School of Business marks consulting milestone

starbucks uw

January 6, 2016
By Lisa Hall

BOTHELL, Wash. – When companies and organizations throughout the Puget Sound region have a business problem that needs to be solved, they partner with the students and faculty at the School of Business at University of Washington, Bothell. Recently, the school achieved a rare milestone - 200 different consulting engagements across the Puget Sound business community. Projects have been completed for Fortune 100 firms (including, Microsoft, Starbucks, and Philips) and non-profit organizations (e.g., Habitat-for-Humanity, Hopelink, and The Northwest Center). These consulting efforts have resulted in a strong reputation for the school as a catalyst for business excellence in the throughout the region. 

UW Bothell School of Business has partnered with the Starbucks Company for the last five years and over 25 projects have been conducted. Most recently, Starbucks engaged the Management Consulting class co-taught by two Business School faculty, Surya Pathak and R. Brooks Gekler. The class was tasked with studying the proposed Green Apron delivery project and determining the best process for providing a dedicated desk delivery service inside New York’s Empire State Building.

The Starbucks project wasn’t just on paper. As part of the Green Apron delivery project, Starbucks opened its doors and a group of seven MBA students were able to work side-by-side with the internal Starbucks team for 20 weeks. Donning the signature green aprons, students participated in tests, collected data, and conducted focus group interviews to understand the process. Using advanced simulations, process analytics, cost analysis, and strategic considerations, the team developed key recommendations. The focus was on designing the delivery process and uncovering a new revenue stream that optimized the company’s business model. The students presented their findings to a room full of senior Starbucks executives at its headquarters in the Spring of 2015. The team’s recommendations were well received and became part of the actual launch in October 2015. In other words, direct impact.

“The business partner provides the problem and the context,” says Pathak, “We bring rigor, and the outcome is excellence. Rather than working on an abstract case study, our students are immersed in real problems. This experiential learning approach is the education model for future business leaders.”

This was not an unusual experience for Pathak and Gekler or for UW Bothell’s MBA students. The secret sauce of the School of Business is the collaboration shown by the two instructors in the team-teaching model. This approach matches the academic strengths of a professor (Pathak) with a business leader with extensive experience (Gekler). The result is that academic rigor meets business relevance. Gekler says, “We’re a great team with complementary strengths. We apply a rigorous and disciplined consulting process which leads to insightful, evidence-based and actionable recommendations. This is a win-win experience for our students and our business partners. In particular, the consulting practicum really sharpens the students’ skills in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and decision making.”

The School of Business has developed sustainable, robust, and reciprocal partnerships within the larger business community. Pathak says helping the business community is the fundamental cornerstone for collaborative partnerships. “We solve real problems available in the business community. In doing so, we build cooperation and trust, and, together, we help the companies achieve more. As our partners trust us more, the projects we work on become more strategic and global.”

The emphasis on making business excellence accessible is an institutional priority at UW Bothell. School of Business Dean Sandeep Krishnamurthy sums it up; “Our campus differentiates itself by community engagement (i.e., working collaboratively with partners), connected learning (i.e., learning is not limited to the classroom), and, cross-disciplinarity (i.e., breaking the silos). The partnership between Professors Pathak and Gekler exemplifies these principles admirably. By partnering with the business community, we strengthen our students, faculty, and, indeed, the entire region.”

About UW Bothell: Ranked No. 1 in the state of Washington and the Pacific Northwest on Money magazine’s list of best colleges, UW Bothell provides access to an exceptional University of Washington education for students of tremendous potential. Offering more than 45 undergraduate and graduate degrees, options, certificates and concentrations, UW Bothell builds regional partnerships, inspires change, creates knowledge, shares discoveries and prepares students for leadership in the state of Washington and beyond.