New Venture Group

Student consultants have solutions, will travel

W. P. Carey alumnus Jeff Lam (BS Accountancy '13, MACC '14) worked with the Havasupai Tribe when he was an undergraduate and a member of the New Venture Group — a student consulting firm at the school. "The client challenged us in several areas," says Lam, now a consultant at Protiviti, "the first being the four- to five-hour hike from the top of the Grand Canyon to the valley where Supai is located."

Over a period of four years, New Venture Group built an economic development program and worked on various projects for the Havasupai Tribe and its business enterprises.

New Venture Group is a consulting firm that was formed in 2008 as part of the Consulting Scholars program. Professor Emeritus Dan Brooks wanted students to experience real-world consulting, potentially making a measurable difference in the world. "The ideas was to create as close to an authentic consulting company as possible," Brooks says.

Brooks thought the experience would give the students more than just firsthand consulting experience. More importantly, students would come to understand that creating value in itself is an exciting career path.

"Consulting is a creative way to think about applying the talent you acquire through higher education, as a means of creating value for whatever community you're most interest in being a part of." he says. "You're converting your education into making a difference that people appreciate. There aren't a lot of opportunities to do that."

Now led by W. P. Carey's Chief Innovation Officer John Beck and Professor of Practice Todd Taylor, New Venture Group continues to help students discover career paths while contributing substantially to the success of organizations that participate."

A blacksmith for aspiring professionals

Lam said the Havasupai experience was rich with rewarding and memorable moments, such as the beautiful hike down to Havasu Falls, where students persuaded Brooks to partake in some waterfall sliding. Or being honored with an invitation to dinner at a tribe member's home.

Listening to the client remains the most important lesson Lam learned through New Venture Group. It's something he uses daily in his consulting career. "We were taught to ask open-ended questions to get as much information as possible," he says. "To this day, this method elicits extra, valuable information from clients — a result I could never achieve by asking 'yes' or 'no' questions."

Looking back on his first foray in consulting, Michael Barger (BS Economics/Finance '18) had no idea what to expect — and no idea what he was talking about. He and three other drove to their client's home, about an hour away from campus. "It took less than 15 minutes with the client for me to learn that I knew almost nothing about solving business problems," he says.

Luckily it only took about 15 minutes more for him to get his teammates to stop worrying. Moving forward, they taught one another what they could, and focused on assigning project tasks based on their individual strengths. They learned that challenges are best addressed as a team. By the end of the year, Barger was elected to serve as student director of curriculum for New Venture Group.

Looking to the future, Barger believes experience is just as valuable as a degree to becoming a marketable professional. "At W. P. Carey, the New Venture Group is no joke — we do real work with real impact on businesses, and I think employers can see that, too," he says. "It's incredibly valuable to gain experience alongside so many smart and motivated students, in a driven environment where I can get real career preparation."

Barger says that the elite nature of the group turns every meeting into an opportunity to learn something new, or hear a story that inspires him to do more.

"It's like that quote, 'as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,'" Barger says. "Under that metaphor, New Venture Group is like a blacksmith for aspiring professionals — and that's pretty cool."

New Venture Group clients

  • Arizona Theatre Co.
  • Honeywell International
  • Executive MBA Council
  • Chicanos Por La Causa
  • Havasupai Tribe
  • ASPIN/Mohave
  • American Express
  • Parenting Arizona
  • Arizona Opera
  • The Phoenix Symphony
  • Steak Escape
  • American Red Cross
  • Tiempo Development
  • Las Tiendas
  • Lightworks
  • Shamrock Foods
  • Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
  • BioAccel
  • State of Arizona
  • Biosensing Instrument
  • Downtown Phoenix
  • Mayo Clinic
  • Town of Fountain Hills
  • L. William Seidman Research Institute

A safe space to learn and grow

New Venture Group has taught Tiffany Lam (BS Supply Chain Management/Business Data Analytics '17) the power of patience. "To achieve the perfect fit between problem and solution, you have to be patient," she says. "You have to wait for the subtle clues that tell you not only what solutions will work, but also how to approach the details."

It has also taught her the value of teamwork. While working with a potential client last year, Lam wanted her teammates to help her polish a presentation. She asked some of her peers to stay after class, to watch her presentation and give her feedback. "It was getting late so I honestly expected everyone to leave," Lam says. "But my fellow consultants stayed. They gave me a round of applause and the edits I needed to make it perfect."

Being mentored by older consultants has exposed her to new techniques and processes. Working with high-level decision-makers at various companies has solidified her position as a professional. Moreover, New Venture Group has been a safe space to learn and grow with a little help from her friends.

Lam is excited to help plan and execute C2, a consulting conference, in her new role as the student director of event logistics for New Venture Group. Held annually, more than 100 consultants from across the country attended C2 last year. "Interested students can attend to learn more about New Venture Group and consulting in general," she says," as well as hear from and network with industry professionals."

Adventures in complexity

With so many extracurricular options to choose from, Erika Mionis (BS Supply Chain Management/Finance '16) adopted a follow-the-leader strategy as a first-year student and sophomore at W. P. Carey. She looked at people she admired (mostly upperclassmen), and took note of their involvement. "I noticed that many intelligent, accomplished individuals were part of New Venture Group," she says, so she decided to join.

Her first assignment, for a medical entrepreneur, took more than a year to complete, but was immensely rewarding in terms of experience gained and skills learned. Mionis and fellow teammates ended up becoming such great friends that they decided to complete their honors thesis together, which led to all-nighters, midnight Chinese food runs, and many other good memories.

"New Venture Group is unique in that it has so many connections with consultants early in their careers," she explains. "Hearing from professionals only a few years older made it easier to imagine what my life would be like as a consultant."

Mionis begins GE's Operations Management Leadership Program, specifically in the area of aviation, in October 2016. While the recent grad decided she preferred industry work to consulting, she describes the experience as a great way for students to figure out if consulting is right for them, while gaining practical knowledge and skills.

All aboard the value train

Karen Chang (BS Supply Chain Management '17) returns to campus as president of New Venture Group this fall, after spending the summer as a systems analyst intern for American Airlines. "In all of my interviews, I use my consulting experience to answer their questions about teamwork, problem solving, and communication," she says. "I think this really helped me obtain my internships."

Chang says all of her client engagements have been valuable learning experiences, critical to shaping her into a good consultant. Consulting has also been a meaningful way for Chang to make a difference in local organizations like the ASPIN/Mohave Educational Services Cooperative, her first client.

The local food service cooperative purchases food for more than 100 Arizona school districts. Since Shamrock Foods Co. is responsible for delivering food to many ASPIN/Mohave school districts, the client brought Chang and her teammates on a tour of its distribution center. "The goal was to help us better understand the supply chain of a school lunch," she says, recalling one of her favorite experiences with New Venture Group. "We got to see the conveyor belt that transfer products from shelves to loading docks, and a man filleting a fish before it was packaged and sealed."

Chang and her teammates created a value model to help the client improve their customer services levels. using their firsthand knowledge of the school lunch supply chain. In addition to shaping an organization's operational strategy, she had the treat of sitting in a freezer, surrounded by cartons of ice cream.

One team, one dream

Within four years of its inception, New Venture Group has placed students in every major consulting firm in the U.S. — all of which employ multiple New Venture Group alumni.

This is due, in large part, to the fact that New Venture Group members learn what pursuing a consulting career is like. They understand the drawbacks. They know what is expected of them. And they are excited to be consultants.

By Hannah O'Regan