Just before launching their real estate panel discussion, the moderator and panelists abruptly abandoned the stage and instructed the audience to encircle and join them on the main floor. An intimate, spirited discussion ensued as both experts and inquisitive MBAs delved into the state of Washington, D.C.’s commercial real estate industry and its broader implications.
This scene unfolded in the Bethesda North Marriott, where about 550 students, professors and industry professionals gathered on March 8 for the second annual Smith School Business Summit, presented by the Office of Career Services (OCS) at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.
Conference rooms buzzed throughout the afternoon with breakout sessions exploring critical developments in sectors from cybersecurity to financial services and supply chains.
“This event is outstanding because it brings together students, faculty and alumni from Smith with professionals from the surrounding business community to exchange information and really get deep into issues prevalent in today’s business environment,” said John Saad, a Price Waterhouse Coopers partner, minutes after participating on a consulting panel.
Opening the summit, OCS Managing Director Jeff Kudisch told the participants, “the war for talent requires companies and universities to be obsessed with innovation so they can differentiate themselves in the marketplace and delight their customers. This is especially important for achieving success in an uncertain economy – our event theme,” he said. “Our desire to be creative and deliver on the Dean’s vision of ‘a vibrant educational community creating greater opportunities for everyone we touch’ inspired us to craft the Smith School of Business Summit concept.”
The action by the real estate panel, led by Smith Executive in Residence and Tyser Teaching Fellow Cliff Rossi, indicated an urgency to prepare future practitioners to steer through evolving regulations, risks and uncertainty.
One of the panelists, Buvermo Investments Vice President John Gardner, cautioned the students: “The real estate environment over the past 30 years has seen interest rates in decline. But that’s not going to continue. Going forward, we'll all need to understand this and figure out how to adapt.”
The answer is fundamental, he advised. “As MBAs you can’t get caught up in focusing on the (real estate) models ahead of learning the business side (financing, marketing, management, etc.) of the industry. The key is to understand the business side and how that relates to the model.”
The mentoring extended beyond the 90-minute panels as pockets of participants lingered throughout the hotel to continue discussing their subject matter. “It was gratifying to see this organically happening and made this even more of ‘a win’ for our students,” said OCS Assistant Director and summit co-leader Erin Richey.
Her co-leader, Smith MBA Stephen Bennett, said opening remarks by Kudisch and Dean G. “Anand” Anandalingam “described the summit as tangibly ‘taking the Smith School's thought leadership into our surrounding business community,’ which is strongly entrepreneur-driven, and Dr. (Rajshree) Agarwal's keynote (see sidebar) illustrated this by addressing strategies for entrepreneurial-minded, high-achieving professionals and those who manage them,” he said. "It could resonate with everyone and really captured the undercurrent of this event."
Further demonstrating this Smith-initiated fusion of academics and industry, a marketing analytics panel led by P.K. Kannan, Smith’s Ralph K. Tyser Professor of Marketing Science, provided a window to a rapidly evolving industry Smith is poised to bolster through its M.S. in marketing analytics program launching in fall 2013.
Before Market Bridge CEO Tim Furey drew laughs saying “tomorrow’s CEOs are today’s marketing geeks,” co-panelist Al French, Marriot International’s vice president for marketing and eCommerce analytics, described analytics as “increasingly challenging in a multi-touch, multi-device world.”
“The data volumes are challenging, and we’re realizing we need analysts not only with the technical skill, but with a lot of passion, competence and resourcefulness to manage and work with large volumes of data,” French said.
The summit, according to Dean Anand, “was one of the best afternoons I have spent as dean of the Smith School of Business. ... It featured presentations and conversations on some of the most important topics of the day. It was thought leadership at its best.”
In addition to the aforementioned panels, other sessions and their Smith faculty moderators were:
- Biotech / Healthcare (Ritu Agarwal): "Healthcare Transformation and the Human Capital Gap:
- Commercial Real Estate (Cliff Rossi): “DC Real Estate is Growing Once Again: A focus on trends, lessons from the recession, and the future of DC Real Estate”
- Consulting (Gilad Chen): “Globalization and Cross-Cultural Outreach and Associated Challenges for the Consulting Industry"
- Consulting (Oliver Schlake): "Where has the Magic Gone?:
- CyberSecurity (Sandy Boyson): "A Strategic Imperative for both the Private and Public Sector"
- Financial Services (Cliff Rossi): "Fiscal Cliff Averted, but what next?"
- Hospitality (Janet Wagner): “Challenges and Opportunities: How do emerging technologies impact the industry"
- Marketing Analysis (P.K. Kannan): “Competing through Data”
- Nonprofit (Rob Sheehan): "Innovation to Leverage Mission Impact"
- Startups (Brent Goldfarb): "Crowdfunding in 2013"
- Supply Chain (Martin Dresner): "Lessons from Government and Private Sectors"
- Rebecca Ratner (Sustainability): "The Business Case for Sustainability"
“The icing on the cake here is the student engagement. About 25 MBAs helped conceive and organize panels," said Richey, who previously recruited college graduates for several companies both in and outside Washington D.C. "I've never experienced a comparable event staged by a business school."
Bennett said the summit further distinguishes Smith from other top business schools by “strategically engaging with the wealth of smaller, innovative companies in the D.C. region and along the I-95 corridor through Baltimore – in addition to the Fortune 500.” Such diversity was reflected in the 50 participating businesses.
Bennett also said the summit uniquely draws a collaborative of MBA students, faculty moderators, various school staff members and hundreds of alumni.
The next summit, in spring 2014, moves to Baltimore, where last year's inaugural event showcased Smith’s thought leadership the school’s center at the UMD BioPark.
Smith marketing professor Janet Wagner described the summit as “an invaluable opportunity for students to get insight from, and connect with, professionals out in the trenches about career opportunities, trends, challenges and best practices.”