How strategic management research can help executives in any field

Gonzalo Freixes, Faculty Director, Field Study Programs, UCLA Anderson School of Management

Strategic management research (SMR), the capstone of the UCLA Anderson School of Management’s Executive MBA program, provides students with valuable out-of-the-classroom experience. The program involves sending groups of students into real-world consultancy situations that not only benefit the students but yield significant results for the companies involved.
Rather than doing a traditional master’s thesis, students do a consulting project for a real company or organization, spending six months conducting extensive primary and secondary research into the marketplace, says Gonzalo Freixes, faculty director, field study programs, UCLA Anderson School of Management.
“Students test a hypothesis and develop recommendations based on the data they obtain and come up with a strategic plan for the company or organization to help them go to the next level of corporate development or expansion,” Freixes says.
Projects can involve for profit or nonprofit organizations and focus on tasks including identifying new markets for a product or service, expanding into an adjacent marketplace or internal issues such as succession planning.
“SMR is strategic for the organization because it helps it achieve strategic goals and it’s strategic for the students because they have a chance to take what they’ve learned while obtaining their EMBA, along with their real-world experience, and apply it to a real-world project.”
Smart Business spoke with Freixes about how UCLA Anderson School of Management’s EMBA and strategic management research programs help the development of both students and companies.

What kinds of projects are students pursuing?

In June, we’re doing two projects for hospitals in which students have conducted extensive market research to develop a strategy for the acquisition of medical practices. There’s an advantage to having a medical practice as part of a hospital because of the changing landscape of federal reimbursement for health care. Students are identifying the best approach to accomplish that goal, including selecting the medical groups and structuring the acquisition.
Also, students are doing succession planning for an international NGO based in Ethiopia. They are conducting on-the-ground research at facilities the nonprofit runs. From their discussions with the stakeholders, they are coming up with actionable recommendations.

What types of companies might benefit from using student consultants from the program?

Any company or organization that has a strategic direction it wants to go and that wants a group of EMBA-trained, experienced professionals to act as a consulting team to develop data-based recommendations for it can benefit. Sometimes organizations have strategic goals but just don’t have the bandwidth in terms of dedicating staff to studying new directions because employees are otherwise busy running the day to day.

What are the benefits of a company using EMBA students on a project?

Students can help a company or organization think outside the box. Companies get a set of fresh, objective, independent eyes to look at a problem, whereas perhaps if they look at it through their own employees’ eyes, they’re going to have preconceptions and biases.
Sometimes the recommendation from the team study is not to go into the targeted market after all. And while that might not be what the company wants to hear, that recommendation may save the company millions of dollars.
In one instance a foreign company wanted to come to the U.S., but the study determined that there was a major competitor with better technology already established here. However, through the process, the students discovered that China had greater opportunity for the company’s product and the focus shifted. Ultimately, the company was able to take the plan prepared by the students and launch in China, where it now has a very successful operation.

Is there any cost to the company to participate in the program?

Yes. Companies and organizations generally pay $15,000 for these projects. A percentage of that money is set aside and dedicated to the team so its members can use it for their research, which could include travel.

What are the benefits to EMBA students?

They’re able to apply concepts they’ve learned in the classroom to a real-world problem. They learn to conduct market research, develop hypotheses, analyze business problems, do field research and come up with strategic recommendations. It’s a valuable skill set that students can use in any industry in which they’re involved. And it’s real world experience that takes students outside of the classroom to do something that applies to the concepts they’re learning.

After the program concludes, what do candidates go on to do?

Students come to the program with minimum of 10 years of professional experience and management-level experience overseeing projects and personnel. Others are entrepreneurs who run their own business, and doctors and lawyers now in management positions. When they finish the program, they often stay in the same career path, but now, regardless of the industry they’re in, they have perspective on how to do outward-facing research into a marketplace that drives the strategic direction of the company, rather than brainstorming or developing internal-based action plans. That’s helpful no matter what you do. Whether you’re in finance, marketing or operations, this can improve your ability to go out and analyze what other people are doing, what customers are demanding and what suppliers want to sell.

Gonzalo Freixes is faculty director of the field study program at UCLA Anderson School of Management. Reach him at (310) 794-6640 or [email protected]

Insights Executive Education is brought to you by UCLA