For some people, learning comes from books, but for others,
learning comes mainly from experience. One University of Memphis
professor has taken this theory and created a course that
merges traditional academic values with hands-on work experience.
The resulting product has become a boon for area businesses
and given Executive Master of Business Administration students
an edge in the marketing world.
Students in Strategic Marketing 7140 learn how to compete
in the marketplace and how to recognize opportunities for
an organization to advance. To reach these goals, they take
part in a computer-simulated marketing program and a unique
project that teaches "real-world" experience and brings Memphis
businesses into the picture.
"These two components of the course complement each other
and give the students a variety of experiences wrestling with
marketing strategy problems," says Dr. Carol Bienstock, a
U of M marketing and supply chain management professor. Bienstock
revamped the class two years ago.
The computer program, known as Markstrat, gives students
the opportunity to develop and implement marketing strategies
for a company that exists solely within the computer program.
The class is divided into four study groups and each is assigned
a different company. At the end of the semester, the student
teams are graded on how their company's simulated stock price
index ranks among others.
"Markstrat is, by its nature, somewhat artificial," says
Bienstock, "but it has the advantage of giving the students
rapid feedback for their market strategy decisions."
This "rapid feedback" is necessary so that the students may
apply their newfound knowledge to the hands-on project, which
is the primary component of the course.
In this project, students are assigned to a Memphis organization.
They work with this business for a semester, developing a
strategic marketing analysis, which includes a critique of
the company's development and its future plan of action.
Last fall, the 18 students in the class were divided into
two groups. They worked with Merge Realty, a pioneering real
estate company, and Agricenter International, a not-for-profit
organization that supports and promotes agriculture globally.
"We went in as a consulting service to come up with a broad
strategic analysis of the company's policies," says Tom Grimes,
a student in the program.
Grimes and his nine teammates worked with Merge Realty and
its founder, Marc Diaz, to clarify the company's mission and
goals in order to come up with a strong promotional plan to
further the success of the business.
Merge spawned from Diaz's experience as a real estate attorney
and his desire to create an organization that placed a different
spin on the industry. He seeks to simplify the house-buying
process by putting more control in the hands of the consumer,
thus eliminating unnecessary costs.
"Where we saw the opportunity to work with Diaz was by going
in and clarifying his mission, his marketing opportunities
and his cost structure," says Grimes.
While Diaz retained all decision-making and action-taking
responsibility for his company, the student team proposed
their ideas for consideration.
"We would tell Diaz, 'Here are a few academic tools you can
apply to your business model,'" says student Don Cheney.
Grimes' team developed a yearlong projection of where they
think the company should go and the marketing direction Diaz
"There's a balance," says Grimes. "We don't own the company.
We have no stake in the company. However, we would love to
produce something that helps him be successful."
The eight-member team working with Agricenter International
took a different route in their strategic analysis, focusing
more on promotion of what the institution already had rather
than proposing new products.
"Generally, what we wanted to do was to promote awareness
of the Agricenter and what it can do from a research standpoint
and also from an educational perspective," says Greg James,
another student in the program.
Agricenter International, founded in 1985 by several Memphis
business leaders, is used for agricultural research and education
by an audience ranging from farmers to school children.
James says that through research, his team analyzed the target
audience of the Agricenter in order to develop better ways
to market its many attributes.
"How can we help them become the research center of choice
for agricultural products?" asks James. "We sought to determine
what drives the decision-makers to choose Memphis over some
The team placed much of its attention on the educational
factor of the center and how to reach Memphis area students
who are more urban-minded and less aware of the agricultural
importance of their surrounding area.
"One of the things we tried to do was give them ways to work
with the schools," says student Lynn Harmon. "We had some
recommendations about grade levels Agricenter should target.
There's a need to work with city and county schools to work
agriculture into the curriculum."
As with the Merge group, the Agricenter team hopes that their
ideas will further the growth of the center.
Each team compiled a strategic analysis booklet of their
proposals, which were presented to each organization last
"They [the students] bring a variety of experiences to the
program, depending on the nature of their business experience,"
says Bienstock. "Students must have five years of work experience
before they can take the course. It is always interesting
to me to see their diverse viewpoints on a problem and the
diverse ways they go about resolving problems."
In the first year of the project, the class analyzed the
Dixon Gallery and Gardens, which approached the class in need
of professional advice on how to better carry Dixon's message
to the public.
"The EMBA class made a suggestion to us that we should try
to be more cohesive that we should focus more on our
core competencies and identities," says Russell Ingram, director
of development at Dixon. "As a result, upper level and corporate
membership has increased by 5 percent and membership attrition
This fall, Bienstock hopes to use another up-and-coming business
for one of the projects.
"This gives the students some valuable experience, and it
provides small start-up businesses with some important expertise,"
says Bienstock. "As for the other organization, I would probably
keep my eyes open for an organization that has some sort of
public service as part of its mission."
No matter which business is chosen for the next class, Bienstock
says everyone comes out a winner. "The class is beneficial
for the students and for the companies," she says. "And I
benefit too from working with a group of highly motivated