This past spring semester, Vishoka Balasubramanian WG’23, Shounak Mishra WG’22, Andres Ramirez WG’23, and Jordan Woodard WG’22 participated in the Mack Institute’s Collaborative Innovation Program (MGMT 892), a project-based course that brings Wharton students into real companies to help them solve problems and drive innovation strategies.
The students in the group worked with a major conglomerate to help develop a new AlcoBev product for foreign markets. Ultimately, it was determined that the client should focus on 1) leveraging existing capabilities, 2) leveraging existing relationships, 3) markets where customers have familiarity with Indian AlcoBev products, 4) markets that are increasingly becoming favorable, and 5) markets where regulations are in favor of India whisky entrants.
We spoke to the students about their experience with the CIP program and how their Wharton education and resources helped them to succeed.
What drew you to this particular project?
Andres: Coming from retail, I really wanted to experience a project that combined some of the skills I already had with skills that I didn’t—specifically, hands-on experience in consulting. While I may not want to go into that industry, I still wanted to still get a feel for it and it’s been great to be able to try out a different career path.
Jordan: One of the things that was attractive about this particular mandate was that the client was based in India. It pushed us to start thinking on an international level. Business is global and you have to be very cognizant of the cultural nuances that vary by country. Those cultural differences end up having a direct impact on the way your company conducts business in those regions.
“Business is global and you have to be very cognizant of the cultural nuances that vary by country. Those cultural differences end up having a direct impact on the way your company conducts business in those regions.”
One of the unique features of CIP is that it brings students with disparate backgrounds and skills together. What was your experience with your group like?
Shounak: Working with a talented group of fellow students was the highlight of this experience. I was especially impressed by the extensive retail experience Andres brought into our discussions. His insights on how the retailers and distributors interface with manufacturers is something I still remember. Vishoka was super thorough with the analytical techniques we used. He would often challenge me to examine data in different ways that would reveal deeper insights. And Jordan was phenomenal with presentation techniques. I now use his techniques in all my presentations at the workplace.
Vishoka: You engage with students who you might not typically see within the two years of the program. That’s really helpful. Participating in this kind of shared experience, which complements the rest of the Wharton program, can teach you a lot.
How did your Wharton education help you with this project?
Andres: As we were learning about international expansion in my MGMT 611 (Managing The Established Enterprise) class, we were starting to create the frameworks for international expansion for this project. I was able to meet with my management professor and say, “This is the problem we’re working on. Which frameworks should I study?” or “What additional readings or cases can I read up on?” It was great to have real world applications for the theories we were learning.
“I was able to meet with my management professor and say, “This is the problem we’re working on. Which frameworks should I study?” It was great to have real world applications for the theories we were learning.”
Shounak: During Wharton’s Global Business Week course, I met Congressman David Trone in Washington D.C.. Noticing that his firm “Total Wine & More” doesn’t own a single store in the state of Indiana (where I am from), I asked him what kind of marketing strategy/research he uses when deciding on locations to open his next stores. His reply was “We open them right next to where our competitors’ stores are. We then outcompete them by serving customers better than our competitors.” I realized that he was referring to the old adage of placing your ice-cream stand right next to your competitor on a sunny beach. Something we learnt in Dr. Kent Smetters’ Microeconomics class. We ended up using this framework to “sell” our proposal to our sponsors during our final presentation and they loved it.
What will you take away from your CIP experience?
Jordan: In terms of working with clients, this was a great exercise in being comfortable with ambiguity and making decisions when you don’t have all the information readily available. That’s definitely a transferable skill for post-MBA life because we’re going to have to be comfortable as managers and executives making decisions that have widespread implications without having all the information available to us.
Vishoka: As the companies we work for become more global, this idea of working across time zones or regions becomes more important. Innovation in one nation doesn’t automatically mean innovation in another. Although we were in the baby stages of market research during this product, the “lens” you use in innovation management is similar. How do you take an existing product and engage with a new market? It always requires innovation.