For University of Redlands School of Business & Society students, putting their degree experience to work before graduating is just part of their scholastic experience.
Through the Global and Domestic Consultancy Capstone Program, students apply what they have learned in the classroom and on their jobs in a practical, field-consulting experience with a local or international business. During the process, they not only sharpen their business and communication skills, but they get to make a real-world impact on enterprises and people.
“The capstone project gave me the opportunity to test the skills I have been building. It allowed me to apply nearly all that I have learned over my career and during my time at the University of Redlands,” said Kristii Krugel, ’22, MBA. “It was an amazing experience!”
Krugel and four other MBA students consulted for a small family-owned winery in the Friuli region of Italy in spring 2022.
“Our assignment was to advise a 50-year-old, family-owned company, which made me somewhat uncomfortable realizing that our suggestions would affect this established brand and business,” Krugel said. “But out of that experience, I made friends and developed professional skills that I will cherish for a lifetime.”
Apprehension and accomplishment
Krugel’s concerns are normal for students undertaking Redlands School of Business & Society consultancy capstone projects. They work with actual companies and not on case studies in a textbook. Each student’s participation and performance have the potential to affect the company and the lives of the people who work for the company and live in the area.
“Before the engagement even commences, teams are both excited and a little apprehensive,” said Michael MacQueen, director of International Programs at the Redlands School of Business & Society.
“Most of the participating students have no previous consulting experience and many have not traveled internationally before.”
The consultancy capstone experience begins when student teams work together before meeting with their clients to learn about the consulting process and develop report-writing and presentation skills for an executive audience. They are briefed about their assigned client engagement and specific business challenge.
Student teams then go to work researching their assigned companies, understanding industry segments, and delving into the challenges similar companies face. Then, they make their way to the client’s country and get set for a full week of work as an independent consulting team. From briefing to analysis and then recommendations to the company’s leadership team, the ultimate goal is to deliver a workable solution to a challenge or an opportunity for that business partner.
“After successful completion of the engagement – and they are virtually all successful – there is a sense of accomplishment for a job well done,” MacQueen said.
Practical application of knowledge
The Global and Domestic Consultancy Capstone Program is designed to increase students’ business competency and cultural intelligence while giving them an opportunity to practice the skills they have developed in the classroom.
“I can't teach someone international business. I can create the landscape for students to experience it in a capstone program,” said Allison Fraiberg, associate director of International Programs. “We design these capstone experiences so that students get to see how business is done in different cultures, in different parts of the world, in different settings. They get an opportunity to combine their academic knowledge with their work experience doing actual field work to develop skills and solve practical business challenges. It can be very empowering.”
The experience can also help students who are currently working advance their careers. Laura Krenek, ’22, MBA, was on Krugel’s capstone team. She is a marketing manager with a software company interfacing with distributors around the world.
“The capstone project was an eye-opening experience regarding the ways I can better support my international colleagues,” Krenek said. “Having worked on the winery’s business expansion plan from start to finish, I find myself drawing upon that experience as I seek to get buy-in for new initiatives in my career.”
Valued by business partners
The capstone experience is also designed to deliver valuable guidance to partner businesses.
“Collaborating with the University of Redlands and Redlands students was an ideal opportunity for our company,” said Andrea Wood Garwood, export manager and owner of DIVI srl in Trieste, Italy, a wine importer and exporter. In 2020, a University of Redlands student team was invited to consult for the company about solutions to a potential large excise tax levied on Italian wines imported to the United States.
Garwood and her colleagues offered the students a deep look into the company’s history, operations, values, financials, and business challenges. From there, over a very short, three-day period, the students used that information to brainstorm appropriate solutions. Then they organized their findings and created a presentation of their recommendations.
“Their final report included solutions for DIVI regarding this excise tax risk, plus many other valuable insights including which markets DIVI should try to develop, how to find importers, how to overcome the exchange-rate risk, and how to amplify the DIVI presence on social media,” Garwood said. “All of the ideas came from people outside of the wine sector, which made them all the more compelling.”
As would be expected from a business leader with a heart for cultivating the next generation of doers, dreamers, and trailblazers, Garwood has another reason for supporting the Global and Domestic Consultancy Capstone program.
“Giving these students an understanding of how an ethical business is run does not just enrich the outcome of the consultancy project,” Garwood said. “It’s an integral part of creating citizens that will make this world a better place.”