Have solutions, will travel: Students gain real-world experience consulting

W. P. Carey alumnus Jeff Lam (B.S. Accountancy ’13, MACC ’14) worked with the Havasupai Tribe when he was an undergraduate and a member of the New Venture Group — a student consulting firm at the school. “The client challenged us in various areas,” says Lam, now a consultant at Protiviti, “the first being the four- to five-hour hike from the top of the Grand Canyon to the valley where Supai is located.”

Over a period of four years, New Venture Group built an economic development program and worked on various projects for the Havasupai Tribe and its business enterprises.

New Venture Group is a consulting firm that was formed in 2008 as part of the Consulting Scholars Certificate program. Professor Emeritus Dan Brooks wanted students to experience real-world consulting, potentially making a measurable difference in the world. “The idea was to create as close to an authentic consulting company as possible,” Brooks says.

Brooks thought the experience would give the students more than just firsthand consulting experience. More important, students would come to understand that creating value in itself is an exciting career path. “Consulting is a creative way to think about applying the talent you acquire through higher education, as a means of creating value for whatever community you’re most interested in being a part of,” he says.

“You’re converting your education into making a difference that people appreciate. There aren’t a lot of opportunities to do that.”

Now led by W. P. Carey’s Chief Innovation Officer John Beck and Professor of Practice Todd Taylor, New Venture Group continues to help students discover career paths while contributing substantially to the success of organizations that participate.

Federico Bryner (B.S. Accounting and Finance ’13, MACC ’14), Stephanie Seghers-Narvaez (B.S. Marketing ’13), and Brianna Arendt (B.S. Accountancy ’13, MACC ’14) making the trek to Havasupai Falls.

A blacksmith for aspiring professionals

Lam said the Havasupai experience was rich with rewarding and memorable moments, such as beautiful hike down to Havasu Falls, where students persuaded Brooks to partake in some waterfall sliding. Or being honored with an invitation to dinner at a tribe member’s home.

Listening to the client remains the most important lesson Lam learned through New Venture Group. It’s something he uses daily in his consulting career. “We were taught to ask open-ended questions to get as much information from clients as possible,” he says. “To this day, this method elicits extra, valuable information from clients — a result I could never achieve by asking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions.”

Looking back on his first foray in consulting, W. P. Carey economics and finance major Michael Barger had no idea what to expect — and no idea what he was talking about. He and three others drove to their client’s home, about an hour away from campus. “It took less than 15 minutes with the client for me to learn that I knew almost nothing about solving business problems,” he says.

Luckily it only took about 15 minutes more for him to get his teammates to stop worrying. Moving forward, they taught one another what they could, and focused on assigning project tasks based on their individual strengths. They learned that challenges are best addressed as a team. By the end of the year, Barger was elected to his current position as the student director of curriculum for New Venture Group.

Looking forward, Barger believes experience is just as valuable as a degree to becoming a marketable professional. “At W. P. Carey the New Venture Group is no joke — we do real work with real impact on businesses, and I think employers can see that, too,” he says.

“It’s incredibly valuable to gain experience alongside so many smart and motivated students, in a driven environment where I can get real career preparation.”

The elite nature of the group turns every meeting into an opportunity to learn something new, Barger says, or hear a story that inspires him to do more.

“It’s like that quote, ‘as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,’” Barger says. “Under that metaphor, New Venture Group is like a blacksmith for aspiring professionals — and that’s pretty cool.”

A safe space to learn and grow

New Venture Group has taught Tiffany Lam (no relation to Jeff) the power of patience. “To achieve the perfect fit between problem and solution, you have to be patient,” says the W. P. Carey business data analytics and supply chain management student. “You have to wait for the subtle clues that tell you not only what solutions will work, but also how to approach the details.”

It has also taught her the value of teamwork. While working with a potential client last year, Lam wanted her teammates to help her polish a presentation. She asked some of her peers to stay after class, to watch her presentation and give her feedback. “It was getting late and I honestly expected everyone to leave,” Lam says. “But my fellow consultants stayed. They gave me a round of applause, and the edits I needed to make it perfect.”

Being mentored by older consultants has exposed her to new techniques and processes. Working with high-level decision-makers at various companies has solidified her position as a professional. Moreover, New Venture Group has been a safe space to learn and grow with a little help from her friends.

Lam is excited to help plan and execute C2, a consulting conference, in her new role as the student director of event logistics for New Venture Group. Held annually, more than 100 consultants from across the country attended C2 last year. “Interested students can attend to learn more about New Venture Group and consulting in general,” she says, “as well as hear from and network with industry professionals.”

Front row, from left: Xiaonan “Shane” Xiahou (B.S. Supply Chain Management ’16), Nick Nist (B.S. Supply Chain Management, B.A. Global Politics ’15). Back row, from left: Blair Robertson (M.S. Business Analytics ’15), Dan Brooks, Fan Xiao (M.A.S. Geographic Information Systems ’16), Gurkaran Chotalla (B.S. Finance ’17), Betty Lee (B.S. Supply Chain Management and Finance ’15), Leah Fiacco (B.S. Economics and Political Science ’15).

Adventures in complexity

With so many extracurricular options to choose from, Erika Mionis (B.S. Supply Chain Management and Finance ’16) adopted a follow-the-leader strategy as a freshman and sophomore at W. P. Carey. She looked at people she admired, and took note of their involvement. “I noticed that many intelligent, accomplished individuals were part of New Venture Group,” she says, so she decided to join.

Her first assignment, for a medical entrepreneur, took more than a year to complete, but was immensely rewarding in terms of experience gained and skills learned. Mionis and fellow teammates ended up becoming such great friends that they decided to complete their honors thesis together, which led to all-nighters, midnight Chinese food runs and many other good memories.

“New Venture Group is unique in that it has so many connections with consultants early in their careers,” she explains.

“Hearing from professionals only a few years older made it easier to imagine what my life would be like as a consultant.”

Mionis begins GE’s Operations Management Leadership Program, specifically in the area of aviation, in October 2016. While the recent grad decided she preferred industry work to consulting, she describes the experience as a great way for students to figure out if consulting is right for them, while gaining practical knowledge and skills.

All aboard the value train

W. P. Carey supply chain management student Karen Chang returns to campus as president of New Venture Group this fall, after spending the summer as a systems analyst intern for American Airlines Inc. “In all of my interviews, I use my consulting experience to answer their questions about teamwork, problem solving and communication,” she says. “I think this really helped me obtain my internships.”

Chang says all of her client engagements have been valuable learning experiences, critical to shaping her into a good consultant. Consulting has also been a meaningful way for Chang to make a difference in local organizations like the ASPIN/Mohave Educational Services Cooperative, her first client.

The local food service cooperative purchases food for more than 100 Arizona school districts. Since Shamrock Foods Co. is responsible for delivering food to many ASPIN/Mohave school districts, the client brought Chang and her teammates on a tour of its distribution center. “The goal was to help us better understand the supply chain of a school lunch,” she says, recalling one of her favorite experiences with New Venture Group. “We got to see the conveyor belt that transfers products from shelves to loading docks, and a man fileting a fish before it was packaged and sealed.”

Chang and her teammates created a value model to help the client improve their customer service levels, using firsthand knowledge of the school lunch supply chain. In addition to shaping an organization’s operational strategy, she had the treat of sitting in a freezer, surrounded by cartons of ice cream.

One team, one dream

Within four years of its inception, New Venture Group had placed students in every major consulting firm in the U.S. — all of which today employ multiple New Venture Group alumni.

This is due, in large part, to the fact that New Venture Group members learn what pursuing a consulting career is like. They understand the drawbacks. They know what is expected of them. And they are excited to be consultants.

Firms interested in engaging with New Venture Group should contact Professor of Practice Todd Taylor at TWTaylor@asu.edu.