December 20, 2013

Winter Fun at Playhouse Square

Looking for something interesting and out of the ordinary to do over break?  I encourage you to go to a show.  Cleveland is the home of Playhouse Square, the second largest theater complex in the US.  That’s right – outside New York City, we boast the best theater scene in the country.  As you can imagine, the shows are fantastic!  And there is something for everybody.  In the past year, I’ve seen a half a dozen shows in three different theaters at Playhouse Square (a bit above average for me).  All were enjoyable and beautifully done, but each experience was uniquely memorable.

Wicked at Playhouse Square
From Case Western Reserve, it’s an easy Healthline ride straight down Euclid Avenue to once in a lifetime opportunities to see celebrated shows like Wicked or The Lion King!  The simple, direct commute and tickets through SmartSeats and frequently-offered student rates make a date with Playhouse Square more accessible than you might think.

There is nearly a century of history behind Playhouse Square, which I leave to the experts and invite you to read about here.  Its future is bright – lit by a giant chandelier, in fact.  Renovations have spread from the theaters to the district, and it will be exciting to watch as more changes take place this coming year.  Restauranteurs are, of course, keenly aware of the value of Playhouse Square, and there is more than one fine dining experience waiting for those who wish to take “dinner and a movie” up a notch to “dinner and a show.”


December 13, 2013

Advice on keeping tabs on your goals by MS-Finance graduate

Yi Shi (fourth from left) with classmates and
Peter Ritchken, Professor of Banking and Finance
Time flies. Last Wednesday, the whole Masters of Science in Management Finance (MSM-Finance) program had a graduation dinner together with faculty and staff. It is hard for me to believe it is time to say goodbye.

The MSM-Finance program has seemed very short to me, but has been an unforgettable period in my life. If someone asked me to say what I have learned most from the program, I would not say a DCF valuation. Along with the knowledge I gained about finance, I think the more important things I have learned are how to find myself and how to develop a strategy to achieve my own success.

I still remember, in the class that focused on individual and career development, we were asked to write down our dreams in 30 seconds if there was no limitations. It was the first time that I realized what is really important to me in my deepest heart. There were a lot of things I thought I would dream to have, however, it is not true.

I am so fortunate that Weatherhead supports me in all aspects, from my finance classes to my finance career path, to pursue what I want. I benefited a lot from the discussions and networking activities in and out of class, from finance to life in general. My professors didn't just teach from a book, they shared their life experiences. It is “having fun” that teaches me a life attitude. It is “being true to yourself” that forces me to search in the bottom of my heart. Some of my professors came to the US a long time ago, and I got a lot of insights from them about how to be successful in the US and how to get adjusted to the new culture.

Yes, the Weatherhead MS-Finance professors and the staff, they care about everyone in this program. They help us and they encourage us.

It is not a time to say goodbye. It is a time to grab everything we have learned, to open a new door in our lives, to put every effort into the cause we want to achieve and to be grateful for everyone that has helped us in the progress.

In the end, I want to share a great tool that one of my most respected professors shared with me: a 3-ring notebook. It might be helpful to you, even if you've already graduated. 

Here is a list of sections for your notebook. 
  • Tab 1 should contain: your goals for the next year, three years or whatever
  • Tab 2 should contain: your action steps, a minimum of fifty for each goal, along with a timeline to accomplish each one
  • Tab 3: a minimum of five obstacles that stand in the way of each of your goals
  • Tab 4: your additional action steps, a minimum of five, to mitigate or eliminate each of the obstacles
  • Tab 5: a calendar, enter your key action steps on the appropriate dates
Graduation is exciting, because it's a chance for each of us to write a new notebook of our own.


I am from China and have been in Cleveland for one year. I love it here, although there have been a lot of surprises. I will write about my life, including the joy and frustration that comes with getting my Masters of Science in Management - Finance degree at Weatherhead School of Management and with living in America.

Hope you can get a little inspiration from my story and make your life even more wonderful here!

December 6, 2013

How to Crack a Case Competition. What to do and what not to do.

I arrived in Cleveland in August 2013, with all the anxiety and fears that an international student inevitably has. It was just my first week, I was getting used to the new life, new city, new people, and classes when Carlos Bustamante (MBA 2014) came up to me and said, “hey, I know that you have a good background in finance, we are competing in the NSHMBA case competition, would you want to join?”. I had some doubts at first because I had just arrived but I have always liked these kinds of the challenges so I said yes. The group was also made up of Dominique Vargas (MBA 2014)  and Luis Contreras (MS Finance 2014).

NSHMBA Cleveland '13 Winners
Dominique Vargas (MBA '14), Sergio De Ilzarbe (MBA '15),
Luis Contreras (MSF '14), Carlos Bustamante (MBA '14)
The case was not simple, it was a minority owned company in the heavy construction industry that wanted to expand. They had just started a venture with a bigger firm and did not want to lose their brand. So where to go? How to expand? What industry to aim for? What was going to be the marketing strategy?
We started strongly, setting up meetings and working through the case. We had a meeting with Professor Simon Peck who helped us aim our efforts correctly but according to the rules was not able to have much more impact on the work. We had our first talk with the company owner, who was a bit vague about the information he gave us, we felt a little lost in that situation but still tried to put the work together. That is when we made our first mistake. We all had a lot of class presentations to prepare for and soon we only had 20 days to go until our case presentation with only a draft.

We met on a Saturday morning, and separated the idea in 2 main parts, Corporate Strategy and Marketing Strategy which were the main goals of the case. Luis and I took care of the Corporate Strategy and Dominique and Carlos took charge of the marketing.
From a Corporate Strategy Standpoint, we had to decide on what industry the company going to sell to, having in mind that they did not want to move out of Cleveland and had good experience selling Sewer projects to the government. Considering the growing LNG industry was quite straightforward and proving that bigger companies in the industry were doing that was also easy. The hardest part here was investigating specifics about the market.

The marketing strategy had already been put together but we could not estimate costs or sale prices without specific data. Here I got some outside help. We were able to compute our cash flows, costs and sales estimates according to a very good estimation of the market size.
With our work and presentation put together we had a preliminary presentation with the Greater Cleveland Partnership. There we received good feedback, good answers and more information on where to improve the project. I have to say, at that moment, I was not confident at all.
We came back from this presentation knowing what to change and had a new meeting with Simon to see what his view was on this too. 
We went back to work, changed the presentation and the paper according to the feedback we received.

Presentation Day
After that, it was just waiting a couple of days for the final presentation. I have to say I was very nervous, but I was a little more confident than I was after the first presentation. We had put a lot of work together and we all knew what we were going to explain during the presentation.
We presented in front of members of the 3 different companies analyzed, 4 judges, a key manager at KeyBank, JumpStart and the Cleveland International FundI was nervous until the moment that I had to talk, I was so confident in what I was talking about that all that nervousness just dissipated.
After the competition we participated in the year end celebration of the NSHMBA Cleveland Chapter and had the chance to listen to a great speaker  and had excellent networking opportunities.

Our Top Tips
  1. Never let time consume you, we won, but we could have done better if we had not let time consume us.
  2. Divide the work by leveraging the members' strengths and capabilities.
  3. Before the presentation, practice, practice, and practice. The only way to beat nervousness if it is the first time you present is by being 110% sure in what you are going to say.
  4. Case competitions are also great opportunities to do networking; no matter the final result.
  5. Enjoy! All of these experiences are what make an MBA the best investment of your life. GO FOR THEM!
Sergio De Ilzarbe, MBA '15
International Student from Argentina
NSHMBA Case Competition Winner

November 15, 2013

Sustainability and Innovation- Mushroom Houses and Surfboards

One of the many ways that an MBA student at Weatherhead can get involved with sustainability is by connecting with the school’s Fowler Center for Sustainable Value. The Fowler Center does a variety of things around sustainability. One of their primary goals is to produce sustainability business case studies for use in academic business programs. As a first year student I was given the opportunity to be on a team researching and writing one of the Fowler Center case studies.

The company that we focused on is called Ecovative. They are a young manufacturing firm that was founded in 2008. They have a proprietary technology that has been commercialized so far for the packaging and construction industries. The unique characteristic of their product is that they grow it! They have engineered a way to grow mushrooms in almost any shape and density. Their hope is to help push out expanded polystyrene (EPS) or Styrofoam as the dominant packaging material and replace it with their own.

The mushroom packaging is much more environmentally friendly as it will compost on its own without the use of an industrial process in a ninety-day window. This is in stark contrast with EPS, which takes tens of thousands of years to biodegrade in the natural world. Business-wise it is competitive with conventional alternatives because the production process consumes 1/5 of the energy necessary to create EPS. They also have found other applications such as surfboard cores and building insulation that grows in place!

As we were in the middle of our publishing process, Ecovative was featured in a full spread in The New Yorker. It was exciting to see that the company in our business case study was also getting national press from well-known media outlets, reinforcing that not only is our work beneficial but also relevant. I found that working at the Fowler Center was a great opportunity for me to dive deeply in the realm of business and sustainability with seasoned professionals to guide me. The Fowler Center has been an invaluable part of my education here at Weatherhead.

And another benefit to working on a case study with the Fowler Center? ... I’ll be a published author!


As a second year MBA student here at Weatherhead School of Management, I write about how I’ve been able to use my time at the school to dive into the sustainable business world. I'll describe my experience with different projects, fellowships and other programs in and outside the school. In my studies I focus on sustainability and finance.

November 8, 2013

Best Places for Coffee Around Weatherhead

Coffee topped my list of “must haves” while I was in grad school.  Ok… it still does.  I’m willing to bet you agree that a morning cup of coffee is essential.  (For my avid tea drinking friends, this post applies to you too.)  If at all possible, I try not to make someone endure a conversation with me before I’ve had a coffee.
But coffee doesn’t just keep us going.  It’s a way to connect with people.  Meeting for coffee can be perfect for working on a project, networking, or catching up with a friend or colleague.  It’s no wonder there are so many coffee shops!  But of course, they’re not all the same.  Even the several Starbucks in University Circle have different vibes.  Atmosphere matters when you’re choosing your coffee destination.

The Coffee House
If you’re having a more professional meeting, you might want a bustling shop with some background noise.  The Starbucks on Euclid and Cornell is a great central place to meet, and its location means people are always running in and out.  If you’re looking for quintessential coffee house charm, the Coffee House at University Circle has it – complete with squeaky wood floors and a community board with ads listing everything from apartments to events.  As packed as it was when I stopped in the other evening, it was so quiet!  Everyone was either studying with headphones in or enthralled in hushed conversation.  They even have small rooms upstairs where, if it’s not too busy, you could have your own private study space.  If I need to get some reading done but don’t want to sit at home, I’ve found my spot.

The Coffee House and Starbucks are both easy walking distance from Weatherhead, and from a few years of experience, I am happy to tell you that you can make it to either of them on a 15 minute class break.


I’m a Cleveland native who loves my city, and I am thrilled to be sharing it with you. It seems I always have recommendations of things to do and places to see. This summer, I’ve started experiencing the city from a fresh perspective--by getting here and there on my bicycle.