Relationships with Local Companies Set UWB School of Business Apart
Last summer, Starbucks approached the University of Washington Bothell School of Business with an idea for a small, student project; ten months and four incredibly successful projects later and Professor Pathak says, “I can’t tell you about what we just finished working on; the most recent projects we were given were much bigger and much more strategic in nature.”
Surya Pathak received his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University and is a professor of Operations Management at UWB School of Business and has helped to mold what started as a small outreach between the University and a local business, into a client-consultant partnership with UWB students taking the lead on major projects in international industries. The students listen to specific and real world issues, interact with Starbucks associates and customers, analyze data, and advise those same Starbucks associates on possible solutions and or novel and innovative ideas.
The first quarter five teams worked on different projects with four teams focusing on introducing a new piece of technology: two in the store and two focusing on the drive-thru. The fifth team worked on a project related to Starbucks’s community involvement. All teams were asked to manage their own projects.
During the project the MBA students were also mentored one-on-one by the Executives in Residence, who, as the Director of the School of Business, Sandeep Krishnamurthy, Ph.D., describes them, are “business leaders who are passionate about sharing their experiences with undergraduate and MBA students and the academic community at large. These talented executives provide business students practical advice, mentorship, and an insider’s understanding of the nuances and complexities of corporate life.” They are battle-tested veterans whose resumes speak for themselves.
The merging of these three influences illustrates the ideology of Professor Pathak’s pedagogy: the students attend class for the background and theory, they meet with Executives in Residence to learn from current and past business leaders, and they work in autonomous and professional teams to complete the projects for their client—Starbucks. This three-pronged attack of education allows the students to grow as future leaders from future leaders, while learning to solve complex, real-life problems. The students had little to no operations management experience or training coming into class, which meant they were learning the principles and simultaneously applying them.
However, this synergy between the UWB MBA program and local businesses is not something new. MBA and undergraduate students have been working for and with local businesses for a very long time now, and in many cases the undergrads work with the graduates on the same projects. In this tiered hierarchy, everyone supports and learns from the group a step ahead of them, creating a mentorship that helps MBA students to hone their leadership skills and undergraduate students to grab invaluable hands on experience in business.
“This is what we do really well. This is why students come to UWB’s School of Business.” Professor Pathak doesn’t waste time with false modesty about the school or its evident success, primarily because he doesn’t have time to. Last quarter’s project was ten intense weeks of class, training and meeting with Starbuck’s associates, and arranging mentor sessions with Executives in Residence. Professor Pathak admits that he gave up many weekends for the sake of the project and his students, but in the end the group completed a successful and impressive project for a Fortune 500 company, so much so, that Starbucks requested that two of the teams present to a larger and more exclusive group of Starbuck’s executives in their offices in downtown Seattle.
In the end, Professor Pathak admits that it is a very fast-paced, intense amount of work, but in his opinion that is the speed of education. “We are teaching an introduction course to a group of professionals who are going to be leaders, and we’re doing it in ten weeks. You have to involve real world problems with the classroom information. You are saying, ‘Here are the tools. Now go use them tomorrow, literally.’”