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The Best Part of My MBA Education: Consulting Projects

By Michelle Cruz

August 25, 2021

Coming from a liberal arts undergraduate degree, the attractiveness of an MBA was its comprehensive and practical applications to real-world problems and solutions. In my first year of my MBA I gained hands-on experience working with companies as part of the MBA curriculum consulting projects at the Wisconsin School of Business.

I had the opportunity to earn class credit while working with my student peers in small teams for two consulting projects during the spring semester of my first year in the MBA program. One project was assigned to the entire MBA class, and a second project focused on my Strategic Human Resource Management specialization. I will describe the project assigned to the entire MBA class first.

portrait of Michelle Cruz
Michelle Cruz, SHR MBA ’22

“What keeps leaders awake at night?” We hoped to address this question in the classroom and direct interactions with company leadership as part of the consulting projects. The general MBA consulting semester-long project culminates the frameworks learned of semester coursework: Operations, Strategy, Marketing, Finance, and Accounting. The professors served as mentors/coaches for the consulting project, where they provide feedback on our course of action for the challenge the consulting team is tasked with solving for the company. For our team, our challenge was increasing colorectal cancer screening for women by leveraging the OBGYN field. We incorporated lessons learned from our courses, and we also learned a lot about a new industry by talking one-on-one with medical professionals and Q&A sessions with the company. We learned the invigorating lessons of consulting:  quickly becoming acquainted with a particular business, industry, and how the company operates.

After many iterations of defining the problem and the tactics we sought would be the best solutions, we delivered our recommendations in a 5-minute presentation followed by Q&A from professors. The team finalists then presented directly to the company, followed by Q&A with the company. All the work throughout the semester boiled down to be concise and convincing. Every minute counted to sell my team’s identification of the problem, strategy, and solutions. It was a rewarding experience in learning the art of influence and being concise.

For my HR-specific consulting project, my team worked for a company in the science field again. This time we were assigned a biotech company with a presence in Madison. We were happy to know that our contact at the company was a Badger alum from the Strategic Human Resource Management Center. The HR challenge we were aiming to solve was employee branding, which involved a deeper look into the company’s marketing, onboarding, compensation, retention, and company culture. The company was scaling, and its employee size was growing rapidly in a short amount of time. The company reached the stage where they needed to survey, benchmark, diagnose, and formulate solutions to a common problem employers face: attracting top talent.

My consulting team researched competitors for benchmarking and had the opportunity to survey and hold employee talking sessions to gather a sense of employee sentiment and feedback. We formulated our solutions based on the insight we gathered from the survey questions we designed and our feedback sessions. We finalized by delivering our recommendations in a presentation to the company addressing their current state, employee voice, and solutions divided by their priority level.

 By incorporating our HR coursework across talent acquisition, employee engagement, compensation, negotiation, and people analytics, the consulting project was a great pathway to the growing field of human capital consulting and the skills needed to thrive as an HR business partner.

No matter the industry, company, or challenge, both consulting projects proved the value of an MBA in preparing me to identify big picture problems with the operational processes to solve the problem. I learned to ask the right questions, truly listen to all stakeholders from top to bottom, differentiate symptoms versus problems, and prioritize the course of action to address the correct problem. Most importantly, it offers the opportunity to learn about oneself and the team dynamics that comes from working with people from all walks of life.