Imagine undertaking an intense, full-time consulting project while in the midst of an intense, full-time MBA program.
Few would volunteer to be in that position. But for a select team of USC Marshall School of Business MBA students, the chance to conduct research on a key topic and present it to a board of top-level executives and government leaders is worth months of lost sleep.
“I have a personal interest in global relations and trade, and focused on international trade before coming to USC Marshall,” said MBA student Kimberly Steffen. “Working with a strong team on a project of this caliber was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I was not going to pass up.”
The topic — how can cross-border e-commerce accelerate growth and prosperity of member economies — is particularly relevant, she said.
“E-commerce is the future of everything,” she noted.
An ‘ill-structured problem’
A 12-member team of second-year MBAs will attend the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Meeting in Manila, where it will present the findings of a yearlong research project to the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC). ABAC members then meet and discuss their findings with the leaders of APEC Economies.
“We take an ill-structured problem, decide what the question is, find the people who can shed light on the question, interview them, return and put it into a cohesive paper,” said Carl Voigt, professor of clinical management and organization, academic director of the full-time MBA program and also faculty director for the team, which spent more than 1,000 hours conducting some 500 interviews throughout each of the APEC member countries.
APEC is a confederation of 21 Pacific Rim economies that encourages economic cooperation and promotes free trade among its members, which include China, Japan, Canada and the United States.
USC Marshall is the only business school whose students conduct research for the business arm of this group — ABAC. It has been conducting research for ABAC since 2003, Voigt said.
We were chosen in part because of the strength of our global Trojan network.
“We were chosen in part because of the strength of our global Trojan network,” he said.
ABAC team member Adam Stout, for example, was dispatched to Vietnam, where he got nowhere until contacting a local alumna, who quickly put him in touch with relevant businesses to interview.
“She even invited me to stay with her family,” he said. “It’s this kind of personal connection that enables us to do the kind of in-depth, on-the-ground research a project like this requires.”
The group is now spending every spare hour consolidating its interviews into a report. The group will leave for Manila on Nov. 11 — the so-called “Singles” day — which is fittingly, considering the topic of research, the most profitable e-commerce sales day in history. Last year Alibaba’s online Singles Day sales topped $9 billion.
“E-commerce will be on everyone’s mind when we arrive to present,” Steffen said.