By Felicity Aldridge (’16), Jacqulyn Barbieri (’16), Piyush Jain (’16), Meredith Roman (’16), Jaime Sanchez (’16)
UCLA Anderson’s Applied Management Research (AMR) field study program presents an opportunity for companies and organizations to work with MBA students for six months to solve strategic or important organizational issues. Domestic and international projects range from launching a new product, entering a new market, solving operational problems or evaluating potential acquisitions. It’s an opportunity for students to put management tools into practice and make a direct impact.
Our team of five (each of us have diverse backgrounds, with careers in real estate, technology or entertainment) is working with a coffee cooperative, representing more than 100 farmers from Guatemala. AMR has been a great learning experience and our key takeaways are:
Industry knowledge: Prior to our project, the only knowledge we had about coffee was that it helped us get through late nights and early mornings. In the span of just four months, we learned how coffee is grown and how specialty coffee commands a price tag of $4 per cup compared to the export price of $0.4 per pound. During winter break, members of our team visited the Guatemala coffee growing regions as well as coffee hotspots in Los Angeles, interviewing over 50 stakeholders. Starting from the ground up in Guatemala, we visited farmers to learn about their challenges in producing coffee. We met with national coffee associations, coffee consultants and export houses to understand the Guatemala coffee landscape before diving deep into our project. Our favorite part was coffee cupping, which is the practice of observing the tastes and aromas of brewed coffee.
Real-world experience: We had to work very closely with our client to understand their key strategic challenge. Case studies in the classroom do a great job of setting up a problem for us while providing information to solve the case, but nothing comes close to a real-world experience. We went through all facets of a consulting engagement, which included project scoping, setting realistic deliverables, allocating resources, research, analyzing data, managing team and client expectations, navigating roadblocks and communicating key findings. AMR is a great learning experience for anyone with no prior consulting experience because it teaches how to structure and execute the problem-solving process as an outsider.
Direct impact: The real motivation for our work was the impact it’s going to have and which was evident after our visit to Guatemala. We realized this after meeting the coffee growers and internal stakeholders, who really sought our engagement to fill the skill/knowledge gap they are facing. We saw benefits not only for the client but also for complementary businesses and organizations. Knowing that our recommendations will be executed is a great incentive for us to deliver our best work.
Finally, we got to opportunity to explore Guatemala outside our work. Some of us managed to hike a dormant volcano and pick up a little Spanish. We’re so thankful for this opportunity that was academically challenging, professionally rewarding and personally stimulating.
Tenga un buen día.