artists. It was then our job as the management team to hold a press conference to announce the partnership and face Q&A from different stakeholders. They included our artists, whose compensation structure might change, and our streaming partners, who are directly competing with TikTok.

We had some interesting questions pop up, such as the media asking, “Are you forcing your artists to post on TikTok” or concerned parents asking, “How are you going to protect our children from social media?” In my role as EVP of promotions, I highlighted the importance of social media and how it is complementary to traditional promotion channels to reach fans. I also highlighted the incredible team we have to help artists promote themselves on the platform (should they choose to) and the guidelines and standards we maintain for our artists when posting on social media.

I walked away from the class learning that crisis leadership does not happen when the crisis has occurred. In theory, you should be preparing for crisis before rolling out any initiative and reviewing your performance after it has passed. Through this course, I gained valuable insights on c-suite executives and crisis management teams. One crucial lesson is the importance of understanding who your stakeholders are, their respective value propositions, and how the crisis at hand poses a threat to those propositions. Another lesson is knowing when to communicate information to stakeholders and taking responsibility for the crisis. Furthermore, I have developed a new-found appreciation for the level of preparation that goes into press conferences, including the need to control the narrative and tone, anticipate and pre-empt questions, and carefully manage the overall messaging.

All in all, I truly feel that this crisis leadership course exemplifies Ross’s commitment to action-based, experiential learning. Following this class, I feel better equipped to handle a crisis situation in this increasingly VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) world that we live in.

Besides Business in Business Leadership in Changing Times, I also found a lot of value in the following courses:

Class picture with Guest Lecturer Andy Wu from HBS in Advanced Competitive Strategy Elective

Intellectual Property Law: IP Law with Professor Lynda Oswald was definitely one of my favorite classes. I found myself looking forward to attending, even though it was at 8 a.m. in the morning. She used a lot of props and visual examples (i.e. troll dolls and their knock-offs) to simplify what could potentially be a very dense topic. I learned a lot about the legal concepts underlying patent, copyright, trademark, and trade secrets, which are critical to entrepreneurs and managers.

For example, in an exaggerated scenario, imagine I am pitching a potentially patentable product to investors that will receive my pitch deck if they simultaneously fill out an online form and a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). The deck is marked on each page “Confidential – Not for Public Distribution.” These potential investors or competitors then go on to reverse engineer and replicate my product. However, this is a losing situation for me because of the following reasons:: 1) I had not filed my patent yet; 2) I didn’t take adequate measures ensure that my idea was not easily accessible; and 3) my secondary protection, the NDA, is too broad and therefore not enforceable. Going through many examples of these types of scenarios in class made me consider this question: If I were to start or advise a new company, what protective measures would I potentially need to take?

Esther Chen, University of Michigan (Ross)

Leading a Good Life: Imagine an injection of positivity every class and learning the tips and tricks to make lasting habits, deepen your focus, make ethical choices, and give yourself a little more grace in life. This is precisely what Professor Dave Meyer did! Fall A of this year was an overwhelming time for me as I was re-recruiting. However, this class was a good reminder of the importance of self-care and self-investment. For example, because of the class I experimented with Cal Newport’s idea of “Deep Work”. This term is defined as a “professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skills, and are hard to replicate.” I found that I am most effective during 20 minutes of uninterrupted work at once before my attention starts to wander. From that point, I can reset for another 20 minutes and still feel a lot of motivation to complete my work.

Corporate Financial Reporting: The term “10-K,” otherwise known as a company’s annual report, can be hundreds of pages long, overwhelming for a new user, and definitely something every business student will have to examine at some point. This class breaks the 10-K down into pieces, so that students actually know how to identify the information they are looking for. I took it with Professor Lindsay Gallo. She made the material really fun through memes and “Scandal of the Day,” videos that highlighted accounting scandal bad actors to Taylor Swift tunes. I walked away from the class feeling much more confident about reading financial statements.

I can’t believe that I’m in the last semester of my journey at Ross, but am excited to take my learnings with me and apply them as I re-enter the workforce. Go Blue!

Bio: Esther was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York and attended Bryn Mawr College (Anassa Kata!) for undergrad where she studied mathematics. Following graduation, Esther worked in investment management in both institutional and private wealth. Working in financial services, Esther realized that she wanted to be closer to the business side of things and was inspired to pursue an industry role in consumer retail, which led her to pursue an MBA at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business (Go Blue!). At Ross, she is involved with the Business Beyond Usual PodcastRetail & Luxury Goods Club, and Ross Open Road. She is excited to share her passion for the community and her experiences at Ross with Poets&Quants. Outside of school and work, Esther loves drinking bubble tea, biking, and rock climbing.

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