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Winter Term 2014: Free Day

Today, Jan. 11, we had the morning off and had a unique opportunity to explore the city without the structure of a tour guide and bus. Walking through The People’s Park, which was a large park directly across from our hotel, we saw glimpses of everyday life in Shanghai. From elderly women practicing Tai Chi to young persons waiting in line to see the Shanghai Art Museum, it was amazing to see the city out and about and experience life directly, rather than simply through the confinement of a vehicle and the lens of a tour guide.

After finishing our stroll through the park, we cut over to a side street and took in the sights from the local vendors who had set up shop. Whether it was shrimp flavored potato chips, pickled chicken’s feet, or children’s jumpers, the street vendors possessed a wide range of unfamiliar and intriguing wares. Among those shops most fascinating to my group was small bakery specializing in something they described to us as an “egg custard.” They were small pastries that resembled sugary quiches and, as we discovered later, had been imported to China from Portugal. We each sampled one and discovered, much to our delight, that they were delicious. If you ever find yourself in Shanghai, I would highly recommend trying one!

After our successful pastry endeavor, we were feeling brave and a few of us decided to partake in a more traditional Shanghai street, the steamed dumpling. With a soft, doughy outside and a decidedly “strange, tofu-y” inside, there was a divergence of opinion over whether or not the dumplings had been worth the Yuan we paid for them. Regardless of our personal tastes, it was an entertaining experience and a valuable opportunity to step outside our palate’s standard comfort zone.

Speaking of comfort zones, after our free morning, we were summoned to the lobby of our hotel to participate in what I can now only describe as the most intense scavenger hunt I’ve ever participated in. We were split into teams and tasked with the responsibility of traveling around Shanghai with a lengthy list of activities, questions to answer, and pictures to take. Even with the most detailed of travel instructions, my team managed to get lost several times and was never quite able to finish. We ultimately decided to cut our losses at the end of the afternoon and caught a taxi back to the hotel to meet with the other, more successful teams.

More than just simply completing the tasks on the list, however, the scavenger hunt was designed to challenge us to step outside our comfort zones and utilize our cross-cultural communication skills. Even though we got lost, we worked hard as a team to problem solve and glean as much from the experience as we could. We saw many things today that we may not have ever seen otherwise and for this I am truly thankful.

I now leave you with a sample of the list of pictures we had to take as a part of our scavenger hunt. To put it into perspective, this was the easiest part of the activity and every item was found easily during the course of the afternoon.

  1. A dog in clothes
  2. A grown person wearing pajamas
  3. A stone lion
  4. A person wearing glasses frames
  5. A small child in “split pants”
  6. 5 different colors of underwear hanging from a line
  7. A squid on a stick
  8. A man carrying things on a cart

Written by: Caitlin Cutchin

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Winter Term 2014 – Shanghai and Fine Furniture

Today was our fourth day in Shanghai and we all were all up bright and early to head to the coastal area of Shanghai to visit Fine Furniture. We arrived early in the morning and were greeted by security at a large gate that surrounded the 2.5 million square foot manufacturing facility.

Mr. Vincent Chua, vice president, provided a detailed presentation that explained the history, mission and manufacturing process of Fine Furniture. After the presentation, we were given a tour of the manufacturing facility. It was amazing to see the level of hand-crafted detailed work that the 1,000 workers completed on a daily basis. The company builds more than 1,400 different models of furniture out of the manufacturing facility that we visited. Additionally, there was an additional facility on-site that housed the owners’ other flooring business. Due to time we were not able to visit this part of the facility.

Mr. Chua provided his insight on how he believed the company would develop in the future and the difficulties of competing with other companies because of antidumping tariffs and other evaluations.

After lunch we were greeted by Simon Zhan, general counsel at Volvo Construction Company. When we arrived onsite we were provided safety equipment so that we would be able to tour the manufacturing and fabrication facility. Volvo Construction Company prided themselves on how they allowed their employees to provide suggestions about the workplace to be taken into consideration. It was amazing to see that the employees at Volvo are able to build an excavator in 28 minutes flat and build all the parts within two days. Mr. Zhan provided an explanation of the importance of government relationships in Shanghai and also told us his view of anti-corruption from a compliance officer viewpoint.

Written by: Monique Smart

New Venture

My background in the arts has given me the opportunity to often start something new and fresh. New choreography, new concert, new chances, new thoughts, new ideas …

Oftentimes, I have thought about my long-term goals and the thought of starting a new business venture – either nonprofit or for profit – has been on the forefront of considerations. I have been lucky to be surrounded by friends and colleagues who have started their own ventures ranging from performance-based or service companies to niche products in clothing and craft industries. After witnessing some of their experiences, I felt inspired to continue to learn about the world of entrepreneurs.

With that in mind, I enrolled in the Entrepreneurial course (MBA 591) this past winter. Quickly, I discovered this course was not one for the passionate alone.  Much like the entrepreneurs on the hit ABC show Shark Tank, one needs to be willing to dive in and swim with adventure, determination and persistence.

The course is not a recipe for how to start your own small business; rather, it is an exercise on how to develop and grow your skills to pursue and succeed at the next big “it” product or idea. Topics discussed include: venture capitalism, the idea and opportunity, ethics, sustainability, market feasibility, and growth stages beyond start-up. Case study analysis and class discussion deepen your understanding of these topics. Being an entrepreneur himself, Dr. Barth Strempek uses his experience to offer personal guidance to students and additional resources to explore beyond the scope of the course.

Now, what’s taking a dip in the water without having a little fun? The course provides the chance to create a unique idea and develop a business plan to pitch to would-be investors (or “sharks”). Working in teams, you begin to consider many components to organize your plan. What is your target market and how will you reach them? What is your expected margins and cash budget? What operational issues can you plan to anticipate? And, of course – Is your idea actually a viable one?

For my team, we enjoyed trying to think of creative names or attributes to our product. We came up with so many ideas in fact that we decided to conduct a survey via SurveyMonkey. The survey not only guided us on aspects to consider when creating a product name, but also offered primary market research to be used to develop an effective marketing plan.

When the day finally came to swim with the sharks, other teams in the class actually brought in samples of their products; for example, a Greek yogurt dressing. Yum! Each team had to pitch their idea and provide evidence of their product’s market feasibility. After presenting, each team received immediate feedback on the quality of their pitch and business plan.

Those who know me well are familiar with my childhood fear of sharks. After taking this course, the venture capitalist species do not seem so scary. My scuba gear has a few more tools for when I am truly ready to set sail with the next big thing.

Written by:

Katharine Kunz

Katherine Kunz

Katherine Kunz

SABR: For it’s one, two, three takeaways

Three takeaways from the conference: ‘cause in baseball its 1-2-3 strikes at the old ball game…. And one  more thought one for the trip itself.

Baseball is not just a game but …

1) It’s all about the data both big and small.

Big data on Player analysis: Using a week’s time of a Cray super computer to determine pitcher types with a simple graphic representation. From the 30 or so attributes that can be determined in the first second of a pitched baseballs path from the mound to the waiting batter complex computations from every pitch thrown –approximately  700,000 – during the 2012 baseball season it can be deduced that there are six types of pitchers.  That is a sure better use of a super computer than using it to make atom bombs, too bad the North Koreans don’t play baseball. For the record that’s some 21,000,000 data points.

Data telling us of the little things that influence demand (game attendance) and promotion costs:  The Cleveland Indians using analytics to determine and forecast advertising spending, promotions and the content and timing of emails to fans. Bottom line: Data from the marginal revenue curve indicates more hat give-aways and less bobbleheads, and keep the fireworks.  Good news now what do with your stash of Manny Ramirez bobbleheads maybe a: fireworks your old bobblehead night is in the future for the Indians.  Who in Cleveland would not want to participate in an “Explode your old Manny being Manny bobblehead night” game?

2) It’s all about the tradition and continuity of culture.

In 1905 the manager of the NY Giants is famously quoted as saying, “…the main idea is to win…” during the player development seminar, the SF Giants director of scouting said, “the goal is to win…” After his presentation I asked him about that comment, and  he said, ‘Woo… I did not know that…” and without missing a beat he said, …”that’s our team culture…..” For the record, the Giant despite playing nearly 40 years in the worst ball park in the majors and not winning the World Series in over 50 years. Have won the pennant in 1912, 1962 and 2012 and 19 other times too, are the first team to reach 10,000 wins and have the best winning percentage of any National League team.

In 1909 Miller Huggings, the hall of fame manager for the Yankees is quoted as saying,

“… baseball is flourishing to such an extent in Mexico that it threatens to become the national sport down there. Before long the world’s championship series will be played off by teams from Mexico, Japan and the little old U. S. A.”

We were fortunate enough to attend the World Baseball Classic game, the current world’s championship series between Mexico and the good old USA , some 104 short years after Huggins prophetic statement.  For the record over 44,000 fans attended the game with perhaps 30,000 buying tickets right before the game.  Sadly, Team USA, who are based in Durham, lost.  Mexico beat Team USA in 2006 as well.

It seems that the leadership of the WBC did not use the baseball demand analytics that the Cleveland Indians use. Some fans from Mexico drove 13 hours straight to attend the game to see his hometown baseball heroes beat the little old USA. The beer and food lines were over an hour long –just add that to the 13 hours it took to get to the game– that’s a 14-hour wait time for a lousy beer in Chase Field in Phoenix. After the hour of purgatory when you finally reached the front of the line you were informed by the beer guy it was a cash only line. The unlucky fan a few people in front of me only had plastic– that was an hour of their life’s lost to the woes of picking the wrong line. A luckier fan in front of me ran out of paper money and paid his tab in quarters— lots of quarters.  Thankfully I had a twenty,  that enabled me to buy only two and get four quarters back in change!

3) It’s all about legacy and honoring past players and games.

Ryne, Andy and I attended an Oakland A’s spring training game: it was a really nice day and as all baseball fans know it’s easy to get A’s tickets, they never sell out and there are cheap and it was a short taxi ride away from the hotel.  Giants tickets were over 40 dollars and had be acquired from scalpers. A’s tix were 12 bucks.  Little did we know, but….

We were in for a significant history lesson honoring Japanese-Americans who were forcibly interned in quasi POW camps in the Arizona desert during WWII some 70 years ago.  See http://billstaples.blogspot.com/2013/03/video-oakland-as-celebrate-zenimura.html

And maybe it’s a good thing that games like baseball exist

Winning and losing games bring joy and the agony of defeat but it’s only just a game, but one should always play it with dignity and respect the game and opponent.

On Sunday, after the SABR conference, I was lucky enough to spend the day with my aunt, uncle, cousin and his wife who live in the Phoenix and Tucson areas. My aunt was diagnosed with cancer in October and a week before I left for Phoenix she was informed by her doctor that it had metastasized into brain cancer.  It was nice to spend the last day in Phoenix with her.

Written by: Keith Robbins

SABR: Digging deep into the salary pool

When I was asked to join the SABR case competition team, my first thought
was: how am I going to sell a “baseball class” to my boss? By the time our
team left Phoenix, I knew that the case competition had been one of my most
valuable MBA experiences.

At the root of it, baseball teams are just large, private businesses (who
happen to have fans who live and die by their success). Teams are owned by
a small group of super wealthy owners with a few, very expensive employees.
In 2012, the average franchise was worth $600M and seeing strong revenue
growth.
At that same time, the average player was paid between $2M to $6M,
depending on the team, with overall payrolls ranging from $55M to $197M, showing even stronger growth. At the end of the day, baseball owners want to do the same thing that other business owners do: grow revenues faster than their costs. Oh, and owners want to win, too.

To do this, baseball owners and general managers must make both short and
long-term front office decisions that strategically position their team to
succeed given their team’s revenue constraints. Organizations like the
Oakland A’s have to build (develop players in their farm system) while
teams like the New York Yankees can afford to buy.

To test our mettle in working out these front office decisions, Vince
Gennaro, President of SABR, developed a case called “The Mike Trout Dilemma.”  Mike Trout had a breakout 2012 season with some comparing him to the likes of Mickey Mantle. Unless the Angels take action, Trout will be paid under his rookie/arbitration contract through the 2017 season. After that, he will
become a free agent. For the case competition, we were tasked with developing a contract strategy to maximize Trout’s value to the Angels.

To answer this challenge, we developed a performance model for Trout based
on other similar breakout rookies. Our model factored in the chance of risk
and under performance based on the historical risk for other breakout
rookies. We then married Trout’s projected performance with an estimate of
the free agent cost of replacing Trout to develop an envelop of potential
salary offers that were advantageous to the Angels while allowing Trout to
unlock and time shift some of his earnings.

We concluded that the Angels should offer Trout a nine year, $195M contract
($21.7M per year on average). This contact would allow the Angels to keep
Trout through the 2023 season while also providing financial security to
Trout. You can check out our entire presentation here.

While we did not win the competition, the general approach we developed is
applicable to the types of problems that any business faces. The role of
asset valuation is the same whether you are evaluating infielders or
intellectual property. The case competition provided a unique opportunity
to develop techniques and compete against MBA students from other programs.

Written by: Ryne McCall

Take me out to the .. Society of American Baseball Research Case Competition

A few days into the New Year, I got an email from Dr. Burbridge asking me if I would be interested in participating on a team that would be competing in the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) Case Competition. Not one to turn down new opportunities, especially those that involve traveling to warm, sunny destinations (ahem Phoenix) I quickly replied, “Yes!”

Flash forward a couple of weekends and I finally had the opportunity to meet up with Dr. Burbridge and my teammates Brian Adam, Andy Hadsell, Keith Robbins, and Ryne McCall. I think it was during this first meeting that I realized the huge commitment and team effort that would go into preparing and presenting at the SABR conference. During the meeting it was clear we all realized what a huge privilege it was to be representing Elon’s MBA program and became 100 percent committed to the challenge.

Throughout the next month we reviewed, analyzed, prepared, and presented past SABR cases to audiences that included Elon faculty in an effort to prepare for the actual case. Our case preparation and practice presentations were essential, and not only helped us prepare for Phoenix, but helped us bond as a team and learn each other’s strengths.

On Sunday, March 3, just four short days before our presentation in Phoenix, we received the Mike Trout Dilemma case for the SABR competition. This case basically asked us to step into the role of the Los Angeles Angels front office staff and utilize business analysis to determine how to compensate Mike Trout.  After a couple of group meetings, lots of independent research, and flights spent reviewing our findings, we met up in Phoenix to pull our research together and come up with our presentation.  Mike Trout was a rookie last year, with a phenomenal season, so we chose to compare him to other players who had stellar rookie years.  By analyzing a specific data set, we determined the average career win above replacement or WAR, a measurement to determine the value of “a player’s total contributions to their team,” for these comparable players and even increased it for Trout. He’s really off the charts! Once we assigned him a career WAR, (what is this?) we then translated this into dollars.  Ultimately our team came up with offering Mike Trout a nine year contract at $195 million to be back loaded as MLB contracts typically are.

We spent the rest of our night and some time on Thursday morning practicing our presentation. Apparently practice makes perfect because we all did an amazing job remembering all the points to say on our assigned slides. We also fielded the questions and answers confidently. After presenting, we were immediately approached by Vince Gennaro, the case writer and baseball analytics guru, who told us he was impressed by our framework and analysis of the case. In the end, although Elon did not win the case competition, our team felt his approval was truly all the validation and praise we needed.

We spent the rest of our time in Phoenix attending conference events such as a player panel with pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Javier Lopez, a general managers’ panel representing the White Sox, Rangers, and Cubs, and even discussions about how to handle big data in baseball.  Although we were in the desert, it decided to rain so my husband, John,   and I squeezed in a quick hike up gorgeous Camelback Mountain to get a bird’s eye view of Phoenix. It was definitely a memorable excursion. At night, our entire team attended conference social events and even got to watch USA battle Mexico in the World Baseball Classic at Chase Field. All in all I had an amazing experience and I believe our entire team did as well. I learned so much from this case competition and am so happy I embraced this opportunity!

Written by: Emily Sweitzer

Winter Term 2013: Singapore/Vietnam – January 15, 2013

One of the beautiful things about traveling in a country formerly colonized by the French is that you’re never left wanting for a good pastry.  Say what you will about the oppression of colonialism and the tragedy of ethnocentrism—you’ll get no argument from me there, viva la revolucion and so forth—but the introduction of the French culinary tradition to the venerable and already sophisticated cuisine of Vietnam was nothing short of magic.

I’ve heard it rumored that Uncle Ho himself worked under the renowned French chef Auguste Escoffier during his sojourn in Paris, and I really want to believe it. As it happens (at least in my imagination), I am enjoying the fruits of that transcendent meeting of the minds quite literally for breakfast yet again this morning.  Congee, steamed shrimp dumplings, and an array of odd-looking tropical fruit lead quite nicely into a plate of charcuterie and a mouthful or two of croissant, chased, of course, by the best coffee in the world.  Not a bad way to start the day at all, and a fitting metaphor for the business climate here in Vietnam, especially in regards to the companies we’re visiting today.  To wit: how do two seemingly contradictory views of the world (east vs west) coexist in a business setting?

First on the docket, Baker and McKenzie, a U.S. law firm with a strong international presence, specializing in Intellectual Property.  Their office is centrally located in downtown Saigon, about 15 minutes by foot from the hotel, high enough up in a gleaming new office building to afford a nice view of the city. Our host is a lawyer from the states and we have the central office in Hanoi on a video conference line.

The discussion of IP law is lively and particularly relevant to this group of students and faculty, most of whom have already procured some form of counterfeit product at the Ben Thanh market (Jack’s stack of DVD’s is purely evidentiary, by the way).  Our central point of interest is the concept of trademark violation, and how counterfeiters circumvent the law in this regard.  Our hosts do a wonderful job of explaining the ways in which counterfeit manufacturers operate.  After visiting Sprinta yesterday, it’s become apparent to me that quality manufacturers like Sprinta and brands such as North Face truly do offer superior products.  Protecting the reputation of these brands and ensuring that consumers get what they pay for is crucial.

After describing counterfeit operations, our hosts detail the methods available to law firms representing aggrieved clients.  Resolution through the courts—whether civil or criminal—is an option, but it seems that in Vietnam, administrative resolution is most effective.  This entails law firms working in concert with the proper authorities to organize raids and seizures and to then place offending businesses on notice.  To all of us Americans, who are acclimated to the litigiousness of American IP law, this seems like an ineffectual solution, dependant on too many parties working in tandem.  But this is a different culture, and the importance of IP law is a fairly new concept.

After Baker and Mckenzie, we enjoy a brief lunch and then head over to a little local company called GE.  In a nutshell, GE does big infrastructure projects.  Health care, engine manufacturing, power, oil and gas development, and airport security are a few of GE’s focuses on a global scale.  In Vietnam, they concentrate on oil and gas development and power.  We’re met by a house attorney from their office in Hong Kong and two sales reps from the oil and gas division and the power division respectively.  We talk about GE’s mission in Vietnam and about the pitfalls of working in a country as dependant on central government as Vietnam.  To a company like GE, interference and red tape is anathema; GE made its name by being flexible, dynamic and fast.  As such, we’re assured that GE keeps a healthy distance from projects that see a heavy governmental influence, which is pretty tough in a communist country.   Nevertheless, they seem optimistic about Vietnam’s chances in a general sense, and I tend to agree, despite the prognostications from the expat panel last night.  In my estimation, any people as resilient as the Vietnamese will find a way, even if it takes a little work (or a lot).

For dinner, Jess from Theodore Alexander is gracious enough to host the whole lot of us at his house in South Saigon.  We enjoy yet another sumptuous meal replete with regional favorites such as prawn and green papaya salad, braised pork belly, deep-fried soft shell crab, and sour prawn soup.  It is a fitting conclusion to what has become, for many of us, a culinary decathlon of sorts, and a testament to the strength of the relationships that the Elon faculty has cultivated over the years. It’s also another chance to enjoy the fruits of that complex marriage between east and west.

Vietnam

Vietnam

In this colonial mansion, which can only be described as palatial, we’ve reached an easy peace with our cultural differences.  I’d like to think that Uncle Ho and Grandpa Auguste did the same so many years ago, and that our future business and legal constituents will as well.

Written by: Brian Adam