This past fall semester, Sarah Chung WG’22 participated in the Mack Institute’s Collaborative Innovation Program (Management 892), a project-based course that brings Wharton students into real companies to help them solve problems and drive innovation strategies.
While Sarah has mostly worked in finance and retail (including stints at Capital Group and Abercrombie and Fitch), her CIP project gave her the opportunity to work with one of the largest industrial equipment distributors in North America. She spoke to us about her experience with CIP and what made it “the best project experience I could have asked for.”
Your CIP assignment had you working in a totally new industry. What was that like?
It’s funny because the metalworking industry is something that was never on my radar. But the ecommerce aspect of it was something that I have experience in from working at Abercrombie and Fitch. Still, at first I thought maybe it wasn’t the best project for me–I don’t know anything about metalworking. But this was my first opportunity to do something fully project-based, fully team-based, fully a consultant experience. I figured I should give it a shot because I’d probably learn a lot and I did.
What networking opportunities did you access through CIP?
We had a lot of exposure to all the leaders in the company. The head of ecommerce spoke with us numerous times, and the director who was supervising our project was very involved. All the leaders that we were in contact with were more than willing to be involved. That’s not something you experience everywhere.
We were also really lucky to also have the CEO involved. He’s a Penn alum, so he was at our final presentation and he found all of our insights to be really valuable. That was a really feel-good moment.
Did you learn anything about innovation management that you’re going to take with you?
A lot of the things we recommended are future big trends in ecommerce and online retail for manufacturers. For example, Amazon customers are able to push a button to get a refill order submitted. For a manufacturing company to have a feature like that is unheard of. No one is doing it. So, there’s opportunities to automate and continue the customer cycle iteratively. Bringing those up and connecting the dots with what’s happening in the tech space was important to us.
“A lot of times when we’re a part of a team, we look for people who have similar backgrounds but it’s much more beneficial when you’re not all the same.”
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?
I got super lucky with my teammates. We became pretty close friends outside of the project–we’d hang out and grab lunch or drinks.
All of us had complementary skill sets, which contributed to a successful team. For example, we had a member who is pursuing a PhD in geology, and his background was immensely helpful in understanding some of these foreign concepts that we didn’t understand. We also had an investment banker who had a lot of financial industry scoping insights that he brought to the table, as well as a lot of modeling skills. We also had members who worked in ecommerce and tech. It all meshed well together.
“I better understand the spirit of innovation. There is a lot of opportunity and appetite for growth in companies that may seem old-school. I was pleasantly surprised by the willingness to grow, develop and stay on the cutting edge of what’s happening in the world.”
What will you take away from this experience?
Going forward, I’ll always be looking out for complementary skill sets in a team. I think a lot of times when we’re a part of a team, we look for people who have similar backgrounds but it’s much more beneficial when you’re not all the same. You’re able to work more in harmony and find other synergies.
I also better understand the spirit of innovation. There is a lot of opportunity and appetite for growth in companies that may seem old-school. I was pleasantly surprised by the willingness to grow, develop and stay on the cutting edge of what’s happening in the world.