One of the many things that drew me to MIP over other MBA programs were the opportunities presented to gain valuable work experience as you are still in the program. This begins with the Organizational Checkup, typically done in the second term.

The project looks like this: students are divided into groups of four and assigned to work with a company on a consultancy basis. The company provides the group with a problem to solve: reconfiguring their supply chain, redefining best HR practices, new accountancy procedures, etc.

Of course, my experience was a little unorthodox.

Boffi S.p.a, a luxury Italian kitchen and bath design firm had a stock problem. Made sense. A global recession left many companies with an excess of stock. Sounded great. We walked away from our first meeting feeling confident and nervous for our next meeting at Boffi’s headquarters with the CEO.

Walking into any boardroom for any high level meeting can be nerve wracking, but when you’re faced with not one but three CEOs each representing globally recognized luxury furniture companies, it’s intimidating.

Turns out, Boffi had reached out to two other luxury furniture companies, Cassina and B&B Italia to see what they were doing about their overstock. Taking a cue from their fashion counterparts, they wanted to explore the possibility of creating a luxury furniture outlet. And it was our job to not only do a feasibility assessment, but to give them a picture of what this outlet would look like and calculate the profitability of this joint venture.

Once out of the meeting, it was a relief to know that my other team members felt about as shell-shocked as I did. We went back to MIP and spoke with career services about the nature of the project. Was this beyond the scope of a normal Organizational Check-up? Yes. We were wondering why they didn’t hire a consultancy firm to do this for them? Of course. Were we going to pull out because this might be a tad bit over our heads? Not a chance in hell.

We formulated a game plan:

  1. Study all three companies and get to know their showrooms and stock inside and out- what sells fast, what takes longer, type of clientele, installation process of purchased products, etc.
  2. Figure out where and just what goes into building a physical outlet.
  3. Estimate all costs involved– building, marketing, HR, operations, etc.
  4. Find an alternative – if the outlet isn’t the best solution… what is?

This project was one of the most pivotal moments not only of the MBA, but of my professional career. As everyone in my group spoke fluent Italian and I understood far more than I spoke, virtually all of our meetings were held in Italian. I would sit in meetings with my Italian-English dictionary and everyone was okay with me asking questions in English, or having one of my teammates translating for me when I wasn’t confident I could express myself in Italian. Anything I didn’t understand, I wrote down and we would go over it in detail over a glass of Prosecco -a ritual we developed as we tried to sort out our next steps. I learned financial terms, architectural terms and key tax lingo. Nothing prepared me more for doing business internationally quite like the Organizational Check-up. It’s the real reason I picked up Italian as fast as I did and why I am now comfortable with business negotiations in the language.

We found a professor of architecture willing to help us price out the costs of building an outlet and finding the right location for it. We mystery shopped – our clients’ stores (for at this point, it was how we had to consider Boffi, Cassina and B&B Italia), trips to outlets, and competitors stores. We looked at examples outside of Italy -for example, how is it done in France? We calculated the costs of opening a new store for each company. And we came up with two alternatives: invite more luxury firms to join this new venture or forgo the physical outlet and create one online.

Our project concluded with one final meeting with our marketing liaisons from all three companies, and their CEOs at Boffi’s headquarters on a snowy morning just before Christmas. Putting the final touches on the presentation in the car, we silently prayed that our suggestion to create the first online luxury Italian furniture outlet would be met with a positive reaction.

It was. And setting up a plan for the website became our project next term as a part of the Business Plan. Here’s the site:

We ended up being awarded Best Organizational Checkup at graduation at the end of the program. It demonstrated just what we were capable of and gave us a chance to see that everything we were learning in the classroom really is applicable in the real world.