What is consulting week?
As part of the Executive MBA programme, MBA students work in teams of four or five people and work with a company to help them solve some business problem. Business problems can range from drawing up a business plan to expand into a new market or geography, draw up a go-to-market strategy for a new product, or assessment of areas of improvement within an existing business. The week has a number of cultural events sprinkled throughout and ends with a client presentation on the Friday.
Why virtual not in-person?
One of the consequences of 2020 being the year of the coronavirus was that instead of travelling to Colombia to do our MBA consulting week, people in my cohort had the choice between taking part virtually in 2020 or in person in 2021. I chose to do it virtually because several of the business problems on offer were very interesting.
Who was on the team?
I was very lucky to be on a team with people with some very smart people, but also we each have complementary skills, experience, and capabilities.
- Katrina – Our Brand, digital strategy, and marketing expert.
- Ciara – Led our work to define the growth strategies and overall approach to customer experience management
- Leslie – Our finance expert, let the work define the financial models and metrics we used to value the financial aspects of the business plan.
- Damien – Led the definition of the Operations and Technology aspects of the business plan.
Who was the client?
Our client, Nikadi, is a Colombian premium dark chocolate producer that supports fair trade cacao production and directly employs women who are survivors of domestic abuse. The firm employs 9 other people in its head office, and receives cacao beans from several cocoa farms across Colombia. NIKADI operates both a B2B and B2C sales channels, and has had success across both channels to date, both domestically and internationally.
So what’s the business problem?
Our client wanted to expand their business into the UK. Our goal was to have a marketing, legal and financial plan to accelerate the firm’s market penetration and enter the UK as soon as possible within the constraints of launching with less than £15k and breaking even within two years.
Naturally, this is a very interesting problem for us having spent the previous year or so studying business from several different angles. It was a chance for us to put all the business related frameworks, models, and theories to go use. Although, ultimately the client was only going to be interested in the outcome, rather than the method used.
How did we work?
We worked virtually as a team each day over the week, with daily conversations with our client, professors, and two social events during the week.
We made very heavy use of an online collaboration tool, Mural.co, google docs and sheets, and Microsoft Teams to help us to both visualise our ideas but also to help us to collaborate and communicate.
How did the final presentation go?
The final presentation went well, there was not much in the presentation that Nikadi didn’t already know about because we had been sharing our thoughts through the week. It was just laid out in a way that told the whole story in one presentation. Here are a few key messages from the presentation.
Key Message – Nikadi is not alone in the UK market as a South American Fairtrade chocolatier.
Key Message – we considered the impact to Niakdi of launching each different business propositions from several different angles.
Key Message – From a finance perspective, an approach with a heavier focus on online channels (gift & subscription boxes & e-commerce sales) performed better than other options.
Key Message – At a high level there are 4 things Nikadi will need to focus on landing well to succeed in the UK market. Our approach hinged on the idea of raising brand awareness, making initial sales, gathering customer data, and then leading into growth within repeat business channels.
Would I do a virtual consulting week again?
The short answer is yes, absolutely. I certainly learnt a lot from my teammates, the client, and the various experts and professors we spoke with during the week. I also enjoyed the process of building a business plan for a client and thinking about how we can use our knowledge of the market, business, and chocolate to help Nikadi to thrive in the UK.
Also, I suspect we also drank a lot less and got more sleep than we would have had we all been in Colombia – but this could be seen as an upside or a downside, depending on your point of view.
Damien O’Connor, Executive MBA (2022)