Guest Speakers Share C-Suite Strategy

Guest Speakers Share C-Suite Strategy

Second-year students in the Oregon Executive MBA program enjoyed a stellar lineup of guest speakers in courses taught this fall by senior instructor of management Beth Hjelm and senior instructor of marketing Doug Wilson. The speakers were just one part of an impressively coordinated curriculum the two faculty members put into play.

It all started in fall 2014 when Hjelm and Wilson decided to take advantage of their complementary subject matter by teaching two of the same business cases in both courses. In Hjelm's corporate strategy course, students tackled all aspects of a case except for marketing, which they honed in on during Wilson's marketing strategy course. The net effect was a total immersion in all facets of business strategy.

The duo's integrated approach resonated with their students. So much so, in fact, that during the last academic year Hjelm and Wilson were two of the three recipients of the Oregon Executive MBA program's faculty member of the year award. (Associate professor of management Andrew Nelson also received that year's honor.)

This year, Hjelm and Wilson built on their previous success by doubling the number of shared business cases to four. Approaching both courses as two parts of a whole, they even tinkered with their teaching schedules, shuffling timeslots as needed to maximize students" learning.

To assemble their list of guest speakers, Hjelm and Wilson reached out to their contacts and even made some cold calls to find high-level professionals around the region whose stories would complement the cases they planned to teach. For Hjelm and Wilson, the insights guest speakers provide are an invaluable addition to their students" coursework.

“Students get practical applications so they can see the concepts that they've heard in class play out in the real world. They're able to learn, appreciate, and see how those concepts can be valuable in a far more expedient way than in just a textbook," said Wilson.

For Class 30 member Marcus Smith, the visit from Jason Bolt and Caleb Iorg "10, MBA '11—co-owners of Revant Optics, a company that specializes in replacement lenses and accessories for high-end sports sunglasses—had direct bearing on his own capstone project, which revolves around a line of specialized eyewear.

“It was all very relatable," said Smith, a senior merchandising manager at Adidas. “Everything from ordering product from overseas, to meeting their suppliers, to seeing the contrasting styles of Caleb the finance guy and Jason the sales and marketing guy. Listening to them together really painted the picture for me."

Hjelm and Wilson believe that executive MBA students" extensive professional backgrounds make them uniquely equipped to value both the caliber of the program's guest speakers and the value of the high-level insights they provide.

“Our executive MBA students appreciate that someone at a senior level has taken the time to come speak with them. They understand what it means to come on a Saturday and take time out of their day for our students. I think it really resonates with them," said Hjelm.

Hjelm and Wilson's guest speakers for fall 2015

Stephanie Gioia, Director of Consulting, XPLANE

Hjelm kicked off the corporate strategy course with a visit from Stephanie Gioia, director of consulting at design-oriented firm XPLANE, who shared her approach to systems thinking and strategic management as a process.

Oregon Executive MBA Class 29 Alumni: Guy Rossi, Katie Werremeyer, and Joelle Martin

Capstone projects—the large-scale, individualized projects which wrap up the Oregon Executive MBA experience—begin to loom large as students return to the classroom at the start of their second year. To jumpstart students" thinking, Wilson invited recent graduates Guy Rossi, Katie Werremeyer, and Joelle Martin to return to discuss their capstone experiences, to explain how these related to marketing strategy, and to field questions from current students.

Ryan Jenson, CEO and President, HoneyComb

For their first shared case, Hjelm and Wilson asked students to explore next steps for 3D Robotics, a successful company in the burgeoning drone business. Providing insights drawn from his own very recent experiences was guest speaker Ryan Jenson, the CEO and president of HoneyComb, a Oregon-based supplier of aerial imaging solutions for precision agriculture and forestry.

Doug Engel, Regional Director, Lane Blood Center

In their second shared case, Hjelm and Wilson had students examine the challenges faced by Bloodbuy, an innovative company working within the limitations of the current blood industry. Wilson scored a coup by inviting guest speaker Doug Engel, regional director of Lane Blood Center. Along with the deep knowledge that comes with his position and experience, Engel actually knew people involved in the organization and had spoken with them about the issues behind the case.

Joth Ricci, President, Stumptown Coffee Roasters

The third shared case enabled students to explore ways in which Fair Trade USA might scale—or possibly even reduce—its efforts in order to stay current with an evolving marketplace and new competitors. Hjelm invited Stumptown's Joth Ricci to talk about that company's recent expansion into consumer packaged goods, new product portfolios, and new channels—as well as the challenges this placed on the company's business model, infrastructure, and resources. Because of Stumptown's identity as a provider of the kind of small-batch, gourmet-focused drink that falls into the category known as a third-wave beverage, Ricci's talk also provided the ideal setup for the following week's case on craft liquor distiller Coppersea.

Sam Holloway, PhD '09, President and Cofounder, Crafting a Strategy

What happens when Coppersea—a small, third-wave boutique distiller—gets offered a distribution partnership from a larger, more established organization? This was the question students grappled with in Hjelm and Wilson's final shared case of the fall. Internationally known craft beer business consultant Sam Holloway shared insights drawn from his experience advising small and large brewers in Oregon and around the world.

Revant Optics co-owners: CEO Jason Bolt and CFO Caleb Iorg "10, MBA '11

Because Hjelm's course spanned three more sessions than Wilson's, she was able to present additional cases and bring in more guest speakers. In the first of Hjelm's solo-taught cases, class members examined issues of scope and integration by analyzing the growth alternatives facing Medalogix, a medical data company. Guest speakers Jason Bolt and Caleb Iorg discussed the reasoning behind their recent decision to sell their first company—a provider of novelty sunglasses—so they could focus on building Revant.

Andrew Shakman, Cofounder and CEO, LeanPath

In a case centering on water-waste monitoring company TaKaDu, students explored the thorny issue of getting a clear value proposition for services whose costs are often obscured or looked at as part of normal business. Guest speaker Andrew Shakman—cofounder and CEO of LeanPath, the food-service industry's first fully automated food-waste tracking system—shared his experience tackling similar challenges in a different industry.

Kurt Huffman, Owner, ChefStable Group

For a session on flexibility in business­—a.k.a. pivoting—Hjelm and class members investigated a case centered on online restaurant reservation company OpenTable. Guest speaker Kurt Huffman—owner of ChefStable Group—chimed in with stories of his organization's recent venture into running its own bars and restaurants in addition its core business of providing back-office services for well-known dining destinations around the region.