This article originally appeared in the fall 2015 Harker Quarterly.
Harker’s business and entrepreneurship students stayed busy over the summer, participating in the SOAR (Strategy, Operations, Action, Research) program at Harker, held in partnership with the Wharton School of Business, from late July to early August. The program featured an intensive series of workshops and field trips designed to teach students about key business principles.
One exercise had teams of students simulate the process of starting a box-selling business and keeping it running for five months (condensed to a single day) while they considered factors such as demand, marketing and financial management. Students started by purchasing the materials to make the boxes, such as paper, glue and scissors, while coming up with a wage to pay the people building the boxes, which they would then sell to a buyer. With the money earned, the students are able to upgrade the technology they use to build the boxes by purchasing stencils. However, the stencils come at a high cost, so students must decide whether to keep production costs low or aim for higher quality. Later, the box makers are notified that their customer has hit a rough patch and is only able to purchase a certain number of boxes. This challenges the teams to come up with ways to keep earning profits when demand for their products is in a downturn. Finally, the teams must compete against one another when the buyer announces that only a certain total number of boxes will be purchased. Students must devise a way to entice the buyer by coming up with new pricing structures and advertising.
In another simulation, teams of students are charged with managing a car manufacturer that must close one of its divisions. Over a period of four months (each shortened to about an hour), the teams focus on improving performance based on a series of metrics. Each team member performs a highly specialized task. For the first “month,” teams focus on production and sell cars at various prices to a buyer, who purchases the cars based on appearance and performance. The students then decide on how to approach production and whether to emphasize quality, volume or cost. In the final stage of the exercise, the students are no longer restricted from performing different tasks on the production line, allowing for new production strategies to increase profit.
The first of three field trips during the SOAR program was to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, which accounts for approximately 20 percent of the U.S. economy. Students first visited the vault, where they watched reserve staff count, sort and shred currency. According to the tour guides, the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank shreds $56-75 million each
day. At the Fed Center, the students learned about the various functions of the Fed via guided tours and displays. Visitors can even purchase a bag of shredded U.S. currency as a souvenir.
During the next trip, the students headed to Wharton’s San Francisco campus. The students received a tour of campus facilities, including its breathtaking view of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. As a bonus, the students also attended a presentation on venture capital in Silicon Valley, conducted by adjunct professor of management Doug Collom.
On their visit to the KeyPoint Credit Union, one of the largest credit unions in the country, the students played a game in which they used magnets to come up with product ideas, and heard from KeyPoint’s chief operating officer on how marketers are constantly competing for the attention of students with buying power. They also learned about the operations of human resources departments, how financial institutions leverage technology and received a crash course in finance.
Back at Harker, the students participated in an accounting course held by Color Accounting, which teaches fundamental accounting principles using unique methods. This particular exercise had students grouping different types of financial statements by color and process transactions for a fictional business.
In the Entrepreneur in the Classroom course, students broke off into teams and drew up a full business plan. Wharton professor Keith Weigelt guid- ed the teams and taught skills in a variety of areas, including sales, marketing, budgeting and presentation skills. Various activities and simulations were also used to teach the principles used by the students in the development of their plans. Completed business plans were presented by the students at the end of the SOAR program session.