Duke - The Fuqua School of Business

Feature Story

MBA Teams Deliver Impact Through Fuqua Client Consulting Practicum

Fuqua uses its deep relationships with companies and across regions to match student teams with projects

November 01, 2012

How can MBA students learn to effectively manage in global business environments? This was a question that Nitin Kaushik was considering. A physician by background, Kaushik had little corporate experience before the first year of Duke's MBA program. He knew he needed proof that he could apply his clinical knowledge in a business setting, and he found this opportunity through the Fuqua Client Consulting Practicum.

For almost 30 years Fuqua has used its deep relationships with companies and across regions to match student teams with projects for private and non-profit firms. The firms range from small to large, domestic to international, and the student teams are balanced by different backgrounds and strengths.

Kaushik was chosen to lead a team of five students in a consulting project for Quintiles, a global pharmaceutical services company. The mission: to analyze the pharmaceutical and overall health care market in Argentina and evaluate options for the company's market strategy.

"My knowledge of the healthcare industry was beneficial for working with pharmaceutical sales, but I lacked professional consulting experience," said Kaushik. "Other teammates had more corporate or consulting backgrounds, or perhaps knew the region, but did not have the industry experience. We would all come out much stronger at the end of the six-month assignment."

The work started well before the trip to Argentina. The team conducted phone interviews with not only the client but also with professors and alumni to have a deep understanding of the industry and the region. They also studied countless research reports to learn as much as possible. When the time finally came to travel to Buenos Aires, the experience surpassed everyone's expectations.

"Duke is a well-known brand name, so people were very welcoming. For our five-day trip we had scheduled 20 interviews, but we ended up conducting 32 interviews because everyone we met was so helpful and eager to cooperate with us."

After this whirlwind week of meeting with the pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and pharmacies, the students returned to Durham to compile their research into a final report which they presented to the president of the division at the global headquarters. They were thrilled with the analysis and recommendations they received.

The end goal of the practicum was not just to give recommendations to the client but also to enhance the business acumen of students. Kaushik believes this experience helped him and his teammates to become stronger candidates for summer internships because they had solid proof points to discuss during their interviews.

"The decision models we used for this project directly applied to my summer internship with a leading medical device company," explained Kaushik. "Working with their global marketing team, I was also able to draw on my recent experience working with people across the world on a common project. It not only helped me get the internship, but it helped me perform well once I was there."

The Fuqua Client Consulting Practicum is starting up again this year with record numbers. Beginning with interest from 200 students and 60 companies, the final roster matched 30 projects to teams of about five students each. This year, project teams will work in the United States, Sao Paulo, Belem, Johannesburg, and Shanghai.

The program has also been re-organized under the leadership of Professors James Emery and Pranab Majumder. To support the students' experiential project activities, the course includes special class sessions to develop consulting skills, knowledge in the functional areas associated with each project, and an understanding of the culture and business environment in the various countries in which the projects take place. This process is designed to enable students and clients have an experience as beneficial as Kaushik's. "We're focusing on the functional content and the consulting skills that they're learning. It's not just an internship for credit," said James Emery.

Now in their second year, Kaushik and others have yet another opportunity to build their leadership skills: several students who participated in practicums last year are mentoring first year students as they begin their projects.

Kaushik concludes: "It was my first time leading such a diverse team in a different country with a different language. We had to learn how to effectively communicate within our team and also with the client and other stakeholders involved. And all the while meeting the expectations of the client, I developed as an individual and a leader."