Students solving strategic business challenges

April 1, 2021

Durham University Business School works with local, national and international organisations in many ways, ranging from knowledge transfer partnerships, executive education and research collaborations, to providing placement students.

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Between June and September, Durham MBA and MSc Business Analytics students work with companies to complete a business project.

This is a great opportunity for organisations to benefit from talented students who can tackle a business challenge head-on.

The students work across all sectors and functions, applying their skills and knowledge to deliver results that can move a business forward.

A business project also provides an excellent opportunity for students to gain practical experience relevant to their career aspirations and enhance their professional network.

Here, North East Times Magazine looks at two different experiences from Durham MBA and MSc Business Analytics alumni.

Using marketing research to assess student brand awareness and product adoption intentions

Nigerian-Canadian Durham MBA alumna Daisy Igbokwe (pictured left) chose to do her Strategic Business Project with Sage, market leaders of cloud accounting and business management software.

Before studying her MBA at Durham University Business School, Daisy worked at accounting software company Intuit, in Toronto, across a variety of roles in marketing.

Since graduating, Daisy has been appointed to a role at Sage, in London, as a product marketing manager, and is looking forward to growing her career at Sage.

Here, she reveals more about her experiences working on her project.

What was your Strategic Business Project about?

I chose to work with Sage for my project exploring the topic of customer awareness and software adoption intentions.

I partnered with the Sage Qualifications Programme team to examine and understand students’ awareness and perception of Sage accounting software, and the motivating factors that influence their decision to adopt or continue using Sage after graduating.

The objective was to identify opportunities for Sage to engage with students and propose creative solutions that will help Sage improve their awareness and facilitate students’ adoption and continued use of Sage software.

What was your experience of choosing the project and then working with the company?

Strategic Business Projects are either self-sourced, where students find a company to host their prospective project, or School-sourced, where the Business School sources several projects from external organisations, and these are usually competitive and aligned to your chosen pathway on the programme.

My project was School-sourced. All the School- sourced projects were shared with students for us
to access and do some background research on the different companies that we were interested in working with.

We then indicated the projects we were interested in. The companies also conducted a similar selection exercise, as they were provided with our MBA Talent Book to choose the students they felt were the best fit for their projects.

Why did you choose Sage for your project?

I chose to work with Sage as I was familiar with the company and industry, having previously worked for an accounting software company, a competitor of Sage.

My experience working with the company was great; we communicated frequently via email and video conferencing, and I found them to be incredibly supportive and collaborative.

My main point of contact at Sage, Tim O’Reilly, was an amazing partner and connector and he provided me with the resources I needed to effectively conduct my research and analysis, including relevant company information. Having his support set me up for success.

What were the project outcomes?

The outcomes of the project were to provide an independent, well-researched and analysed written piece of work on the business issue being investigated.

By applying relevant research techniques, I critically analysed students’ awareness and perceptions on Sage accounting software and presented recommendations for facilitating the continued use of Sage accounting software to the business.

Did you find it beneficial to undertake the project, and if so, how?

I definitely found the project beneficial, as it allowed me to apply the learnings from the MBA into practice, from in-depth research and analysis to developing a critical understanding of business practices, as well as developing and implementing strategy at an organisational level.

I also really benefitted from the relationships I built with the organisation and the Business School throughout the project.

Using data analytics to inform the supply chain distribution model

Following completion of his Business Administration degree in Boston, USA, Zhenghong Qiu came to the UK to study the MSc Business Analytics programme.

For his Business Analytics project, Zhenghong worked with WoolOvers, a British lifestyle brand that designs and sells quality natural knitwear.

Here, he describes his experiences.

What the project was about?

Using data analytics, the project aimed to look at Woolovers’ distribution model at a local level.

The company partners with a third-party warehouse in Australia to handle the entire stock and delivery services for Australia and New Zealand customers.

They wanted to understand whether it was beneficial to continue operating a separate warehouse in Australia, or to move to a model of despatching these orders out of the UK. The project included considerations from a monetary and non-monetary perspective, investigating the short-term and long-term impact of such change.

What was your experience of choosing the project and then working with the company?

I was always interested in business supply chain problems. The scope also required me to consider the environmental aspect, which is extremely relevant in the current business world, with companies operating on a global scale.

What were the project outcomes?

After comparing EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) in different scenarios, I recommended the company keep the third-party warehouse due to anticipated decreasing demand and the increased shipping costs associated with a centralised inventory system.

Did you find it beneficial to undertake the project, and if so, how?

Firstly, this project consolidated my data analytical skills, such as Python clustering, Excel modelling and most importantly, my business problem-solving mindset.

Approaching this real business problem and communicating with someone from the company made the whole learning process much more engaging.

Secondly, the project helped me improve greatly in terms of my skills and academic abilities.

Zhenghong was excellent. He was proactive in arranging discussions, approaching me with questions and was very logical and well thought out in his approach to the project. He clearly put a lot of time and effort into the project and that showed in his output. – Stephen Kehl, WoolOvers Limited financial controller

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