Anderson Consulting seminar trains business leaders of tomorrow

BOULDER – The next generation of business leaders needs to be sure it has the basics of business savvy and the ability to roll with an ever-changing business market.

Ellen Balaguer, a Denver-based partner with Andersen Consulting, an $8.9 billion global management and e-commerce consulting firm, says a bright, newly minted holder of a master’s degree in business administration can become a leader in business by keeping with three fundamentals.

“Business leaders must have ambition, motivation and drive to be able to capitalize on opportunities available to people of their caliber,” she says. Additionally, students must have experience in business to hit the ground running for the company that hires them. Most of all, though, Balaguer says executives must remain flexible and learn to be comfortable with the speed of change and uncertainty of the New Economy.

Steven Manaster, dean of the college of business and administration at the University of Colorado at Boulder, agrees students should stick with business fundamentals to succeed.

The CU program, Manaster says, provides students with a good basis in business that will serve for lifetime learning throughout their careers. Rather than focusing on specific points in a changing business world, Manaster’s program relies on partnerships with business to fill those points. In the MBA program, specific emphasis is put on leadership skills that can blossom into entrepreneurial confidence and lead to the capability to follow turns in the student’s career to any area of business.

Manaster says that Andersen’s focus on workplace diversity issues and cross-cultural communication is very important in the modern work environment. “We (CU) bring in a variety of quality students and faculty because people learn to be close to folks who are not like themselves,” he says.

Balaguer’s firm, which has 65,000 employees worldwide, got a first-hand look at the business students of today when Andersen held its ninth annual leadership seminar for minority MBA students in mid-July. Thirteen universities across the nation, including the University of Colorado at Boulder, sent their brightest MBA students to the four-day conference, which was held at CU.

Not just anyone is invited to the leadership workshop, which traditionally includes a competition in which students working in teams must work together to cultivate solutions to various real world business scenarios, Balaguer says. Business schools interview and select their top students, who then go through the same process with Andersen executives until the group is chosen. This year, 28 students participated. Their project was to create a model for a start-up Internet company and present their recommendations to a panel of judges.

The case study was derived from Harvard University’s business program. It was written by a CU professor who worked with the study company Patagon.com. Students are judged on how they present their views of the study company’s challenges, how challenges should be approached and the recommendations they propose to handling them.

Judges included executives from Andersen, Manaster and Andre Pettigrew, vice president of marketing for FastIdeas, the Westminster-based Internet accelerator and incubator managed by Boulder venture firm iBelay.com. Pettigrew also was a keynote speaker.

Judging was not easy, Balaguer says. “Every year, the group gets more and more sophisticated,” she says, adding that the current crop showed strong maturity in career goals, were very technologically astute and had already racked up real world business experience. She says any one of them could be hired now as is.

Andersen typically recruits from its marketing programs, including the seminar program and other diversity programs, and says the company is looking to pull as many new hires as it can from its own reservoirs.

The company is currently honing its focus on e-commerce, especially in Colorado, as well as start-up operations. Andersen also is involved in the governor’s Colorado Institute of Technology program, the goal of which is to bolster attention to Colorado’s burgeoning high-tech communities.

The conference, started by Balaguer, has been hosted by CU for all of its nine years, and Andersen now plans to take it on the road. Beginning next year, other partner schools will hold the event. Universities represented include: Arizona State University, CU, Florida A&M University, Ohio State University, University of Arizona, University of Florida, University of Illinois-Champaign, University of Maryland-College Park, University of Minnesota, University of Texas, University of Wisconsin, Vanderbilt University and University of Washington. For more information visit www.ac.com.