Bringing advice to the community
By Kaitlyn McGrath
February 27, 2014
If Alex Apanovitch and his team couldn’t solve the company’s problem, people – a lot of people – might have lost their jobs.
The company — a non-disclosure agreement prevents Apanovitch, 24, from revealing its name — was an automotive parts manufacturer in southwestern Ontario struggling with the problem of “excess capacity,” Apanovitch said. Simply put, the company’s contracts with car manufacturers were not being renewed. Lost contracts translated into idle machines, wasted production time, less revenue and, more importantly, layoffs.
Apanovitch’s team was tasked with solving this problem while participating in the Ivey Consulting Project (ICP).
Since the 1950s, Western’s Ivey Business School has provided opportunities to work on projects like this through the ICP course. Rather than operate as a lecture-based course, the ICP takes students out of the classroom and gives them the chance to work as consultants for real-life clients on real-life problems.
In Apanovitch’s case, the client wanted the Ivey team to find related industries — producing tractor parts, for example — where the company could secure other manufacturing jobs.
And the new industry had to be able to provide the company with a lot of business, said Apanovitch, a fifth-year student earning a dual HBA and Actuarial Science degree.
The ICP project, a required course for both HBA and MBA students, is the oldest and largest program of its kind in Canada.
By partnering with businesses, the ICP gives students the chance to gain experience working with companies ranging from local enterprises to Fortune 500 companies and even some not-for-profit organizations.
The goal of the ICP is to give students a way to apply the knowledge of the various business disciplines they learned in the classroom — such as finance, accounting, marketing and management — in the professional world, said David Wood, an ICP academic director.
“The idea is that they would have a real-life, real-world experience with a client and work with them in real time on their challenge or their opportunity — gain experience from that, and apply what they've learned, and start to appreciate how business occurs in the real world,” Wood explained.
Ivey students are often tested with solving case studies in their classes, but Apanovitch said solving a real business problem when information isn’t in a neat package is a “humbling” experience.
However, the challenge prepared him for the professional world.
“It’s perfect because when you do graduate, and get to your first job, you’re more ready for those kinds of problems,” Apanovitch said, adding he plans to pursue a career in finance after he graduates this year.
A typical ICP project begins with a team of five or six students choosing a company Ivey has approved. Following that, the company assigns the team any problem, opportunity or challenge that needs examining.
The only caveat, Woods said, is companies must provide students with an issue that incorporates multiple business disciplines.
“We get lots of projects we turn down every year,” he said. “Either it’s not a right fit with the program or the interests of the client are not aligned with what we're trying to teach the students.”
After students receive their task, they conduct hours of research, often visit the company headquarters and meet with executives to discuss preliminary ideas and eventually generate a viable recommendation.
For the majority of the academic year, teams work on their projects independently, but there are some mandatory classes students attend.
When the project is complete, the team provides the company with a final written report — graded by faculty — and a visual presentation outlining their plan.
While the project primarily focuses on student learning, Wood said companies often benefit from having a diverse group of enthusiastic and knowledgeable students analyze their business.
“It’s amazing how many clients are shocked at the quality of what our students can do in a short period of time. They’re used to world-class, top-tier consulting firms and they're getting a similar calibre of work out of these students,” Woods said, adding, however, companies are not required to implement recommendations.
One client that did incorporate a recommendation was Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital.
Last year, the hospital’s planning and development department was preparing to build a new wing. The department asked an ICP team to assess the finances of the new addition, Brittney Heisz, a redevelopment planner at St. Michael’s.
“We've used their report as a reference point in making decisions going forward,” Heisz said.
Apanovitch, on the other hand, doesn’t know if the automotive parts manufacturer implemented their plan, but the company was “absolutely happy” the team found a new industry they could pursue now or in the future.
What separates the ICP from classroom learning is it provides students with real work experience — and it also provides students the chance to make a difference.
“If we're able to somehow help this company to produce more parts in southwestern Ontario, and by that, have more people working, then yeah, that's a good feeling. So, hopefully, we can do that,” Apanovitch said.
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