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Professor Jim Emery Outlines Keys to Success in Student - Client Consulting Projects

Students work with client organizations to address existing and emerging challenges

November 07, 2012

Everyone likes a "win-win" situation - one in which both you and a partner benefit. The Fuqua Client Consulting Practicum (FCCP) is designed to do just this. As students work with client organizations to address existing and emerging challenges, both the student and the sponsoring organization receive value.

Such practicums have long been a part of the Fuqua experience. They have been revamped under the leadership of Professors Jim Emery and Pranab Majumder. Emery describes these changes and also provides advice on how companies and students can benefit from such a collaboration in the following Q and A interview.

What are some of the changes in Fuqua's Client Consulting Practicum?

In the past, Fuqua offered a variety of practicum courses focusing on different types of organizations, in different industry sectors, functional areas and geographies.  This wasn't the optimum set-up from a logistical point of view for the students.   Clients also had many points of contact with Fuqua for engaging with student teams.  So, one of the fundamental changes we initiated in creating the FCCP was to integrate all of the courses in which the MBA student teams performed consulting project work for external projects.  This has created a standard process, built on best practices from the various courses, for engaging with students and clients.

Why are these practicums being concentrated in Brazil, China and South Africa?

Building on Fuqua's global emphasis, international projects have become a growing interest for our students.  We selected by considering where we could best leverage existing resources and relationships to support the student teams and clients and to grow our presence in key international locations. This year the locations are Shanghai, Johannesburg and Sao Paulo.   In Shanghai we leverage our existing investments in infrastructure and personnel. China is also a large market which has drawn significant student interest for a number of years.  In South Africa, we have historic ties to many local social entrepreneurial organizations. Through Duke Corporate Education, we have the opportunity to build relationships with larger organizations in South Africa.  Brazil, and Latin America more generally, has been a growing interest for many of our students over the last few years.  It is an important region with a growing base of alumni who have been very supportive in helping Fuqua to grow and build corporate relationships.

Why should companies look to partner with business schools for these types of practicums and what type of commitment is necessary from them?

Companies derive a number of benefits from partnering with universities on these types of practicums.  First, we work with a number of emerging and not-for-profit companies both locally and internationally that would not otherwise be able to afford consulting project assistance from students with graduate-level business training.  Second, even multinational corporations who can afford professional consulting firms benefit from engaging MBA student teams. The projects address a real business issue and enable the company to enhance its ties to the business school recruiting channel (thus it provides additional access to top future management talent).  The essential commitment required from the companies, small or large, is time from its manager(s) and staff to work closely with the student team to complete the various activities comprising the project.  Typically, this will require regular (weekly) communications between the responsible manager and/or staff to answer questions, review research and analyses conducted by the student team, and assist in planning and coordinating the next activities of the project.

What can a company do to get the most out of the collaboration?

Beyond allocating the time of those managers and staff associated with the project, companies will get greater benefit when they secure some level of buy-in from each of the senior managers that might be affected by the issues addressed during the project prior to its initiation.  Companies should also ensure that the necessary resources (e.g., financial data, customer surveys, operational data) to complete the project are made available to the team early in the project.  Finally, many projects involve student team interviews with individuals both internal and external to the company. The sooner the company can help the students set-up these conversations, the greater the benefit to the final work product.

What can a student do to get the most out of the experience?

It is critical  to get off to a quick start.  Students must work closely with their client company to establish the scope and work plan for the project, and then initiate data collection and scheduling of interviews and project review sessions as soon as that project scope is set.  Students should also plan to spend the necessary time upfront on process issues such as team building and the assignment of roles and responsibilities for different aspects of the project.  These internal and external process management steps greatly increase both the benefits derived from the experience and the teams' success on the project. 

What is the desired outcome for students and sponsoring organizations?

Students develop consulting and project management skills and enhance the learning derived from their other graduate classwork through application to real world company challenges. The experience has also benefited many students in their summer internship and full-time job search efforts. For companies, the outcomes emphasize high quality analysis and input around current business challenges facing the organization.  Some companies also derive the benefit of deepening their relationships to   Fuqua that are an important training ground for the company's future management talent.

Read about a student's experience in a practicum at the following feature article. Learn more about the Fuqua Client Consulting Practicum.