At the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business, students in Professor Tracie Woidtke’s MBA and undergraduate honors financial management classes put their knowledge into practice by consulting on real projects with organizations including HCA Healthcare, La-Z-Boy, and SmartBank.
Six groups of students received a potential project from their assigned company to evaluate. The projects ranged from acquisitions to mergers of equals to branch consolidations. Each group met with its partner company throughout the semester for project introduction, progress consultations, and a final in-person presentation of the group’s recommendations.
Jimmy Topping, a fall 2020 finance graduate, was in the group tasked with evaluating target companies for a potential La-Z-Boy acquisition. He said meeting with La-Z-Boy employees who have disparate work responsibilities, ranging from operations strategy to finance, was valuable for him.
“The multifaceted insight helped me understand different perspectives within different areas of the company,” Topping said. “The feedback allowed me to have a better understanding of how mergers and acquisitions work within companies.”
Woidtke, head of the college’s finance department, said that in addition to applying the skills they had developed, the students gained valuable access to and feedback from successful professionals. “For example, HCA provided a case study of an actual acquisition they completed a few years ago that they use for training and provided a video of training material they use on how to build a business case,” she said.
Amarachi Nwaneri, an MBA student who was in the group that provided SmartBank with recommendations about which of 36 branches to consolidate, said she appreciated being able to meet with SmartBank personnel at all levels of the company. The SmartBank representatives encouraged the group to ask questions, provided the students with training for S&P Global—a financial industry tool for analyzing banks and other financial services companies—and gave them access to financial statements that helped them put their classroom learning into action.
“The people we worked with made sure we had all the information we needed and were quick to answer questions and provide us with valuable insights,” Nwaneri said. “Implementing what Professor Woidtke has been teaching in class into practice allowed me to gain new skills and learn more about banks in general.”
SmartBank president and CEO Billy Carroll, one of the corporate partners who attended the final in-person presentations, was impressed with the quality of the students’ questions and their solid understanding of banking.
“The students really embraced the projects, and I could tell they were engaged throughout the process,” he said. “The recommendations given from the teams will give our company management some food for thought as we plan strategically moving forward.”
Stacy Estep (865-974-7881, firstname.lastname@example.org)