Real-world consultancy experience
Learning by doing is the ethos of practice and practicality that underpin the Asian Strategy Challenge (ASC) – a seven-month consulting project offered at ESSEC’s Asia-Pacific campus in Singapore to final-year students of its Master in Strategy & Management of International Business (SMiB).
Provided in partnership with leading companies which act as clients, the ASC provides students with the opportunity of developing their understanding of business conduct in Asia by working on real challenges or business development opportunities faced by the companies. “We spent a lot of time and I would say that I have gotten a broader perspective and a better vision of how companies operate through this experience,” said student Vincent Emad (Class of 2020).
This year, students were offered projects with several companies in sectors that dovetail with their professional aspirations. Some of these projects involved the evaluation of outpatient clinics in Asia-Pacific for Johnson & Johnson, understanding the consumer journey and behavior of Chinese travellers for LVMH’s Parfums Christian Dior, or preparing for the expansion of insurance company Blacaz to the Hong Kong market.
A symbiotic process
“The learning curve is steep during this process. As the students tend to be young in terms of work experience, the idea is for them to have regular interactions with the company and update them throughout the project. This teaches them soft skills that they don’t learn in the classroom, like interacting with clients and presenting deliverables that match their clients’ needs. It’s really about learning how to become a consultant,” said Dr Anne-Flore Maman Larraufie, Academic Director of SMIB.
Attesting to this was student Keerthana Sreekanth Rao (Class of 2020) whose team was assigned to devise a go-to-market strategy for an AI radiology company. For the first three weeks, her team read, researched, and watched online videos to learn more about similar products and how they were typically marketed. “We were involved in each and every step of the project, asking lots of questions to get to the end goal,” she shared.
Among the organizations that participated for the first time in this year’s ASC was LVMH, Parfums Christian Dior. The company was looking to better understand the spending patterns of Chinese travellers and how to target them with the right digital tools for pre-travel and duty-free retail.
“The draw for our participation was the ability to get an idea of the future talent available and their points of view on key trends in the luxury industry,” said Bernice Neo, Digital and E-Travel Manager at Parfums Christian Dior. Her colleague, Assistant Talent Development Manager Honsonn Wong, added, “The project began before the Covid-19 pandemic and the students showed real agility and adaptability of the situation. They even provided us with a post-Covid analysis. Initiatives like these really add value to our organization.”
Dr Maman Larraufie said that students more than met expectations this year. The students working on Parfums Christian Dior’s project did so well that they were invited to a job interview at the company’s headquarters in Paris.
“I’ve seen companies put in place the students’ recommendations several months after the project. These are all real-time issues, so students are made to sign non-disclosure agreements before they begin,” added Dr Maman Larraufie. “In one instance, I supervised a project where the students recommended the company not to act on their plans, so the company had to reshape its mission. It’s a very bold representation of what you must do as a consultant — sometimes you have to say no to the client.”
“The benefits of this project were many. I had amazing mentors and a great team to work with. The co-learning experience with the AI company gave me the chance to be in the shoes of a strategic personnel to look at regional expansion,” shared Keerthana.
For participating companies, being part of the ASC was a platform to nurture young talents and learn about their interests and views. “Travel retail is not a straightforward industry and there are lots of details to understand. Throughout the process, it was obvious how the students gained a strong view of the industry and developed their own points of view,” said Ms Neo. “Getting fresh perspectives from the outside was invaluable to us. The way the students worked together and the level of detail and attention to the quality of work was extremely professional.”
For students, these projects give them the opportunity to work on real-world business issues and put into practice what they have learnt in the classroom. More importantly, it lets them prove their capabilities to the organizations that they aspire to build their careers with. “I always believe that there is so much to learn from people around you and this ASC experience offers exactly that,” added Keerthana.
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