Marilyn Davies College of Business' MBA Course Offers Real-World Learning
By Sheryl E. Taylor
If anyone has heard of the University of Houston-Downtown, they know that this institution of higher education is known for its diversity and experiential learning.
And the MBA 6358 course is offering its students the best of both worlds.
Housed in the Marilyn Davies College of Business, the MBA 6358 (now more than 10 years strong) is one of five courses for the MBA specialization in Business Development/Sales Management and is among only a handful of universities in the country to offer such a program.
The course offers a graduate certificate that affords its students the ability to cultivate and increase business development and sales leadership skills for improving sales and profitability for a company or organization. In addition, students in the program have the option of continuing onto their MBA through the College’s Soft Start without the need for the GMAT.
“This course partners with the community, specifically with different local businesses (large and small),” said Dr. Richard Conde, Assistant Professor of Sales & Marketing. “Working with these company partners provides our students the opportunity to theorize what they learn in the classroom and apply it to a service these businesses may need. It truly highlights the value of what UHD has to offer.”
The Players & The Strategy
“Our partnership with Teksync as a certified diverse company really showcases our continued commitment to diversity,” Conde emphasized. “If you look at my classroom, it’s more than 80 percent diverse. Our students are able to see someone like themselves … from owning a business to being successful beyond the classroom … they get to really experience what they can accomplish and achieve.”
Conde’s 40-member class is divided into teams (6-7 per team) who serve as “consultants” to these two companies. Each company has three target areas where they want their business to grow … also known as verticals or various lines of business within a company. Using the multi-billion dollar conglomerate Amazon as example, three verticals would be: Amazon.com, AWS.com, and Whole Foods.
Both Fastenal and Teksync have identified their three verticals and the student-teams meet with both companies to determine their needs, target areas and expectations for growth. Based on information gathered from both companies, the student-teams will utilize what they learn in class about sales strategy to formulate sales strategies for the companies’ specific verticals.
“We hope to bring a real-world atmosphere to the project,” said Jim Ratto III, Fastenal District Manager-Houston. “We have worked with UHD for years and are always looking for ways to partner further. The culture at UHD fits well with our organization. We have found that events/projects in the past are always beneficial to both the University and Fastenal. We have hired UHD students that work with us part-time while in school and move into full-time careers with us after graduation or even before.”
Teksync’s Anthony Curtis, Vice President of Business Development, joined the company in 2016 after an invitation from his college friend, Teksync’s President & CEO Scenes Byrd.
“I was really ready for a change,” Curtis said. “I was getting burned out working in Corporate America. I started thinking about switching over to an IT role in a different realm, such as nonprofits, healthcare or education. But as it turns out, the small business environment was the change I was looking for.”
Initially, Curtis didn’t know exactly what he should be doing for Teksync, but he did know that there were many ways in which he could help. “In corporate environments there’s a department for everything; however, with small businesses you don’t have this luxury,” said the 46-year-old. “We all generally have a lot of skills that we don’t leverage daily in the workplace because it’s not directly related to your job function. In small business you wear a multitude of hats and you have to bring every skill you have to bear.
He knows firsthand the value of the MBA 6358 program.
With an MBA already in hand from the University of Maryland Global Campus, “I realized that I didn’t have any experience or background in sales and business development, so I thought it would be beneficial to get formal training in that area.” He enrolled in the graduate certificate degree program at UHD and earned his certificate in 2020. “I chose UHD because I really wanted to be in a classroom environment; UHD’s program seemed to be the most interesting and touched upon all the things I wanted to do and learn. UHD resonated with me,” said the Gator alumnus.
A year ago when Curtis was a student in Conde’s class, he asked Curtis if he would be interested in being a company partner for his upcoming course project. “I said absolutely … that really sounds exciting,” Curtis said. “It was great timing since we haven’t had the time to focus on sales and marketing. It’s usually said in business that “you can’t work in your business and on your business at the same time.” So, this was an opportunity to get some help with actually developing a sales strategy and getting great ideas.”
Curtis stressed that the experience with the project has been extremely positive. “It’s gotten me back into a sales and marketing state of mind,” he said. “The final results were amazing! The student teams developed comprehensive strategies that holistically addressed our sales and business development needs.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (with a Business Management minor) in 2019 from UHD, Krystal Westmoreland, who delayed re-entering the workforce to focus on growing her family, decided to come back to UHD and earn a graduate degree in Texas’ largest MBA program.
“The longer that I was out of the workforce, the more I needed to develop myself as a minority and interracial woman. I wanted to continue contributing to myself,” said the 33-year-old Westmoreland. This summer, she will earn a graduate certificate in Business Development/Sales Management and complete her MBA in 2022.
Her career goal is “to start my own consulting business, establish a name for myself. I want to bring success to other businesses,” she said. “I always knew I wanted my own business; but after taking Dr. Conde’s classes it made me realize my strengths (specifically my attention to detail), which will really resonate with people who want to understand and implement specific processes for the success of their businesses.”
It was a former manager, who was enrolled in the program at UHD and suggested that Chavis Walker should look into it. “He spoke very highly of the program and that is was a great opportunity for young professionals with minimal experience who are looking to advance their careers,” he said. “After taking some time and weighing my options, it was exactly what I needed and I finally took the leap after putting off going back to school to further my education.”
Chavis earned an undergraduate degree in Allied Health Sciences from Florida A&M University (Tallassee, FL) in 2016. Walker, who is a full-time student and a full-time employee with CenterPoint Energy, will earn his MBA in August 2022.
“Dr. Conde’s class had the perfect mix of being challenging, rewarding and valuable,” said the first-generation student. “The classes were tough, but they granted us space to really use our minds and think beyond the surface and uncover more profound levels of critical-thinking and strategic skills that we may have never known we had. The true value came in realizing that everything I learned could immediately be used and implemented into my daily life and career.”
The End Game
The last day of class culminates to a virtual live presentation to Fastenal and Teksync executives. The teams are required to provide a 10-minute sales strategy presentation along with a board-level proposal for each of the company’s specified verticals.
The prize? The best strategy wins.
“Ideally, the companies will use and implement these strategies,” Conde noted. “However, what’s really important is for these students to use their skills and knowledge to create a product for the business world.”
Conde also stresses to the company executives to provide feedback for his students to understand the value of making a positive first impression, “I want them to realize that you don’t always get a second opportunity to make a first impression … you have to own your brand,” he noted. “I try to incorporate into my classes the “corporate gambit” to better prepare my students in their careers.”
Eric Carter, Fastenal District Manager-Houston couldn’t agree more. “It’s a great way to help future leaders and also a great opportunity for the students to learn about your organization and creates a recruiting pipeline. It’s a WIN-WIN!”
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD)—the second largest university in Houston—has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974.
As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates more than 15,000 students; boasts more than 54,000 alumni and offers 44 bachelor’s, nine master’s degree programs and 16 fully online programs within five colleges (Marilyn Davies College of Business; Humanities & Social Sciences; Public Service, Sciences & Technology; and University College).
UHD has the most affordable tuition among four-year universities in Houston and one of the lowest in Texas. The University is noted nationally as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, Minority-Serving Institution and Military Friendly School. For more on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit www.uhd.edu.