It's never an easy task to turn from student to consultant in a matter of days and try to help a business grow. Students from Millikin University's Tabor School of Business were asked to do just that as part of a new January immersion course called Managerial Forensics.
Students spent one week learning a new approach to consulting work by engaging in a case study about a large retailer. The retailer was Ann Taylor, a chain of clothing stores for women. Course instructor Dr. J. Mark Munoz, interim dean of the Tabor School of Business, picked the company.
The students split into five groups and spent four days researching as much information as possible on Ann Taylor. The students utilized data-gathering, research and analytical techniques to investigate and report on how Ann Taylor and Ann Inc. could grow in a global market. The approach the students used (managerial forensics) was created by Dr. Munoz and Diana Heeb Bivona, Millikin adjunct professor.
"The Tabor School of Business wanted to create a course that would simulate a real-life consulting experience – demanding, research-focused, team-based, analytical and fast-paced," said Dr. Munoz. "The students worked day and night for four days to come up with strategies to turn a company around."
What is managerial forensics? It's an approach to identifying and solving business problems as explained by Munoz and Bivona in their book, "Managerial Forensics," published by Business Expert Press in 2015. The approach is used to gather historical corporate data for the purpose of identifying reasons for management obstacles and corporate demise.
"We wanted to create a toolkit that managers can use to take a scientific approach to organizational diagnosis," Dr. Munoz said. "The managerial forensics model is valuable in the classroom, and provides fresh perspectives for consulting companies worldwide. It offers an innovative framework for business transformation and corporate turnaround."
The students presented their ideas on Jan. 22 to a panel of judges which included business consultant Myung Kim of Decatur, Ill., Antonio Varela of Caterpillar Inc., Jonan Tiarks from Land of Lincoln Credit Union and Professor Bivona.
The course was a wonderful vehicle for students to demonstrate not only what they had learned in previous classes, but how they applied those skill sets to the managerial forensics process.
Each team presented unique perspectives on the case and found the root causes of existing problems.
"In terms of the company's strengths, they have unique and quality products," said Stephanie Williams, a senior digital media marketing major from Decatur. "Since 1954, the company's focus has been on the businesswoman demographic. We think they could expand in certain areas like activewear and the online market."
During her group's presentation, Williams said the company could focus on marketing and improving customer service. "We think they could restructure their customer service in a way that all their employees are aware of the process. Customers are their first priority and if they aren't happy, they won't buy the products. The company would also need to establish their target market and find what their clients would want in order to generate more sales."
Several international students from Paris, France, who are studying at Millikin for the academic year, took part in the course.
"The unending time pressure resulting from daily report submissions and presentations challenged the students like never before," said Dr. Munoz. "Eventually, they learned that the practice of management needs to be treated more like a science. Similar to a forensic investigation, evidences have to be meticulously gathered in order to find viable solutions."
As one of the members on the panel, Diana Heeb Bivona was impressed with how the students applied their skill sets to the course and their presentations.
"The course was a wonderful vehicle for students to demonstrate not only what they had learned in previous accounting, management, operations and marketing classes, but how they applied those skill sets to the managerial forensics process," said Bivona. "I was impressed by what the students had accomplished in such a limited amount of time. Their openness and positivity to the panel's critiques and feedback demonstrated that they were engaged and responsive, which was wonderful to see."