CalBusiness


Spring/Summer 2008

Opinion

Making Business Magic

Haas@Work Ideas Fly with Disney

 

By John Woods, MBA 09

 

In March, I flew to Burbank, Calif., and found myself walking through the gold-colored halls at The Walt Disney Company's ABC corporate offices, passing black and white photos of stars and events from entertainment history. I was visiting Disney as part of a Haas@Work project - the pinnacle of my time at Haas thus far. I'm known at Haas as the guy who's always smiling, but at the end of that day, on the flight back to Oakland from Burbank, my smile beamed more than ever.


I signed up for my first Haas@Work program in February. Haas@Work takes a group of full-time and Evening & Weekend MBA students to a client in order to perform consultant-style services, giving them an opportunity to practice what they're learning in new, exciting work environments. The Disney Haas@Work project involved providing advice on how to expand one of Disney's online properties. It was the first Haas@Work project outside of the Bay Area and proved extremely popular, with three students applying for each available space. I was one of the lucky 36 MBA students to get selected.


Although I was born and raised in the UK, my mother is Spanish and I graduated from ICADE University in Madrid. I was keen to pursue a career in marketing and eager to move to the United States, which leads the way in marketing theory. I got a job working for a business-to-business supplier in the home appliance industry in Louisville, Ky. After two successful years with my employer's US team, I was promoted to work in business development at the company's headquarters in picturesque Germany. A year later, I moved up again, to a consulting role in the corporate strategy department.


As my role within the company developed, I realized I was becoming increasingly removed from the customers with whom I loved to work. And although I very much enjoyed my job, I wanted to be part of the enormous changes brought about by the Internet. It was at this point that I decided to return to business school, and it was no coincidence I chose Haas -- a school that would help me entrench my strengths and develop new skills to make the career shift I desired. The Disney Haas@Work project, with its focus on Internet marketing, is certain to play a pivotal role in helping me make that shift.


The project began with two weeks of very intense preparation researching and discussing our project brief. Non-disclosure agreements were signed. There was brainstorming, discussion, and sometimes tension as time pressure mounted and visions collided. But throughout, there was teamwork. We investigated other online properties, issues concerning monetization and customer retention, and even spoke to one of the organizer's young daughters to better understand the customer's perspective.


Rashi Glazer, Haas' acclaimed marketing professor, and David Reimer, formerly the VP of Marketing at Yahoo!, guided us through our project. Both shared invaluable insights about media and entertainment, and more importantly, inspired us to seek out innovative solutions of our own that touched the core of Disney's dilemma.


Naturally, Berkeley MBAs know a thing or two about working in teams. But to help spark our creativity and tackle abstract objectives, a group of Haas Organizational Behavior Ph.D. students served as facilitators for each of the four Haas@Work Disney teams. In one exercise, Caneel Joyce, our team's Ph.D. facilitator, quickly moved our thinking far outside the box. First, she told us to brainstorm a list of wacky ideas, and then one teammate built on the wildest idea on the list. Eventually we had some great ideas to work on and others -- such as a subscription fruit service -- to eliminate.


The program reached its climax when we flew down to Disney's Burbank offices, where we spent much of the day adding the finishing touches to our proposals before delivering our final recommendations. I was one of the lucky members of our team chosen to speak to the executives from both Disney Corporate Strategy Team and the Disney Internet Group. Each team presented twice to the executives: first in a lunchtime session primarily designed for feedback, and then in a closing presentation in which the Haas teams outlined two final recommendations. After each presentation, the executives made a "go" or "no go" decision. Although the Disney executives pointed out obstacles to several ideas, most of the recommendations received a "go," and we hope to see them implemented in the coming months.


Having just completed my first year at Haas, I now have the Disney project featured prominently on my resumé. I still can't be complacent about making a career switch, but I know for a fact that my chances have been greatly improved thanks to this fantastic program. In fact, since my participation in Haas@Work, I've accepted an internship with Cisco Systems - an offer I attribute in part to the experience I gained from the Disney project.


Meanwhile, since our journey to Disney, there has been talk of additional projects building on our proposals, and one manager was heard talking about hiring Berkeley MBAs for certain full-time positions. Unfortunately, I just finished my first year, so I'll have to wait my turn!


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John Woods, MBA 09

John Woods, MBA 09