Project Profile

MBA Consulting Team: Sunburst Hospitality

SunburstWhen Sunburst Hospitality Corporation wanted to better utilize technology for its human resources needs in 2000, the company hired a consultant. However, they didn’t contract with a global consulting firm, but with a group of Smith School MBA students.

Greg Miller, senior vice president of marketing and human resources, Sunburst Hospitality, couldn’t have been more pleased with the result. “The team did high-quality work,” he says.

The MBA Consulting Program offers second-year students a chance to step into the business world as active participants. “This is where students learn how to interact with clients, manage teams, and work amongst their peers,” says  Christine La Cola, director of the program. “It’s a very effective real-world study for them.”

Working under the direct supervision of a faculty member, MBA students spend a semester helping clients solve complex business problems and explore new initiatives.

An MBA consulting team works for 14 weeks on a client’s project with a level of effort equaling approximately 600 hours. “We are a real value,” says La Cola. “Our fees in comparison to other consulting firms are very reasonable.”

The arrangement “a win-win situation,” with students getting valuable industry experience before graduation and companies benefiting from the up-to-date business knowledge and fresh ideas of Smith MBAs.

Since the program’s inception, student teams have completed more than 250 consulting projects, working for leading regional businesses, Fortune 500 companies, and government organizations.

A description of some recent projects displays the depth and breadth of the students’ consulting activity. Consulting engagements have included: working with a leading applications service provider to introduce new perspectives regarding strategic pricing models; developing a marketing plan to launch a new product for a telecommunications company; and designing productivity metrics to help motivate managers and measure progress for a leading aerospace and defense corporation.

More specifically, the project for Sunburst Hospitality, parent company of Comfort Inn, Holiday Inn Express and other brands, “addressed the use of computer-based training tools in the low-tech environment of a small hotel,” explains Miller. The student team researched a wide range of technology options for the company, providing executives with both technical information and examples of how technology had been used in similar workplace settings.

“The project enabled us to resolve questions about future technology investment and design,” says Miller. “Our technology strategy now has a specific human resource component, both at the hotel level and in a corporate-wide network design.” He adds, “The project was well designed, the work detailed, and the presentation clear.”

In fact, Sunburst Hospitality was so impressed that the company signed on as a fall 2001 client. “This year,” says Miller, “we’re working with a team to improve our interviewing and screening of frontline employees, with the objectives of reducing turnover and improving customer service through better employee selection.”

No doubt, the group of Smith MBAs will be up to the challenge. After all, says La Cola, “I really think this program is about preparing the next generation of business leaders.”