Capstone Consulting Project provides valuable experience for MBA graduates.
When Ramapo College redesigned its Master of Business Administration degree in September 2012, the faculty committee that developed the new MBA curriculum envisioned the Capstone Consulting experience as the culmination of an intensive 20-month course of study. Working in groups of four and five, the students would take on advisory roles with local companies, trying to resolve real-life problems identified by executives. That’s how Jessica Finaldi, who earned an undergraduate business degree from Ramapo in 2011, wound up leading a team of MBA candidates charged with creating a project strategy and marketing plan for a new implant system that helps repair femoral neck fractures of the hip.
Fortunately for Finaldi, the medical technology company to which she was assigned, Stryker Orthopaedics in Mahwah, was her full-time employer (she coordinates training programs that teach healthcare professionals how to use Stryker products). What’s more, the company representative who supervised Finaldi and her teammates was Ken Gavlick, a senior marketing director at Stryker and a 1989 Ramapo graduate.
Developing Business Solutions
On their first day at the Stryker campus, the students attended a five hour training session on the anatomy of hip fractures and the implants and instruments used to repair them. “I ran this program like it was a surgeon education program,” Gavlick said. “It’s really learning a different language. The team needed the technical knowledge to be able to speak confidently about femoral neck fractures.” Over a 10-week period starting in late February, the students met on the Ramapo campus each Thursday night with Adjunct Professor Tom Lambrix, the faculty advisor for the capstone course. “The students put to use what they learned in other MBA courses and directly applied it to a real-life challenge,” Lambrix said. “That’s a win-win for the students and the companies.”
The students also met weekly with their employer representative. At Stryker, Gavlick directed the students to pertinent employees in research and development, sales, marketing, quality control, manufacturing and other business areas. “I gave them a reallife project,” Gavlick said. “They were tasked with developing the marketing portion of the project.” And that’s precisely what MBA Director Timothy Landers had in mind when he recruited local companies to take part in Ramapo’s Capstone Consulting Program. The other participating businesses were Hackensack University Medical Center; Stone Systems, a fabricator of quartz and granite countertops in Passaic, N.J.; and Pearson Education, a publishing company in Upper Saddle River, N.J.
In May, at the climax of their 10-week assignments, the students returned to their company headquarters and delivered their findings to an audience that typically included senior managers. Finaldi’s team gave a 45-minute presentation to Stryker Trauma marketing employees, among them two senior directors of marketing.
“Jess really did take the lead on this thing,” Gavlick said. “What they gave to us is a great foundation, which will allow us to continue to move forward with the project. We are very pleased with the end result. Everybody benefitted in the long run—the students, the school and Stryker.”
Finaldi said the capstone project at Stryker gave her invaluable hands-on experience. “Bringing a product to market in a highly regulated industry is a challenge, and I learned that it is imperative to rely on industry research and subject matter experts in each functional area to point you in the right direction,” she added. “Not only did I get to implement the knowledge that I have gained throughout my MBA program, I was able to practice my leadership skills for the project. It felt good to know that my teammates trusted me to take them in the right direction.”
A Family Connection
For Jessica Finaldi and her two sisters, Ramapo College is a second home. The three siblings—Jessica, her twin sister, Lauren, and oldest sister, Jennifer—have earned four degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels, with a fifth on the way.
Jessica is the most recent graduate, earning her MBA this spring. She was chosen by her classmates as the MBA Outstanding Student of the Year and was inducted into the Beta Gamma Sigma Business Honor Society (2014). She first came to Ramapo’s campus in fall 2007 and received a B.S. in Business Administration/Management with a minor in Spanish Language Studies. She participated in the RCNJ Cheerleading Program in 2007 and served as Senior Resident Hall Assistant from 2008–2011.
Lauren E. Finaldi graduated in 2011 with a B.S.N. in Nursing. She was the President of Phi Delta Epsilon International Medical Fraternity in 2010–2011 and studied abroad in Sierra Leone, West Africa, through the SA Leone Health Pride. Lauren works at Hackensack University Medical Center and specializes in the treatment of leukemia and lymphoma. She will return to campus this fall to pursue her M.S. in Nursing.
Jennifer started the Finaldi siblings Ramapo tradition, earning a B.A. in Music Industry in 2009, magna cum laude. She interned at Suzi Reynolds & Associates, L.L.C. in Fort Lee, N.J., gaining experience in artist management and marketing, and was captain of the Ramapo tennis team in her junior and senior years. She now works at Stryker with Jessica. As an associate business analyst, Jennifer is responsible for documenting business requirements and working with IT quality and the web development team.
“Ramapo College will always have a fond place in our hearts,” said Jessica. “I’m so thankful for the time the faculty and staff put in to help students succeed. You don’t find this type of drive and passion everywhere.”
Discovering the Unintended
Julie Alexander, a vice president at Pearson Education, supervised a team of five MBA students who were assigned to advise the company on how to price its new (mostly digital) products and services. But the students’ research, Alexander said, showed that price was not always a key factor for customers. “Essentially their recommendation was to focus on other elements they uncovered, such as customer service and the power of the brand to drive sales,” Alexander said. “I appreciated that they had the confidence to move the case in a different direction and maybe share information with the client that the client wasn’t prepared for or may not have considered.”
At Hackensack University Medical Center, students advised the Heart and Vascular Hospital on how to introduce a system of electronic record keeping. They were supervised by Dr. David Landers, vice chairman of the Heart and Vascular Hospital. A cardiologist, David Landers said the project would never have been completed without the Ramapo students. “We did not have the resources to conduct an analysis in-house,” Dr. Landers said. “To bring an analytic skill set that we don’t have in the institution, to bring that to bear, it was a tremendous benefit for the hospital.”
To ensure that each team had the right mix of student expertise, Lambrix worked with the MBA Director Tim Landers. Robert Lascar, the team leader on the medical center’s project, said the team’s positive chemistry made his job easier. “Our team was very lucky to have people with the right business skills and the right mix of personalities,” Lascar said. “We were able to move quickly and get our project and presentation finished effectively and very early.” Lascar recently took a new job as director of information technology for Promotion in Motion, Inc. He earned his B.S. in Information Systems from Ramapo in 2009, summa cum laude, after serving in the military.
A New Focus
In January 2011, shortly after Ramapo’s Anisfield School of Business earned accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the world’s foremost sanctioning body, Dean Lewis Chakrin set out to reinvent Ramapo’s Master of Business Administration degree to better meet the business challenges of the 21st century. Chakrin convened an ad hoc faculty committee to design a new curriculum from scratch. “Very rarely do you have an opportunity in academia to start with a whiteboard,” said MBA Director Timothy Landers.
After soliciting input from Ramapo alumni and business leaders from across northern New Jersey, the faculty committee devised an accelerated, hybrid program aimed at early-career professionals. “They all became part of this journey to figure out how best to address the needs of working professionals in a fast changing marketplace,” said Landers.
The new curriculum requires MBA candidates to complete two three-credit courses in each of seven consecutive 10-week terms. Students proceed through the 20-month program together as a cohort, attending classes on campus two nights per week while also receiving weekly online instruction. The program emphasizes leadership—the focus of three of the 14 courses—critical thinking and global business, highlighted by a nine-day trip to China with Dr. Huiping Li, an Associate Professor of International Business. “Business professionals need to be aware of different cultures, how the global supply chain works and the geopolitical challenges in a shrinking world,” Landers said. The first cohort of 19 students earned their MBA degrees in May, 2014, and the program has now grown to more than 50 students.
Advice & Counsel
As they dug into their ambitious consulting assignments at four major employers across northern New Jersey in the spring, Ramapo’s 19 MBA candidates met weekly with Tom Lambrix, an adjunct business professor and the faculty advisor for the Capstone Consulting Program. Lambrix helped the students get organized, delegate assignments and establish schedules. And when asked, he offered advice. “Specifically,” Lambrix said, “I offered advice on putting together a first-rate company analysis and presentation. The team had a responsibility to do their part of the project and to present the results to the client.”
Lambrix brought to the role a 30-year career in business and government—he was a senior vice president with a Fortune 100 company and served on the White House domestic policy staff under President Jimmy Carter as well as 10 years of teaching experience at the Anisfield School of Business. As faculty advisor to the Capstone Program, he counseled the MBA teams on how to price online educational materials, how to move medical records to a digital database, how to market a medical device used in hip fractures and how to enhance customer relations for a fabricator of quartz and granite countertops.
“These organizations had real-life issues that they needed help with,” Lambrix said. “The students got a lot of practical experience, in undertaking the role of consultants. They began to understand the complex issues companies face, and they gained experience in oral and written communication, very important skills as they move through their careers.”