When Joshaua Rohde (MBA ’20) watched supply chain issues play out in real life for the first time, he realized what their impact could be on business. Rohde’s experience working for a grocery distributor and retailer gave him a hands-on look as he worked to deliver a baby food product for his company. Despite his efforts, the product never made it off the truck. The company was purchased by a large e-commerce company that did not have available warehouse space, so the food sat in the truck and rotted.
“This was a supply chain problem,” Rohde said, “and I wanted to do something about it. I didn’t have the clout to do anything at the time. I knew I didn’t want this to happen to me again, so I went back to school.”
Now, as a Full-Time MBA student at MSU, he’s gaining real-world experiences inside and outside the classroom to prepare him to address challenges just like what he’s faced before.
Extreme Green, a student competition held four times during the MBA program, is a great example of this hands-on work. After breaking into 18 teams, students get to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to true business problems.
The fourth and final competition brings everything together: Students get the opportunity to design pioneering solutions that solve real-world problems presented by Fortune 500 companies.
“My team had no business knowing each other because we’re all so different, but we worked together really well,” Rohde said. His team, made up of two regimented and efficient U.S. Army officers, Travis Johnson (MBA ’20) and Jaridd Leute (MBA ’20), plus a chemical engineer with an e-commerce background, Surbhi Sinha (MBA ’20), and a sports media professional with excellent writing skills, Santiago Montiel (MBA ’20), had complementary talents.
“I would often come up with ideas and the team would rip them apart and refine them to create something better,” Rohde said. “Everyone was OK with disagreeing and teaching each other.”
For this year’s Extreme Green challenge, teams worked with Midwestern retailer Meijer to boost sales in its fresh produce and deli areas. “They felt like they were losing customers to quick-service restaurants like Panera or McDonald’s,” Rohde explained.
Students had just a few days to create a business plan to pitch to Meijer executives. Three teams were then selected to compete in a final round, with a cash prize for the winners.
While other teams focused on new products and merchandising ideas, Rohde and his team decided to concentrate on process improvement. “If you remove the friction, they will come. That was our team’s tagline for the project,” he said.
They devised three innovative ways to improve Meijer’s deli and fresh produce sales:
- Creating a quick-service restaurant experience that lets customers drive through to place an order
- Using tablets and portable computers to let customers place deli orders as they begin shopping; before they leave the store, they swing back to pick up their completed order without waiting in a line
- Sending push notifications to customers as they head toward checkout, offering one-time coupons to use in the deli and produce areas through the Meijer app
The three ideas impressed Meijer — Rohde’s team was named the Extreme Green winner.
During the competition, his team also had the chance to use several on-campus research tools, such as Mergent, Statista, Marketline and MRI-Simmons. “These resources were very valuable,” Rohde said. “If we needed to know how many people eat fast food in a day, or the total market for fast food, we could find that information. By combining Michigan’s population with data on how many people eat at (or how much people spend at) a quick-service restaurant per day, we were able to capture the state’s quick-service restaurant market.”
Rohde shared how he has also benefited from other practical tools available on campus throughout his MBA experience, such as the Apple-sponsored iOS Design Lab, the first U.S. lab of its kind. Providing extracurricular opportunities, the iOS Design Lab brings students from different programs together to prototype and test ideas while learning about coding, design, marketing and project management for app development.
He worked behind the scenes for a semester, helping students stay on track with projects, answering questions and playing devil’s advocate when they needed to refine an idea.
“The Broad Full-Time MBA program is investing time and money in tools and teaching us that you can come up with great ideas, no matter your background,” Rohde explained. “If you start with someone’s problem or pain point, you can use an organized process to create results.”