August 28, 2015

Exploring Bottom of Pyramid concepts at the Fowler Center

Heather Frutig is a Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit Fellow and a 2016 MBA candidate.

I attended the Bottom of Pyramid Global Network Summit at the University of Vermont in Burlington, VT, in mid-July thanks to the Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit and the Flourish Prizes. Chris Laszlo, PhD, faculty director for research and outreach for the Fowler Center, was also in attendance. The Bottom of Pyramid Global Network Summit's “main objective was to present and discuss real-life BoP business initiatives being implemented by entrepreneurs and corporate innovators who are driving sustainable innovation from the bottom up.” It was exciting and inspiring to see so many folks with diverse interests collectively brainstorming about factors that affect businesses serving the world’s poorest, like scalability, public-private partnerships and funding requirements and opportunities above and beyond the traditional charity model.

As a Fowler Center Fellow, I’m looking forward to applying the information I learned to both my teaching case and the Flourish Prizes. I have been working on a teaching case that focuses on Bottom of Pyramid concepts faced by Proud Mary, a global textile company that employs traditional artisans in developing nations to create fashionable clothes and home wares. A deeper understanding of the issues this demographic faces has been useful in looking holistically and empathetically at the dilemmas that this company thinks about.

In working on the Flourish Prizes and seeing its evolution, I believe that the story platform will be used in ways that we cannot even imagine. The impact of A2F will be farther reaching than we realize. For example, I was in a session on funding social startups at the conference and it struck me that A2F might be used as a tool to link innovations with investors. Not only can this educate students and elevate innovations, but it has the potential to scale up entire companies. I am grateful for the opportunity to attend the Bottom of Pyramid Global Network Summit and look forward to implementing what I garnered from the experience.

August 21, 2015

Is There Anything To Do in Cleveland? YES!

OK, so this isn't New York City or San Francisco... but you may be surprised to discover all of the things Cleveland has to offer. The Weatherhead Student Experience office, admissions and marketing staff have teamed up to bring you this detailed list of our personal favorites.

Hit up one of the area's local ATTRACTIONS. You've toured The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and conquered Cedar Point... now check out the Cleveland Aquarium, A Christmas Story House or one of the many amazing museums. Your to-do list will keep growing as you read through this extensive list of places to visitWe personally don't think you should miss out on the Cleveland Museum of Art's new expansion and renovation or the Crawford Auto Aviation Collection of the Western Reserve Historical Society

Explore the NATURE areas around you. Did you know Greater Cleveland is home to over 23,000 acres of natural beauty known as the Cleveland Metroparks? Hike, bike, golf, visit the zoo or take advantage of the many other activities within this beautiful space. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is another great way to watch the seasons change. We suggest the Bike Aboard! program, which allows cyclists to bike the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail in one direction and ride the train in the other. You can flag down the train, bring your bike aboard and ride for only $3!

It's true Cleveland is a football town, but there is much more to this SPORTS city. Whether you're looking to follow one of the local sports teams, play a round of golf with friends, train for a marathon or spend a night at the races, check out this comprehensive list of year-round activities. For a high-energy night, we recommend taking in an exciting and affordable Lake Erie Monsters game, followed by a stop at the Horseshoe Casino downtown. 

Eat, drink and be merry! Cleveland is home to some of the nation's most delicious RESTAURANTS and world-class chefs including Michael Symon, Jonathon Sawyer and Rocco Whalen, just to name a few. We personally love Barrio, Jukebox, Greenhouse Tavern (fried chicken and drinks on the rooftop), Town Hall (great brunch), #1 Pho and Crop Bistro. Find yourself a seat on a patio, a spot on a rooftop or a cozy table near a fireplace and dig in!

If you dance to your own beat or just enjoy a relaxing evening with a five-star soundtrack, check out Cleveland's extensive MUSIC scene. The Cleveland Orchestra is right in our own backyard. Or catch a show at the nationally-acclaimed Beachland Ballroom and Tavern -- also know for their delicious brunch. Don't miss out on the Great Lakes Burning River Fest on Whiskey Island (Aug 28, 29). Check out over 18 bands, local food and chef demonstrations, plus handcrafted beer by Great Lakes Brewing Company. 

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Did somebody say SHOPPING? From outlet stores and independent shops to flea markets and full-scale malls, there is no shortage of places to go for a dose of retail therapy. Some of our personal favorites are the Cleveland Clothing Co on Euclid to sport some hometown pride or Avalon Exchange in Coventry Village for a vintage look. Bitten by the flea market bug? Check out Hudson Flea and The Cleveland Flea for something truly unique. 

We could go on and on... the West Side Market, Playhouse Square, Little Italy and so much more... but we think we've given you enough to build your bucket list for now.

August 20, 2015

INTERN REPORT My Transforming Amazon Experience

Eeshan SrivastavaMBA candidate, holds an internship position with Amazon in Seattle, WA.

I am completing the final week of my 12-week internship at Amazon in Seattle, WA. I have been working in the Identity Services team of the eCommerce Group as a Sr. Product Manager – Technical Products intern. I can say with complete confidence that my experience has been quite transforming. During these 12 weeks, I worked on a difficult business problem with some extremely smart “Amazonians," networked with MBA interns from the very best B-schools in the country and experienced the beauty of Seattle.

My intern project was to solve a business problem with the objective of balancing UX (user experience) with security on the retail website. It was an end-to-end product management job, which was initially quite overwhelming and it took me a few weeks to bring myself up to a level where I can barely understand what people were talking about. This was Amazon--fast-paced, rigorous, data-driven and most importantly customer-obsessed. I took enough time (around four weeks) to properly understand and define the problem, which I believe is the most important part of a PM Job. Once you get that, you can envision a clear roadmap of what you need to work on and with whom.

I worked with not just my team, but also with information security, fraud management, payments and UX teams to develop a solution that could provide customers with a great experience while at the same time maintaining security. The most difficult part of my job was to get everybody on-board with my proposed solution. It was difficult enough to get some meeting time with respective team/product owners but it was even more difficult to get them to sign-off on a single solution.

I had limited time and a lot of work to be done with people who were very busy. But as a PM, you also need to hustle to get the job done for your customers (I learned this the hard way in a weekly review with my manager). So I tried every trick in the book to engage with people – blocking time on the calendar, making calls, meeting in the cafĂ© and even in the elevator (I actually got to practice an elevator pitch – for my product!). You might know that the most important tools that employees use to communicate ideas and solutions are rigorously written documents (There are no PowerPoint presentations at Amazon). I revised and re-revised my document a million times before it was something acceptable. I had a great support network – my manager, a mentor (senior manager in my team) and a buddy (a senior manager from AWS). Another test of MBA interns is that of their ability to handle ambiguity and their ability to ask the right questions. At the start of the internship you are given an ambiguous problem to solve and it becomes a core part of your job to resolve the ambiguity by taking advantage of your support network and also by engaging with people outside it.

My final deliverable is a whitepaper (six-page narrative with unlimited appendices) that contains a business case analyzing the problem from a customer perspective, a hypothesis test to set up an A/B experiment, a threat model for analyzing security risks, details of compensating controls that ensure a balance in security and UX and ultimately a detailed roadmap for execution of the entire project. It will be evaluated at the end of the week by senior management and my fate will be decided at the end of the meeting.

Besides work, I had a great time meeting other MBA interns from top schools like Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Wharton etc. I am happy to have made some really good friends as well. Amazon provided interns with ample social events at various places in Seattle – The Aquarium, Space Needle, Olympic Sculpture Park, and the Asian Art Museum etc. Bi-weekly speaker series were organized on the Amazon campus where we got to attend talks by the senior management (the S-Team of SVPs), which were very interesting and very insightful. I loved living in and exploring Seattle, which has a very lively downtown, a great food scene and is very picturesque.

So that was my experience at Amazon and it will surely remain in my memory as an unforgettable one. I don’t know if what they said in the (now famous) NYT article about Amazon having a “bruising” workplace was true or not, but my experience was not even close to anything like that. Having said all this, I’ve been missing Cleveland a lot and I can’t wait to return and start my second year at Weatherhead!

August 11, 2015

INTERN REPORT: "Work Hard, Have Fun, Make History"

Rachit Sachdeva, MBA candidate, holds an internship position with Amazon in Indianapolis, Indiana.

"Work hard, have fun, make history." I read this quote, which is Amazon's internal slogan, by Jeff Bezos in an article a few years ago. I remember thinking, is this another cliched motto or can a company as big as Amazon actually make its large employee base feel that they are part of something big, something cool, while having fun? Little did I know that a few years down the line, I will actually get to decide on my own.

I started my 12-week summer internship with Amazon in the beginning of June and I am based out of Indianapolis. Relocating to Indianapolis was a breeze because Amazon arranges for everything (flight, rental car and accommodations). The interview process for getting this internship was fast-paced and based on Amazon's leadership principles. The underlined words are important because I can sum-up my entire internship experience in the realm of these words. After a long quantitative test and six rounds of interviews, I found myself at Jolly Scholar on Case Western Reserve's campus, in the middle of the afternoon (did I mention that all this happened in five days’ time and I was exhausted) lying to a friend that I wasn't expecting an offer. That's when the email came :)

The only requirements before starting the internship were: 1. Learn SQL if you can 2. Don't bring any formal attire. Every intern at Amazon is allocated a project that he/she needs to work on during the duration of the internship and these projects are vetted by a committee headed by regional directors to ensure that the project should be challenging and give the intern a flavor of how things will be, when they join full time. My project is about saving on transportation cost while not compromising on the customer experience. The first few weeks of internship can be defined as data deluge, where you are trying to upload your brain with a lot of information and getting comfortable with ambiguity. By the end of week three or four, you get an idea of how you will be piloting your project and what crucial buy-ins you would need to ensure that your project is a success. At the end you have to present a whitepaper highlighting the work done on your project to a committee comprising of your location and project leadership.

One aspect that I really liked about the internship was the inherent requirement in almost all projects to work and collaborate with different teams. This helps you understand how your work is crucial to other teams and also gives you an idea of the kind of work happening outside your project area. For me the highlight of the internship was the week spent in Seattle hearing senior vice presidents talk about their journey at Amazon and the kind of crazy Amazonian thinking that went behind the project of flying drones to deliver goods to customers. I also got to meet interns from other colleges and got to hear of the interesting projects they were working on.

I would like to end on a particular note, which is so often resonated by employees here. At Amazon, there are always so many teams working on so many fascinating projects, that by the time you know of it and understand its impact, you end up feeling that it’s still your first day at Amazon.