5 Things We Learned in Mini 5


“Business strategy is the battleplan for a better future.” — Patrick Dixon

We are finally into the summer, and Mini 5 is over. For part-time Tepper MBA students, we have classes throughout the summer divided into two Minis. Five Minis down, only eleven more to go! And with each mini comes the next post in the “5 Things We Learned this Mini” series. In this blog, I identify the most critical takeaways from the Mini. Also, if you haven’t already, check out the previous installments of “5 Things” for Mini 1 and 2, Mini 3, and Mini 4.

Strategy Helps Your Figure Out What to and What Not to Do

business strategy

In our Corporate Strategy class, Professor Sunkee Lee helped us understand what strategy is in the context of decision-making within business:

Strategy – “a set of goal-directed actions a firm takes to gain and sustain superior performance relative to competitors”

Professor Lee emphasized that strategy is as much about deciding what not to do as it is about deciding what to do. There are three components to a good strategy:

  • Objective (Ends) – a single precise goal that will drive the business over the next five or more years
  • Scope (Domain) – encompasses the three dimensions of customers of offering, geographic location, and vertical integration
  • Advantage (Means) – consists of the customer value proposition (CVP) and the unique activities that allow the firm to deliver the CVP

The firm must determine how it will create, capture, and sustain value to gain a sustainable competitive advantage over its competition.

Networks Map Your Firm and Industry to Solve Issues and Achieve Goals

corporate network

In our Managing Networks and Organizations class, Professor Brandy Aven showed us the importance of networks, especially when being a manager within a firm. There are three types of networks that a manager should understand to get a great overview of their firm:

  • Advice Network – “shows the prominent players in an organization on whom others depend on to solve problems and provide technical information”
  • Trust Network – “tells which employees share delicate political information and back one another in a crisis”
  • Communication Network – “reveals the employees who talk about work-related matters on a regular basis”

When managers have mapped their network, they can leverage their people to solve problems and achieve organizational goals. Also, they can identify and mitigate bow ties, which can cause bottlenecks or single points of failure. A bow time is “a network in which many players are dependent on a single employee but not each other.”

Choose a Corporate Strategy to Gain a Competitive Advantage

Corporate Strategy

Also, in our Corporate Strategy class, Professor Lee introduced us to the business strategies used in the real world. Businesses can formulate their strategy by answering the following questions:

  • Who are the customer segments we will serve?
  • What customer needs will we satisfy?
  • Why do we want to satisfy them?
  • How will we satisfy them?

First, firms must determine their strategic position:

Firm’s Strategic Position – the firm’s value (i.e., buyer’s WTP) and cost position relative to competitors

Then, they should typically decide between the two major types of generic business strategies:

  • Differentiation – focus on increase the customer’s WTP
  • Cost Leadership – focus on decrease the supplier’s cost

The firm gains a competitive advantage only when the entire range of its activities is acting in harmony. The value chain analysis can be conducted to investigate whether a firm’s activities align with its overall business strategy.

Be Authentic, Consistent, and Give Value to Grow and Maintain Your Network

Also, in our Managing Networks and Organizations class, Professor Aven introduced us to Heidi Roizen, a venture capitalist and former entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, to illustrate the importance of authenticity and maintaining a network. Here are some of the major lessons I took away from the case study:

  • Be genuinely interested in meeting intelligent, interesting people.
  • Build authentic connections with people you want to network with.
  • Help them get connected with relevant people you know.
  • Help people within your network connect with others and opportunities that are a win-win for both parties involved.
  • Do your homework before each meeting, so you can make a great first impression and build a strong reputation.
  • Build relationships with people before they get famous, as you will already have a relationship when they succeed and are busy.
  • There are three essential keys to building a network:
    • Have access to people, which is something you work on over time.
    • Be consistent in your actions with others during and after each interaction.
    • Perform and deliver value during and after each interaction.
  • There needs to be balance in every relationship as your requests need to be essential for you too, and there needs to be an opportunity for reciprocity in the future.
  • When hosting events to bring people together, make sure that people feel comfortable and sense of familiarity to mix well with each other.

I may not be a super-connector like Heidi Roizen, but I took a lot of inspiration from this case study. Networking is essential if you want to succeed in your personal and professional life. If you are interested in building and maintain your network, I highly recommend this free course by podcaster Jordan Harbinger called 6-Minute Networking.

Choosing MBA Tracks to Deep-Dive into Entrepreneurship or Business Analytics

swartz center for entrepreneurship

We finally got to choose our elective courses for Mini 1 of Year 2. Also, we could select electives that would get us started working on an optional track.

Tracks are optional deep dives into specific areas with a prescribed list of generally 6-8 courses and a capstone course that must be completed to meet track requirements. Within the Part-Time Online Tepper MBA, students have access to two tracks:

  • Entrepreneurship: This track is for students interested in pursuing “a variety of career paths including start-up and emerging companies, corporate innovation and business development, entrepreneurship through small business acquisition, venture capital/ private equity, consulting, and social entrepreneurship.” For more information, check out the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship.
  • Business Analytics: This track is for students who are “interested in transforming large amounts of data into better decisions” and pursuing “consulting in data-rich environments, analytical marketing, information technology, and financial data analysis.”

Remember that tracks are optional and when in doubt, simply choose electives that seem interesting to you and your career goals. Tracks are not printed on the diploma or transcript, so do not be worried if you cannot complete the requirements for a track. I learned this lesson in undergrad as I tried to do an additional major and extra minors that I eventually dropped because I got overwhelmed. But, in the end, it did not ruin my career prospects.

I hope you are having a fantastic summer. I am currently moving to Pittsburgh this month, so I am looking forward to enjoying the rest of my summer in the city! For more of my work, check out the previous posts in the “5 Things” series for Mini 1 and 2, Mini 3, and Mini 4. For more of my blogs, especially regarding productivity and business, check out the Process Hacker.

Dev Chandra | Part-Time MBA 2023
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