Business savvy made here

Posted on December 14, 2010 by Staff Writer

With each passing year, Tom Loftus has watched his students transform Sweet Briar’s business management lab into a tighter, more mature apparatus. At the conclusion of this fall’s semester-end project presentations on Dec. 6, he stood to congratulate the latest group to complete the lab.

“That was far, far and away the most professional presentation I’ve seen yet,” he said to the class, but especially directing his comments to the lab’s chief executive officers, Alex Herrera ’11 and Laura Mooza ’12.

By the students’ calculations, carefully documented in a 142-page book recording every detail of the semester’s work, the collective time commitment of all 20 participants totaled nearly 2,167 hours. And they raised an estimated $1,250 for the Alzheimer’s Association, although some fundraising and final accounting are still ongoing.

Students in the Fundamentals of Management lab apply theories learned in the classroom to real-world situations. It functions like a business, with students taking on the roles of event planner, accountant and marketing officer. As a class they choose a charity and, working in smaller groups, plan a series of events over the course of the semester to raise money and awareness for the organization.

The lab students are led by one or more chief executive officers and additional student executives — who are in many ways the institutional memory of the “company.” The CEOs and SEs are students who have completed the lab previously — but they don’t automatically qualify. Serving in an executive position is a practicum they must apply for and are promoted based in part upon their performance in the lab.

The students in the fall 2010 lab held five main fundraisers, plus a boathouse party to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association. Mooza and Herrera said the class chose the association because Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease that doesn’t receive as much attention as other causes. “We thought it was a back-burner issue and wanted to bring it to the fore,” Herrera said.

Two of the lab’s teams went with events that have never been tried — selling Sweet Briar calendars and the College’s first powder puff football competitions. The latter was especially effective at engaging the campus community and raising awareness for Alzheimer’s, even garnering local TV coverage — but they’re still trying to sell powder puff jerseys to raise money. Like the calendar team, they learned to be wary of up-front costs.

Whitney Waller ’13 oversaw the calendar project as the event planner. During the final presentation, she said that while the calendars were a good idea, future labs could benefit by avoiding their mistakes. For example, they ordered calendars from a Canadian company which offered high quality at a better price than local printers. But they underestimated shipping from outside the country and there were costs they didn’t anticipate, such as credit card fees on the foreign exchange.

Other projects had the planners adjusting on the fly during the height of the event. The Shopping for a Memory clothing consignment sale got a boost in traffic when marketing officer Amanda Zack ’13 began posting discounted deals on Facebook. Organizers of the Memory Walk scrambled and overcame when they realized the College’s physical plant department hadn’t received their work order to set up tables and chairs for the donated food they’d arranged for.

Annabel Voorhees ’13, the accountant for the Annual Fall Fast, said her biggest challenge was preparing a budget and sticking to it. The “fast” raises money when students sign up to forgo their meal plan for the day. Dining services contributes the value of each unused meal to the lab’s charity. So no one actually goes hungry, the team, led by event planner Becca Davidson ’13, provided breakfast and dinner in Reid Pit by soliciting donations and purchasing food from area restaurants.

With nearly 70 percent of the College’s on-campus students participating, they had a line forming at Reid before they were finished setting up. “That was stressful,” said marketing officer Stephanie Edwards ’13, laughing. “I was proud that we had enough food.”

Thanks to their careful budgeting, there was enough money to make a pizza run when the food looked like it would run out.

Among the projects, the students solicited about $1,500 in in-kind donations, including food worth more than $1,300 from area restaurants. They worked with several offices across campus to provide support services and funding, and event planners managed hundreds of individual tasks to make it all happen, Loftus said.

While each project is the responsibility of one team, everyone pitches in to support the others, he explained. “Students don’t go by ‘work rules,’ ” he said. “There’s no ‘not my job.’ It ended up with a workforce of about twenty — beyond the three people on the team.”