Shaping the Future
Nobody can say what the future holds, but you can be sure of one thing — there will be constant change at a rapid pace. Strategies that worked just a few years ago won’t work today or in the future. Mindsets must change. We must learn to learn. We must embrace ambiguity. And we must become comfortable with being uncomfortable.
That’s why Michigan Ross is constantly innovating how we think about business and how we educate our students. Our faculty are creating ideas and conducting research that not only reports what is happening in business but also defines the future of business. Our students, as part of their education, are putting theory into action more so than at any other business school in the world. They are starting businesses, investing money in new ventures and markets, advising companies on issues of strategic importance, and leading actual operating businesses — all of which is integrated with their business-school curriculum, coupled with coaching from faculty, and supported by alumni mentors. We are building the future of business education today at Michigan Ross.
As we define the future of business education, our students are defining the future of business. They are embracing the commitment to innovation and spirit of ingenuity, all with an eye toward creating a better world through business. In these stories, you’ll find Michigan Ross students setting a new standard of excellence in business. We are inspired by them and trust you will be, too.
Jameka Eleazer & Emily Fisher
Students Becoming the Teachers—and Then the CEOs
After their class project wowed hundreds of staff members at Michigan Medicine this past year, two Ross BBAs are launching their own positive organizational scholarship consulting firm, which they believe to be a first of its kind.
When Jameka Eleazer, BBA ’18, and Emily Fisher, BBA ’18 started the Magnify program with the Center for Positive Organizations this spring, they didn’t know it would result in the creation of their own business — but they knew it would be a great learning experience.
Magnify is an interactive course that culminates in an action-based learning project. Students first learn the tenets of positive organizational scholarship — “essentially unlocking resources within teams and companies to help the organization flourish at a deeper level,” Fisher says — and then they help a real-world business apply the lessons.
Jameka and Emily’s project took them to Michigan Medicine, where they guided a small staff group through activities meant to build compassion. They started by interviewing teams and assessing their strengths: “We didn't want to look at weaknesses. We didn't want to look at what they weren't doing well, because that makes people resist,” Eleazer says.
Still, they anticipated pushback: Part of learning about the positive organizational philosophy is understanding that some might not immediately understand the value of doing “touchy-feely” activities. So imagine their surprise to see that not only was the staff open to the activities, but they were also energized and inspired.
“One of the things we focused on was helping them appreciate their co-workers,” Eleazer says. “They really responded. People were doing small things like thanking each other for favors and big things like saying ‘I love how you do such an amazing job; that really helps me.’”
The director of the department in Michigan Medicine was also so impressed by the students’ presentation that he invited them to come back and speak with a larger group of staff — numbering in the hundreds. The energy was electrifying.
“The audience was answering our questions, so we knew that they had been engaged, and we knew that they respected us, and that was really neat,” Fisher says.
The experience sparked their desire to continue.
With the help of the Center for Positive Organizations and the Zell Lurie Institute, the two are in the midst of launching their own consulting firm to help healthcare organizations implement positive organizational practices. They plan to officially launch in January. To prepare, they’re undertaking an independent research project this fall semester at St. Joseph Hospital. “It’s all going really fast,” Eleazer says.
For both young women, this business is fulfilling their hopes of making a positive impact. Eleazer was headed into personal banking but was unsure if that was the right fit.Fisher, who has a chronic illness that required hospital stays while growing up, always wanted to help improve healthcare.
“When I was little, we were asked to say what we wanted to be when we grew up, and you get the normal answers like doctor and firefighter,” Fisher says. “Well, I wanted to be a superhero and I've carried that with me throughout my whole life. I've always known I wanted to help people and that I want to leave the world knowing that I made it a better place.”
The Magnify program at Ross has certainly brought her one step closer to that goal.
—By Tara Cavanaugh & Christopher Ankney
Acting Locally, Learning Globally
The second semester of Mike Manzinger’s, BBA ’18, junior year was spent in a country where he didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak the language, and was in a project group with five other students who all spoke different languages.
And he wouldn’t trade it for anything. Manzinger chose Michigan Ross in large part because of the international opportunities for undergraduates. His semester at the Norwegian School of Economics, funded by a Fulbright grant, was the first time a Ross student had gone there as part of the Global Semester Exchange Program.
“I just think there’s no substitute for these kinds of experiences,” says Manzinger. “I showed up in a country I’d never been to, didn’t know a single person, and had to learn the culture, make friends, and work in groups. You understand the little things about day-to-day behavior and I think that gives you an edge.”
It’s a particular edge for Manzinger, who plans to go into consulting after graduation. He spent this summer in Chicago as an intern at global consulting firm Mercer and the focus of his studies in Norway was management consulting.
Even before the semester exchange program Manzinger was studying abroad. He enrolled in the Global Immersion Course in Germany and Slovakia in Summer 2016, learning about European Union economics and the transition of former Communist states to market economies.
He says global experiences are an invaluable part of business education and prepare students for the road ahead.
“When you look at how business operates today, you’re going to be working on a team of some kind no matter where you are,” he says.
“More and more frequently, you’ll also be working with people from different cultures. In terms of education, these immersive experiences are the most applicable. It’s how you develop the skills you need to work on those teams and grow as a person, and as a team player. They set you up for success.”
Manzinger is carrying on a family tradition of sorts. His mother, Cheri Jacobs Manzinger, is a 1983 BBA graduate and his sister, Sarah, is a BBA ’19. “She’ll also be studying abroad for a semester, at the Stockholm School of Economics,” he says of his sister. “Visiting the campus for my mom’s 25th reunion put Michigan Ross on my radar, but what made me want to be part of the tradition myself was the opportunity for international experiences. Go Blue!”
Finding a Home Within a Home
Florence Noel, MBA/MSI ’18, had some pretty big demands of a business school. She wanted an entrepreneurial environment and vibe, a place where she could “get my hands dirty” and pursue her passions, and at a top-rated university so she could earn a dual degree.
She found that home at Michigan Ross and the U-M campus. Noel, former northeast regional director for the nonprofit Girls Who Code, is pursuing an MBA and a master’s from the U-M School of Information. She’s also launching a startup, plays in the student band Risky Business, was a tech lead on the Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund, and is now an investor of the Founders Fund focused on funding the startups of U-M graduates.
“Not many schools have the kind of options Ross has, and not many universities have so many top-tier grad schools like Michigan,” she says. “Given some of my ideals and life goals, I knew that in any B-school I'd be kind of a freak, so I wanted a school with communities that I could really show up in, plug into, and learn from.”
For her, that community became the Zell Lurie Institute. Her experience evaluating investments for the Commercialization Fund opened her eyes to the rigor that goes behind making a bet on a company.
“Zell Lurie opened up a whole world of opportunity for me,” she says. “That’s my home here. What I was exposed to on the due-diligence side of the business, how you find out what a company is, test financial projects, and then decide to invest is an experience you don’t find in most schools. It’s something I really value and don’t take for granted at all.
“Doing this kind of work shows you how little you really know. That’s not something you can really get in just the classroom.”
It’s the kind of experience that helped Noel launch her own startup, Dear Black Women, an affirmation movement and social network for black women. She received support from TechArb, ZLI, and the School of Information to work on the business over the summer.
“Right now I’m looking at how we take this nationwide, create virtual hubs for black women to launch their own network, both online and offline,” she says. “For example, if you’re a PhD student and don’t have other black colleagues in your program, you can connect with other black women with the same situation and form a support network.”
After nearly 10 years in the nonprofit world, Noel plans to take the business rigor she's learned at Ross and apply it to the for-profit social entrepreneurial space.
“In my experience, I have found that nonprofits are often vulnerable because funding is not coming from a business model with diverse revenue streams,” she says.
Noel sees the kinds of student-initiated experiences at Ross, and the opportunity to pursue a dual degree with another U-M school, as the future of business education.
“I think people are taking non-traditional paths to business school more often, and the schools are starting to see they need to find ways to support them,” she says.
—By Terry Kosdrosky
Circling the Globe, Pursuing His Passion
Puerto Rico native Gabriel Dávila, BBA ’19, came to Michigan for the first time to attend business school. In addition to a first-class education, it’s become his gateway to the world. “The global opportunities available at Michigan Ross were a big factor in my decision to come here,” he says.
Dávila spent the summer in Australia participating in the Global Study and Intern Program. “Australia was more than I could have ever imagined. I did a two-week study abroad about doing business in Australia, and then completed an eight-week internship at Morningstar. It was incredible. People were excited to have me there and so willing to help. It was a real-world experience that took me outside my comfort zone. That was very helpful.”
One of his projects stoked an interest in business strategy — and stands to improve the investment research firm’s bottom line by $52,000 next year. He analyzed and executed recommendations to increase customer account activation following a free trial period.
His trip wasn’t all work, however. While in Australia, he snorkeled with sharks in the Great Barrier Reef, hunted waterfalls in the rainforest, and went skydiving — and that was just the last three days of his trip. Not surprisingly, Dávila is eager to go abroad again.
“I really want to be a global citizen, and never want to be in a bubble or stay in the same place. I want to see as much as possible,” he says. “I’ll be doing a Semester Exchange in Hong Kong next winter. I don’t know anything about Hong Kong — and that was the appeal. I don’t know the language, the culture, or anyone there. I’m excited to explore.”
As adventurous as he is, Dávila appreciates the welcoming and familial atmosphere he experienced through Ross’ Preparation Initiative, a learning community that gives freshmen from schools with limited resources the tools they need to excel in class.
“PI is a great program. When I came to Michigan it was a nice introduction to classes. I didn’t know anyone, and meeting people in the program automatically took weight off my shoulders. It’s like a family.”
As he enters his junior year, Dávila is continuing his involvement with PI, this time in an advisory role. “I’m a counselor for students with diverse backgrounds. I show them how to belong at Michigan and make them feel like they can be successful here.”
And he should know. Dávila has been a leader in numerous extracurricular activities at Ross. He currently belongs to Delta Sigma Pi, is a BBA ambassador, and serves as vice president of finance for the Michigan International Student Society, which he describes as “another home away from home.” Dávila previously served as a resident teaching assistant for the LEAD Business Institute and worked as fundraising chair for Habitat for Humanity.
Looking ahead, Dávila’s internship in Australia has pointed him toward a career in consulting — at least in the beginning. “After graduation I’d like to go into management consulting. Through consulting I can see different industries and discover my passion. Eventually, I’d like to apply those consulting skills to start and grow my own business. Whatever that ends up being, I want to make an impact beyond the U.S. and Puerto Rico.”
It wasn’t an obvious choice to come to Michigan — Puerto Rican students tend to stay close to home — but Dávila says coming to Michigan was the most rewarding decision he’s ever made. He tells his mentees, “At a place like Michigan Ross, everything is possible.”
—By Lisa Kiser
On a Mission to Increase Diversity and Inclusion Awareness at Ross
When Ariana Almas, MBA ’18, first arrived at Michigan Ross, she knew diversity and inclusion would be one of her passions. As a business student with a concentration in HR management and an interest in social justice, Almas is an advocate for people. Coming from a nonprofit background, she spent several years in workforce development, helping low-income and minority young adults successfully find employment. Although she enjoyed working in the nonprofit industry, the New Jersey native decided to shift these skills to the corporate world.
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has always been a passion of mine, and I saw business school as an opportunity to address it from the other side,” says Almas.
This past academic year, Almas served as the co-chair of Ross Diversity Week with classmate Caitlin Cordell, where they helped to create and facilitate programming that focused on diversity and inclusion issues, including workshops, presentations, and keynote speakers. The theme was “Empathy and Action,” zeroing in on how the two ideas can help academically, professionally, and personally. One session she facilitated was a design thinking workshop, where several Ross faculty shared the challenges and opportunities they encountered introducing diversity into the curriculum. She also partnered with Out for Business for the annual MBgAy event, the Design+Business Club and the Sanger Leadership Center for their StoryLab session, the Center for Positive Organizations on their anti-racism workshop, and a fellow MBA student to create a fireside chat about tackling Islamophobia.
Through her work, Almas wants to illustrate that diversity is not just a buzzword, but a concept that groups and companies should address and implement to improve employee productivity and profit. She says including the thoughts and ideals of all individuals is vital to any organization.
“Business plays such an important role in shaping our society and we have a responsibility and moral obligation to think about things like DEI, positive organizational scholarship, and social impact,” says Almas. “There’s been so much research that suggests these elements, specifically DEI, affect the bottom line, so this matters.”
While strides have been made, Almas acknowledges the challenges she faces in addressing DEI issues. Some common misconceptions, for example, are that DEI is designed to only serve women or minority groups, that people expect change instantly, and that they often think equity and equality are interchangeable. She also mentions another major one—our view of inclusion, which is often seen through a Western lens.
“At Ross, over 30 percent of our student population is international, so we have to explore ways to ensure their perspectives, experiences, and ideas are included too.”
Despite the challenges, Almas believes Ross students, faculty, staff, and specifically alumni have the opportunity to continue moving the needle in the right direction.
“Many of our alumni hold positions of power where they can make change and be advocates for inclusion,” says Almas. “Their feedback, mentorship, and understanding of the current student experience will be instrumental in determining the direction we go as a school.”
Almas is continuing her DEI work this academic year, serving as vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion for the MBA Council (formerly Student Government Association). In this role, she will continue being an advocate and help implement various DEI-related initiatives and programs at Ross.
“There is definitely a need for serving the current student body. We have a lot of great programming and structures put in place to execute that,” says Almas. “The University of Michigan has a five-year strategic plan for DEI and Ross is following the lead on that. I'm looking forward to seeing the DEI committee further build Ross' capacity to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion now and in the long term.”
—By Brittany Smith
Envisioning the Future
Claire Fletcher, MBA ’18, has seen her future —not through a crystal ball or some sort of supernatural clairvoyance, but in real life. She saw it up close and personal during her MAP with GE Power this past spring. Working with GE Power in India, Fletcher and her team were tasked with developing a go-to-market strategy for a new power generation product intended for emerging markets. And the head of the project for GE Power was Ross Alum Jwalin (Ricky) Buch, MBA ’11.
“Because the head of our project was a Ross alum, it was eye opening to see how directly what we’re currently learning translates to the job five years from now,” says Fletcher, who will start full time at The Boston Consulting Group after graduation. “He’s the pure general manager of this project and he’s talking to us about the strategy impact, the accounting impact, marketing … everything that he does is our core curriculum, and we got a first hand view of it in action.”
The project was focused on taking what is essentially a mini-electric grid in a box and turning it into a profitable business line for the company.
Fletcher also worked with the then-president and CEO of GE Power, Steve Bolze, MBA ’89 (he’s since moved on to a role with the Blackstone Group), and getting one-on-one interaction with C-suite leadership provided some unique insights into how a large corporation views socially backed business models.
“(Bolze) was really interested in the human element of our project,” Fletcher says. “We got to see how passionate he was about seeing his employees excited about making a difference, and that was really cool.”
Interactions with the CEO, a firsthand view of how the Ross MBA prepares you to build a career, helping bring electricity to rural India — it exemplified the Ross experience.
“There were not a lot of guardrails put up in terms of this project,” Fletcher says. “This is an actual, busy problem that doesn’t have a right answer. Every time you pull a lever and try to answer it, you just open a whole other line of questions.
“I know there are other versions of this experience at other schools, but I’m not sure it happens at this profound a level. This was such an intense experience.”
—By Christopher Ankney
No Substitute for Real-World Experience
Matthew Sellman, MBA ’18, had his eyes primarily on one business school when he was searching for MBA programs —Michigan Ross. And there was a good reason for it.
Ross was the only MBA program he thought “walked the walk” when it came to collaborative, action-based learning.
“The biggest thing to me was MAP,” he says. “No other business school offers a program in action-based learning as substantial as MAP. Taking time out of the classroom to work 100 percent on a real project was exactly what I was looking for. I was skeptical of the opportunities I saw at other schools.”
Sellman found MAP as good as advertised. He wants to shift his career from business-to-business marketing to business-to-consumer, preferably in the consumer packaged goods industry. He selected as his top project, and landed, luxury-goods retailer Shinola in Detroit.
Shinola needed a team to evaluate and plan a luxury grooming product in partnership with a major consumer packaged goods company. What’s more, the partnership with Shinola would continue and expand after MAP’s conclusion as part of the new course Living Business Leadership Experience, where Sellman and his teammates are now working on expanding Shinola’s audio line.
“Shinola was the top choice for a lot of us, despite the many compelling projects to chose from across the globe,” he says. “We were drawn to Shinola as a brand, and wanted to see what it was like to take a business idea from soup to nuts.”
The team reported directly to CEO Tom Lewand, MBA ’96, and worked with other Shinola team leaders, as well as a large consumer products company that was part of the initiative. Shinola is a nimble organization, and the team was able to move fast and make quick decisions.
“It’s awesome to see our project wasn’t a slide deck that got buried in a hard drive somewhere but something where we can actually see the fruits of our labor,” he says.
Sellman said the experience was a great setup for his summer internship at Johnson & Johnson. Having worked at a smaller, nimble company with a large company as a partner for MAP, he now is applying those lessons at the big company.
He sees the kind of action-based learning at Ross as the future of business education. The marriage of learning theory in the classroom and then applying it in the real world is what makes a business degree powerful in today’s economy.
“I think that kind of balance between theory and practice is the real value,” he says.
Sellman sees a lot of opportunity to bring new marketing strategies to consumer goods, but someday he wants to apply his knowledge in higher education.
“A dream job would be to become the CMO of a university,” he says. “I’ve always been interested in higher education policy and I appreciate the transformative value of a university. Figuring out what makes a place so special and meaningful and communicating that to prospective students would be a great challenge.”
—By Terry Kosdrosky
Finding Solutions for a Sustainable Future
Iuliana Mogosanu, MBA/MS ’18, understands the need for sustainable development. She also understands that there can be no sustainable economic development anywhere in the world without the first building block — a reliable source of fresh water.
As a student in the three-year Erb Institute dual-degree program, she will earn both an MBA from Ross and an MS from the School for Environment And Sustainability — renamed this summer from the School of Natural Resources and the Environment. The Erb Institute program offers a critical multidisciplinary approach to meet the challenges society faces.
“I am passionate about sustainable development and commercialization process of clean technologies that maximize impact and improve the living standards,” Mogosanu says. “But since impact ventures face specific challenges on their growth path in a fast-changing environment, sustainable development requires a strategic mindset, which involves further learning of competitive strategies to grow a business, social marketing, greater industry exposure, and an integrated view across sectors.”
Mogosanu has an academic background in economics; work experience in corporate banking and a photography startup; and a place in the energy track at the Erb Institute. But much of her time focuses on a project not directly tied to any of those things — an effort to remove saline from seawater in Mexico.
“Communities in Hermosillo County, located along Mexico’s Sonora Coast, are experiencing severe water scarcity due to saline contamination of their wells combined with low precipitation,” Mogosanu says. “My SEAS colleague, Pablo Taddei, a native of the region and an experienced energy industry professional, was looking to provide a sustainable solution to this problem and developed a technical concept that uses concentrated solar power energy to desalinate the abundant seawater around.
Mogosanu manages all the business aspects of the project, including creating the business plan and business model, managing funding, conducting market research, and more. The team also includes Davied Cordero, a SEAS student with a background in mechanical engineering, and Royce Chung, a College of Engineering student. Prof. Jose Alfaro of SEAS is advising the project, and Ross professors have also offered guidance.
“Since the solution to the water scarcity that we are providing tackles a complex problem with economic, environmental and social benefits — and requires knowledge from different fields of study — the diverse engineering, economic, and environmental expertise of our team members allowed us to look across disciplinary boundaries and create an efficient technical and financial outcome,” Mogosanu says.
In cooperation with the University of Sonora and local officials in the town of Tastiota, the team has developed a prototype of the system, and initial testing has been successful. Final design work is now under way. The eventual plan is to launch a startup, with Mogosanu continuing to manage the business strategy. She credits her Ross education with making that possible.
“The classes that I took at Ross and the practical requirements such as MAP provided me with the information, framework, and network to develop a business and ultimately succeed as a business professional, while the leadership roles that I have in extracurricular activities allowed me to develop the necessary skills to coordinate teams and engage with communities with a different background than mine.”
—By Bob Needham
The Momentum Behind a Startup’s Quick Success
Adam Hokin, BBA ’19, likes to hit the ground running.
And it’s paid off: The 20-year-old junior is leading business strategy for PedalCell, a startup that’s already attracted over $20,000 in support. The product concept/prototype provides a super-fast cell phone charge to nearly any phone device using power generated from a bicycle. The initial push calls for selling to companies that provide bike shares, which have become ubiquitous — bike shares doubled from 2011 to 2016, with 1.2 million rides now taking place in more than 1,000 cities across the world each year.
The company promises that its device can charge any phone made in the past five years, thanks to a variety of connector options and an adjustable phone clamp mounted on the handlebars. And you won’t have to speed like a hamster on a wheel just to bring your dead phone back to life. The device gives riders an uninterrupted charge no matter their speed, and can bring a phone from zero-percent to 80-percent charged in 35 minutes.
Hokin, originally from Westchester, New York, arrived at the University of Michigan in 2015 as a freshman and pre-admit to Ross. He knew he wanted to get involved right away, so he quickly familiarized himself with Ross resources and signed up for StartUM, a student-run startup organization at U-M that connects engineering and business students. That’s where Hokin met two aspiring engineers, Vishaal Mali and Andrew Brown, then still in high school, who have become his business partners and product developers for PedalCell.
Hokin has led the company through lucrative first-place wins in startup competitions, and a visit to Capitol Hill to participate in a technology showcase this summer. Now, he is expanding staff and manufacturing the first prototype. The company is utilizing MHUB, a public manufacturing facility in Chicago, in order to create the first devices with low manufacturing costs.
“When people hear that I’m doing this with PedalCell, they say: ‘Oh, that must be fun!’” Hokin says. “I don’t know if I would describe 15-hour days as fun — but it has certainly been rewarding.”
He wouldn’t have been able to do all of this, and continue PedalCell’s impressive growth, he says, without the support from the Zell Lurie Institute and Michigan Ross professors.
“I came to Ross with the mindset that I wanted to create something,” Hokin says, “and the school has really helped me with that goal. Everyone I’ve met here, whether they’re professors or part of the ZLI, have wanted to hear about PedalCell and offer advice. The company isn’t where I want it to be yet, but I know it’s going to get there.”
—By Tara Cavanaugh
Making a Difference in Detroit Schools
Amber Blanks’, BBA ’16/MAcc ’17, sincere passion for education has only grown at Michigan Ross, where she’s been on both sides of mentoring relationships.
As a high school student, she knew she wanted to go into business, but felt a bit intimidated coming to U-M without a business background. Fortunately, she discovered the Preparation Initiative, a learning community for undergraduates with limited exposure to rigorous academic courses.
“Coming into Ross, I didn't know much about business, as I had focused on performing arts in high school. Getting that introduction to business through PI was the best thing that could have happened to me.”
Blanks paid it forward, mentoring other students during her junior and senior years and working as an administrative assistant for PI while completing her MAcc degree. Her final year at Ross provided another substantial opportunity to make a difference — this time in her hometown of Detroit. She worked with middle and high school students at the Cornerstone Schools, developing and facilitating monthly sessions aimed at improving financial literacy and college preparation.
Blanks’ leadership skills manifested in other extracurricular activities as well. She served as president of the Black Business Undergraduate Society senior year, delegating and managing the resources of a 120-member organization.
“This position allowed me to make mistakes, accomplish things, and really get comfortable leading others. It’s a give-and-take thing. I’m not a dictator; I’m here to help you better yourself while also getting things done.”
She also helped to shape Ross’ Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiative. Blanks helped run programs and offered suggestions on things that could be implemented for the betterment of the entire Ross community.
Her journey is now coming full circle as she begins work at EY’s assurance practice in Detroit, which sets her up perfectly to accomplish her future goal.
“I want to impact the lives of students in Detroit. Maybe that will be helping the Detroit Public Schools to manage their funds. I really want to take the skills I’ve learned and give back to where I came from.”
—By Lisa Kiser