In the Past 30 Years No Michigan Ross Student Has Done What My Teammates and I Did This Semester

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By Max Olive, BBA ‘16

I recently took Michigan Ross Professor and local real estate developer Peter Allen’s graduate-level Finance 565 course.

The course, which focuses on real estate development and urban planning, attracts students from a variety of disciplines: law students, architecture students, engineering students, public policy students, and of course MBA (with a select number of BBA) students who wish to learn more about city planning.  

The capstone in Professor Allen’s class is a team-led investment proposal competition - teams pick a property for sale and create a 20-slide investment deck outlining neighborhood schematics, demographics, marketing techniques, architectural renderings, and financing options.   

At the end of the semester, there are two titles to be earned:  (1) the People’s Choice Award, which is an award chosen by our fellow FIN 565 classmates after the presentations; and (2) Professor Allen’s best overall project, which is the project in his eyes that went above and beyond the scope of work to make this deal not only feasible – but profitable.  

My team chose Detroit, and our efforts resulted in the first ever project to win both the People’s Choice Award and Professor Allen’s best overall project. The class has been offered at Ross for 30 years, and that’s never happened before!

The entire process gave me incredible insights into how a real business deal works, and I want to share the most important one with you:

You Need to Communicate

My teammates included another Ross BBA, a Master of Landscape Architecture student, and a Master of Urban Design student. For this project, it should have been a dream team right from the start - but we started off with a litany of poor ideas.

We initially put the project on the back burner until the beginning of March, we considered properties that lacked architectural character, we became lazy with looking into tax credits and financing opportunities, and we had no tangible renderings finished.

Then, I read The Hard Thing About the Hard Things by Ben Horowitz and had an epiphany.

The problem? We lacked a common vision. We didn’t communicate well. And we were too busy letting our egos and personal ideas get in the way. We needed to shake things up.

Hillary, our Master of Landscape Architecture teammate, was one of the most organized people I had ever met. As a plus, she worked at SmithGroup JJR, a world-renowned landscape architecture firm known for putting together stellar presentations. She should handle all the planning for team meetings and anything else as well as design the slide deck.  

Mengyu, our Master of Urban Design teammate, had a passion for developing open and modern interior spaces that perfectly juxtaposed and complemented the revamped aura we were going after for our project. She should handle the artistic design.  

Moe, our other BBA teammate, had spent a summer on Wall Street and knew Excel spreadsheets better than anyone else in our group. He should be our numbers guy.

I was the student with tangible real estate experience. After an internship last summer, I had an insatiable appetite to be the handyman of a deal like this and to know it inside and out.

I typed all of this up in a message to Hillary, Mengyu, and Moe one night, and that’s when things really started to click, almost magically. Meetings became more worthwhile, deadlines were set and made for individual parts of the project, and we even got along with each other better on a personal level.  

Respect for each team member and what they did in their field grew immensely.

Without Hillary, we would have put together a slide deck destined for the paper shredder.  

Without Mengyu, we would have had no way to translate our artistic vision into a winning piece of work.  

Without Moe, we would have had no budget.  

Without me, we would have lacked that kick in the rear we needed in order to reach the heights to which we wanted to soar.

It was the ultimate learning experience. A true example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. We had to put egos aside, we had to learn from each other, and most importantly we had to respect everyone’s ideas to recognize what each individual could bring to the table.

The multidisciplinary learning approach was alive and well here. We couldn’t have done it without the opportunity to take a meaningful class like this one here at Ross.

Our team embodied what it meant to overcome organizational and communication struggles, and I could not be more proud of what we accomplished. Once we finished, I had no doubt in my mind that our project was the best possible product we could have put together for Professor Allen, and I’m happy he (and the class) shared those sentiments with us.

I know four students who are ready to conquer the world.

“There are no silver bullets for this, only lead bullets.” – Ben Horowitz


Max Olive is a 2016 graduate of the Michigan Ross BBA program. Max began working with NAI Farbman as an Investment Sales Associate shortly after graduation.

For their winning presentation, Max and his team were awarded $1,500, provided by generous support from Michigan Ross alum Jim Carlsen (MBA ‘86) and his wife Beth.