The Demmer Center for Business Transformation at the Broad College of Business—now in its tenth month—already is making an international impact while helping small and midsize companies in Michigan become globally competitive.

Created through a gift from the John and Marnie Demmer family, the center provides consulting, advisory, and educational services by faculty members and students to help Michigan-based companies strengthen their competitive performance.

The Demmer family’s gift also created an endowment that provides funding for faculty members and students to work with companies and for educational grants to smaller companies that enable them to participate in executive education programs offered by the center.

“We’ve created a model where businesses can tap the expertise and talents of Broad faculty and students at a much lower cost than traditional consulting firms, and students have the chance to tackle real business problems,” says Jim Manley, managing director of the Demmer Center.  “We’re interested in students who have a natural curiosity and take initiative.”

Students who are accepted to the center work under the direction of Manley, who learned lean processes from Toyota.

Broad MBA students Cristen Rinderknecht and Juan Marcano

Broad MBA students Cristen Rinderknecht and Juan Marcano

The opportunities available to MBAs, undergraduates, and even applied engineering students, offer paid hands-on experience helping to create business solutions for companies throughout the state. Last summer, the Demmer Center employed one student and, to date, 29 students work with the center to assist Michigan-based companies.

Becoming a bilingual business leader
One of those students is second-year supply chain MBA Juan Marcano, who is working with Saginaw company Mistequay Group Ltd., a manufacturer of precision, prototype, and production tools. The company imports and distributes parts from a plant in Costa Rica it acquired but is facing challenges, including language barriers and efficiency issues.  Manley and Marcano traveled to Costa Rica with several representatives from Mistequay to assess processes and speak with employees. This gave Marcano another job—that of translator. A native of Venezuela, he was able to translate for the Michigan delegation and better understand the roles and concerns of the employees.

“Juan was essential to this project,” says Manley. “Being able to speak the language was a huge asset, and by the end he was creating reports for the executive in charge of the plant.”

To address the plant’s challenges, Marcano had to understand the process that is required to manufacture each product.

“After I put together the report detailing the plant’s issues, I began working on solutions that will improve production,” says Marcano. “This plant has 20 different processes to build the tools it makes, so it needs better ways to measure efficiency.”

Marcano’s work on projects with Mistequay as well as projects with the Michigan Department of Treasury has added to his expertise in supply chain. He’s accepted a position in procurement as a commodity manager for American Airlines in Fort Worth, Texas.

“Working with companies through the Demmer Center gives me exposure to real issues in business and is a great complement to what I’m doing in class,” says Marcano. “The workshops offered through the center on topics like lean principles are also things I can apply to my future position.”

Consulting with confidence
Cristen Rinderknecht, a second-year marketing MBA, was the first female student hired by the Demmer Center, setting a high bar with her performance.

“Cristen is tenacious in the best possible way,” says Manley. “This is a quality that will serve her well in the future. Students have to take the initiative if they want to work with the Demmer Center and her persistence paid off.”

Rinderknecht currently works with Demmer Center partner company MetaOps, a consulting and training services company in Livonia, Michigan. She is being trained as an apprentice MetaExpert—what MetaOps calls its consultants—and will join the company full time upon graduation. For one of her current projects, Rinderknecht is taking part in a value stream mapping project with the State of Michigan for its Michigan Education Trust.

She credits much of the experience she’s gained working with the Demmer Center for preparing her for a consulting career.

“I have learned not only the tools to use to diagnose problems and create solutions, but also about the reality of consulting, for which there is a great need for people management,” says Rinderknecht. “By combining real practice with learning experiences, I am being equipped to walk into the real world understanding exactly what I have to do not only to create a great solution, but more importantly, to empower people to implement it.”

As Rinderknecht and fellow Broad MBAs working with the Demmer Center gain business experience, they also have opportunities to contribute something to their younger peers. These MBAs get paired with undergraduate students, mentoring them as they navigate their own path into the world of business.

“If you make it into this organization, you will find yourself with the group of motivated and involved students you’ve been looking for,” says Rinderknecht. “This team is the elite of the elite from both the undergraduate and MBA programs and both contribute equally.”