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Duke MBA Students Offer Consulting Services to Triangle Area Businesses

July 07, 2003

DURHAM, N.C. – MBA students at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business want to help small businesses in the Triangle area.

First-year and second-year MBA students have the option to take a course for credit to help companies solve business problems through the Fuqua Small Business Consulting Program. They aid small businesses that need consulting help, but cannot afford to pay the typical fees of consulting agencies.

The following are the criteria for being considered in the program:

  • Business must have been in operation for at least one year

  • Location is within a one hour drive of Duke University

  • Revenues exceeding $100,000 for the past business year.

  • Management is willing to provide financial data (one year minimum) and operational data to the student consultants

  • Management is willing to be available to meet with the student team a minimum of five or six times during the course of the consulting engagement (November 2003 through April 2004)

  • Management is willing to pay $200 administrative fee if accepted into the consulting program

Fuqua students have assisted the local business community for more than 20 years. Past activities have included: improving accounting systems, analyzing cash flow, diagnosing management problems, inventory control, operations, improving information technology procedures, performing market surveys, developing market strategies, human resources issues and manufacturing.

Among the type of businesses that have been helped in the past few years are: a bakery, residential building contractors, drug safety management and consulting, toys (wholesaler and retailer), a restaurant, a company that designs, manufactures and sells non-invasive blood pressure monitors, a travel agency, architectural firm, private grade school, a women’s clothing store, biotech firms, a genetic engineering firm and micro-electronic firm.

Non-profit organizations are welcome in the program. Past participating not-for-profit organizations are the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, the Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abuse (TROSA), Durham Companions and the Capital Area Soccer League (CASL).

“Students are eager to take their classroom knowledge and apply it to real-world situations,” said William A. Sax, director of the program and executive-in-residence at Fuqua. “Companies benefit from the practical advice they receive from the students who average five years’ business experience after receiving their undergraduate degree and before entering the Duke MBA program.”

Sax, who worked in the oil industry for more than 30 years, begins his 17th year of teaching at Fuqua this fall. He has helped more than 200 companies through this consulting program.

The students select those clients that best match the experiences, interests and abilities of the consulting teams (four to six students per team). Once selected, business owners meet with the student team to discuss the problems to be addressed.

Students begin the consulting project in November and hold approximately four to six meetings with the client through April. An important part of the success of the program is for the clients to be available for regular discussions with the students and to have a candid exchange of ideas. The open and collaborative effort makes for a rich experience for both client and student. It is also critical that the students have access to the financial data of the company, regardless of the problems to be studied. Sax says, “Without complete financial information, it is like trying to decorate a house in the dark.”

Sax regularly reviews the students’ progress until they successfully complete the project with a formal oral and written presentation. Every student signs a letter of confidentiality before the consulting engagement begins.

Sax is now accepting applications for the fall 2003 consulting program. The application deadline is September 26, 2003. Interested parties can obtain a brochure and application by calling Sax’s assistant, Beverly James at (919) 660-7789 or via e-mail at texas@duke.edu. The program overview, application and brochure are also available online at www.fuqua.duke.edu. From the Fuqua homepage, type “sc” in the Shortcuts Box in the lower right-hand corner of the page. On the Consulting Services page, the application, brochure, and overview are available for download from the column on the right side.