Global competition, Big Data, and sweeping technological advances reveal the enduring value of a Simon degree. By Sally Parker
The pace of business has ramped up to speeds Heath Gebell ’03S (MBA) could not have imagined when he earned an MBA from the Simon School in 2003. Advances in technology now put the world in the palm of your hand. They are faster, lighter, and have more capacity than computers, which—only 20 years ago—would fill a room. In just a dozen years, the cell phone has evolved from a convenient accessory into a must-have tool for keeping up with business.
“That’s been the biggest change: the immediacy of someone being able to track you down and being able to answer their questions,” says Gebell, senior marketing manager at Wegmans Food Markets Inc. “It’s amazing how dependent I am on my iPhone. If I happen to forget it on any given day, it’s just really tough to operate without it.”
But high-tech tools are only one part of the new speed of business. Since the University of Rochester first opened its business school in 1958—which would become the Simon Business School in 1986—the world runs faster, stretches further, and competes harder every year. And like its peers, Simon has changed with it. These days, the School keeps its edge with strong alumni connections, savvy career services, and cutting-edge coursework that continue to prepare students for the realities of today’s business challenges.
While their industries might be different, graduates in finance, marketing, and consulting all share an intimate knowledge of business and an appreciation for how Simon helped prepare them for a marketplace where nothing is as consistent as change. Here are some of their stories.
Moving Marketing’s Needle
“The first day of math camp was September 11, 2001,” Gebell recalls. “I remember clearly someone standing up in the middle of class saying the Twin Towers were attacked. Nobody believed him.
“One vision I always remember was that we were all watching TVs in the common area. We had 50 to 60 percent international students, all these students from around the world, and everybody knew somebody. That’s how school began.”
Companies weren’t hiring in 2003, when Gebell graduated with a marketing focus.
“There weren’t a lot of jobs, just a small number of jobs for all of us. I think it took me six months to find a job after graduating,” he says. “At the time, the Career Management Center could feel it. The students could feel it. We just knew after September 11 the country was going to take a few years to get going again.”
Gebell eventually landed a job with Daymon Worldwide, working on a Wegmans brand team. The company is a private brand strategist and broker for retailers expanding their private brand lines. He joined Wegmans directly three years ago, where he helps the company’s business units determine their goals for marketing, drawing up quarterly and yearly plans to maximize sales.
Technology is driving productivity expectations in marketing, he says, and is light years ahead of the 1990s, when he got his start as a SUNY Binghamton student. Gebell graduated with a business management degree in 1996.
“I went to school with a Brother word processor that kept everyone up at night because it was so loud and took forever,” he recalls.
Gebell recalls viewing e-mail as a listserv on a monochrome green screen. In his first years out of school he used LotusNotes, 3.5-inch floppy disks, dot-matrix printers, WordPerfect, and “a giant Motorola phone—you couldn’t even put it in your pocket,” he says, laughing.
Faster processing speeds and greater connectivity have changed how Gebell and his colleagues work.
“We have designers with wireless tablets with pens, and they’re drawing on these digital tablets. The changes we see in that space is incredible. It allows everyone’s work to increase.?.?.?. You set new bars each year, and technology helps us achieve them,” Gebell says.
“The tools we have now—Outlook is becoming stronger; we have devices like SharePoint and other collaborative tools that make it easier for teams to share and work digitally,” Gebell notes. “When I first started you had to fax things—even in 2003.”
“If users go more than an hour without checking it, it’s a big deal. If it runs out of power, they’re panicking,” Lovett says. Seventy percent of online shopping is done by phone, he notes.
“Twenty years ago there wasn’t even online shopping. Today they could be in a meeting, they could be on a train, they could be anywhere when they’re shopping,” Lovett says. “We’re just beginning to tap into the possibilities with that and to understand the consumers’ need states through their interaction with this device.
“Smartphone use is going to continue to change rapidly,” he notes. “It’s kind of like the Internet back in the ’90s. It has all these possibilities that we’re just starting to figure out.”
Gebell returns to Simon every year to speak on private brands to the marketing strategies class. He has led a discussion group in the class and helped students prepare for interviews. He likes what he sees in Simon’s marketing program.
“They’re making an adjustment toward focusing on frameworks and understanding them to think through strategies,” he says. “From a marketing strategy perspective, you never have perfect data. We were learning models, but you needed perfect inputs to make those models work.
“Simon has moved toward the framework while keeping its strong focus on the analytical skills to have the right balance,” he says.
According to Lovett, the world is becoming more quantitative, and Simon’s strengths in that area are in high demand. “The ability to track things online is driving the desire to track things everywhere and measure marketing effectiveness in ways that people never thought they could do before,”
“It used to be the data wasn’t there. Now the data is available and managers are expecting it. Simon’s education—with a focus on quantitative and understanding the value and use of quantitative tools—is even more relevant today than it was in the past. Now everybody is expected to be able to do this. Our students’ preparation matches those expectations.”
Simon’s business analytics and marketing analytics programs push the envelope with the richest tools and capabilities students will need in client-facing roles, Lovett says.
“We’re not training people to be PhD statisticians. We’re training them to be business people who can manage and interface and in many cases do the analytics. We’re giving them the tools and sophistication to avoid being duped in a world that’s increasingly complicated to understand.”
Gebell chose to attend Simon to hone his analytical skills and move into consumer products.
“I ended up getting a position in an area I wanted to work in,” he says. “My MBA definitely helped me cross over and change careers.”
“I chose to make the switch at Wegmans through my experience at Simon,” Maeder says. “I think Simon kind of sparked that interest in me. But I think also through case studies and technologies and things I looked at in class, I was able to use that and apply it in my job.”
Food marketing has transformed as customers have become more knowledgeable in the last decade, Maeder says. As a marketing coordinator working with the bakery, meat, seafood, and produce departments, she anticipates trends in buying and helps them design packaging that conveys the most relevant information. “Organic” and “hormone-free,” once heard primarily in natural food stores, have become sought-after qualities in mainstream products, she notes.
“Customers have Google on their phone. Especially with food, they’re becoming more knowledgeable and passionate. Information is really trickling into every area, and food is no different. If they’re looking at the packaging, what do they need to know? If it’s produce, has it been washed? If it’s meat, are there no added hormones?
“My job is looking ahead of the trends,” Maeder says. “We’re working on projects like in-store signage and mailers that might not be out for a few months. People are looking for ‘healthier’—I put that in air quotes—foods. You have to understand the customer who is buying this organic chicken. How is this customer different from the customer buying organic baked goods? I look at content in design and ask questions to see if that is the best content to communicate to the customer.”
When Maeder was at Simon, Wegmans became her working laboratory. She knew she wanted to continue working for the grocery chain, so she marked her calendar for guest lectures and workshops at Simon to hear how other companies operate, taking notes on tips she could apply in her own work.
Wegmans employs many Simon alumni, she notes, including Gebell, who sits only a few feet away at work. While in school Maeder peppered him with questions about his own experience at Simon, from the classes he took to the professors he liked.
She also took part in Simon Women in Business (SWiB) events. Begun in 2006, the club focuses on issues of concern to women at Simon and in the business community, and it connects students with alumnae. Simon is a top choice for companies recruiting women. Nearly a third of full-time and Executive MBA students, and more than half of MS students, are female.
Consulting the Experts
A native of India, Soni was struck by the wide variety of stories shared by applicants from distant countries who wanted to attend the School. “It was fascinating to read their statement of purpose and to talk to those students,” she says.
Now a senior consultant with Deloitte, Soni focused on Business Systems Consulting and Competitive and Organizational Strategy while at Simon.
“My previous job in India was in consulting, so I knew coming to Simon I wanted to consult,” Soni says. “That was always in the back of my mind, to get into something similar. I was doing consulting but my clients were in the UK and the US, so there was not much client interaction.”
A promotion last August put Soni face to face with clients. Based in New York City, she flies to Richmond, Va., on Monday morning and returns home Thursday. Weekends she catches up with friends and family. Travel can be wearing at times, but she relishes the work she does and the bonds she has made with others on her team. With all the changes in business over the years, workplace camaraderie seems to have remained constant.
“The best part of it is you have so much to share on your team. We come from all over,” she says.
As a student whose sights were set on consulting work, Soni met with Career Management Center (CMC) staff regularly. Shortlisted for a job at Deloitte, she learned roughly seven months before graduation that she had the job. Now she is on the other side of the table with fellow alumni, helping to recruit Simon graduates to Deloitte. She has returned to campus several times as part of panels and workshops.
“Being connected to alumni has helped—any alumni, not just Deloitte,” Soni says. “Talking to them does give you perspective.”
“It used to be that a career services office would have two to three, maybe four at the most, staff members,” Dowd says. “Their job was to put job listings they get out on the job board, and that was about it.
“Sometime in the past decade, MBA career services became highly competitive. Business schools around the country realized that if they didn’t take more action, then the opportunities that would help them get their class placed would not come to them,” she notes.
Dowd realigned CMC staff to provide one-on-one counsel related to primary industries that hire students: finance, marketing, and consulting and technology. Each MBA and MS student has a designated career consultant who helps with job and internship searches and reaches out to industry.
The CMC generates more job and internship leads now, thanks to a beefed-up database of companies, active solicitations to alumni, and expanded marketing to companies with openings. Job postings have skyrocketed from fewer than 100 to nearly 1,300 in the last year. Four hundred are new contacts based on lead-generation efforts.
The office also put its most important career content online, pulling in students even before they start their coursework to better prepare them for job searches down the road. A program dubbed Day 1, sent to incoming MBA and MS students in early summer, includes all the components of a career kit: résumé, cover letter, LinkedIn profile, elevator pitch, and networking plan.
“That kind of counseling used to be provided strictly through one-on-one meetings,” Dowd says. “The online system gives them access to a lot more information that they can tailor to their own particular needs. Once they complete it, they can meet with a career consultant an unlimited number of times.”
When students expressed interest in product management jobs at tech companies two years ago, Dowd learned those companies were beginning to hire in numbers not seen before. A tech trek with two dozen students to Silicon Valley firms produced eight job offers, and this year Amazon recruited on campus for the first time, extending several offers.
Simon took the natural curiosity Braunstein had as a scientist, blended it with the language and concepts of business, and helped him scale it to a career. To dive into the industry, Braunstein started the health care interest group at Simon. As the group’s consulting arm, he and a half-dozen classmates did pro bono work for health care organizations in Rochester.
Braunstein says he entered Simon as a laboratory scientist and emerged with a wider vision.
“What the business degree did for me was provide credibility that a researcher, a person of science, now can operate in industry effectively and taught me how to think about the challenges I was going to be facing as a consultant on a much broader scale. How to think multi-dimensionally was the big win for me coming out of the Simon program,” he says.
When he arrived at Deloitte, Braunstein ran into a senior partner who asked what discipline he was planning to follow: the provider segment (hospitals and pharmacies), payers (health plans and benefit companies), or pharmaceutical companies. Braunstein said he wanted to follow all of them.
“I said, ‘Unless I understand all of them, I won’t understand the ecosystem.’ So for the next couple of years, I cycled through, leveraging the same hypothesis research mentality to launch my career at Deloitte.”
He remembers a steadier-paced world earlier in his career.
“What was cutting edge and fast-paced back in ’97 is hugely slow and ridiculous in today’s world,” he says, laughing. “And if I go 10 years from now I could probably say the same thing.”
Today’s MBA graduates must be more sophisticated, he says.
“The marketplace is flooded with MBA students, and students now need to be much more savvy in what they want to do and where they want to make an impact,” Braunstein says. “As the concept of having a business degree has proliferated, as enterprise has gotten smarter and there are more and more candidates, the demand for acuity and acumen has heightened. Students need to be sharper, crisper, and, one might argue, more experienced so they can better apply what they know coming out. The demand for experience even going into the program has increased.
“The competition for your strength and ability to deliver and your being able to apply what you know and what you’ve learned—the bar is very high,” he adds. “Many, many, many have been there before. The expectation is to be able to provide the next level of insight and innovation.”
Simon’s Career Management Center has become more effective at connecting students with decision makers in their chosen careers, Karen Dowd says, who notes that Dominic Rasini ’14S (MBA) works behind the scenes helping students prepare for the consulting industry through interview training.
“We’re very aggressive about providing our students with case interviewing skills. That’s an effort that did not exist 10 years ago and does not exist at many schools but something that Simon is at the forefront of,” she says.
Another leap forward for the CMC is more strategic corporate engagement. Sixty companies regularly recruit on campus and in New York City. When career fairs, recruiting events, and corporate tours are included, the number rises to 200 companies actively seeking Simon students. The office is building a program to provide partner companies with opportunities for student projects, hiring interns, full-time students, and alumni.
“In the past, the result would be a job when you graduate; now it’s career assistance for life,” Dowd says. “We’ll still need to be very proactive in the next few years to make sure we’re bringing in the right companies with the right long-term career path opportunities for our students.”
But the impact of the 2009 downturn in the banking sector shook hiring practices. “The whole recruiting scene changed,” Dowd says. “That’s why we’re in a rebuilding effort and getting companies to come back into the fold.”
Pencils to Computer Models
Kanterman and Paul Caseiras ’90S (MBA) started recruiting Simon students many years ago by taking phone calls and helping the students through the process. Five years ago, they formalized the connection with Simon Day, making introductions around the firm. As Simon’s ranks have grown, so have the firm’s recruiting efforts. Alumni at Credit Suisse have opened doors allowing Simon students to attend Super Saturday, a highly competitive interviewing event through which interns are selected.
“Credit Suisse is an examplar of an excellent recruiting company,” Dowd says. “For a number of years, Michael Kanterman has singlehandedly made sure a few grads are hired from Simon each year. That has resulted in a pipeline of talent, and that’s exactly what we need to do with other companies.”
Kanterman works in Credit Suisse’s equity capital markets area, raising capital for issuers and marketing and distributing equity securities on their behalf. His company was a lead underwriter for Alibaba Group’s giant IPO in 2014. The public saw only a small piece of the work that went into it, Kanterman says; what seemed to outsiders like a two-week process took many months to complete.
“To see that succeed and walk away from that feeling like you did—that it was a success—you feel good about that,” he says.
In a business short on longevity, Kanterman is part of a select group at Credit Suisse who have worked at the firm and its predecessor, First Boston, for 25 years or more. Of the many thousands who have worked at the company, Kanterman is one of only 50 who have been there that long.
The tools of his trade have changed. When Kanterman took his first job—two years as an auditor at Ernst & Young—everything was ledgers, pen, and paper. “You barely saw a computer; they were not a valid resource at the time,” he recalls.
When he moved to First Boston in 1986, managers asked if he knew computers. He bluffed, said yes, and quickly set about teaching himself how to use a spreadsheet.
“I talk to kids all the time. What they know about the markets, everything, is on their phone. I used to go into a cold room with a supercomputer to get half the stuff they can get now just by Googling.”
Kanterman will retire June 3, a day after his 30th anniversary with the firm. “It’s time,” he says. “This is a young person’s business. You put in long days.”
|Cesar Quijano Serrano|
An associate at Credit Suisse, he arrives at the office at 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. On a typical day, he doesn’t leave until nearly midnight. “As long as I’m an associate, I will be having those hours,” he says. “And when I leave, the analysts are still here.”
Quijano Serrano started working at Credit Suisse in July.
I have very long hours, so I think you have to really like it to stay. The turnover rate is huge. People tend to leave because they get tired. People stay because they like to be salespeople.”
A self-described geek, Quijano Serrano’s job revolves around PowerPoint and spreadsheets. He enjoys doing models and says he would find it impossible to use the calculators that more seasoned coworkers are happy to remind him they once used. Today’s bankers have to know how to program and be adept at using models.
“You know a banker when you see them using a computer without a mouse,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot. Every day I find myself using a mouse less and less. You want to be quick; the faster you are, the earlier you go home.”
Quijano Serrano’s older coworkers also sometimes reflect on a changed Wall Street.
“People tend to tell you how everything is easier for you,” he says. “People often remark Wall Street is different from what it was, in the technology sense—technology has changed everything—but also in the way people are. People are more polite, respectful, than in the old days.”
He hears that the Street has become more diverse. “It used to be the same guys, and by guys, I mean men. Now it’s more diverse,” he adds, “but still, it’s banking, so it’s not as diverse.”
At Simon, Quijano Serrano and classmates joined a growing movement that uses business principles to lift up people in need. They worked on a large-scale consulting job for Millennium Challenge Corp., a US foreign aid agency that invests in country-led development in low-income regions. He also was part of a Simon team that placed third in the Tibetan Innovation Challenge, an intercollegiate social entrepreneurship business plan competition organized by the University to help Tibetan refugees. Meeting the Dalai Lama, he says, was a thrill.
“I didn’t have that before I went to Simon,” says Quijano Serrano, a native of Colombia who worked as an analyst for Standard & Poor’s in Bogota before earning his MBA. “I’m definitely focused more toward that now,” he says. “If everything I do is going to have a good social impact, that would be the happiest time of my life.”
Quijano Serrano and his contemporaries represent a new era in business that is smart, global, and increasingly competitive. More and more, tomorrow’s business leaders are not just experts in their fields, but adept with emerging technologies that have quickened the pace of business. But it is important to remember that they did not create the technologies and processes, which seem to take a quantum leap every couple of years. Those were imagined, created, and put into practice by dedicated veterans who were once the younger generation themselves, eager to apply what they learned in business school and make their professional mark.