While Scott DeRue, dean of Ross School of Business, has flown across the globe to host alumni gatherings known as “Ross Talks,” on Thursday night he only had to take the elevator to the sixth floor of the Ross School of Business.

Ross Talks, all of which are moderated by DeRue, are designed to offer alumni, current students and prospective students a forum in which to network and engage with panel discussions. The Ann Arbor event is one stop on a 18-city lineup the Business School has planned for the calendar year. 

Tom Lewand, the CEO of Detroit-based watch company Shinola, joined DeRue onstage along with Ross senior Kiva McGhee and Mike Barger, executive director for the Office of Strategy and Academic Innovation. DeRue led a discussion centered around a new Business course titled Living Business Leadership Experience.

The course is available for students enrolled in both the B.B.A. and M.B.A. programs at the University and offers an opportunity to engage with one of the seven partner companies who have agreed to allow students to help lead a project. Students are split up into functional teams emphasizing e-commerce, supply chain management, marketing and finance.  

DeRue emphasized how the course was inspired by the school’s history of innovation, citing how the Business School pioneered the Multidisciplinary Action Project, a program in which M.B.A. students spend two months working on location at companies across the globe, two decades ago.

DeRue worked with Lewand, who serves on the Business School’s Board of Advisers, to brainstorm what a “living business” experience could look like.

“We were at an advisory board meeting and we had this idea,” DeRue said. “And I said to Tom, ‘I imagine a world where we actually start building businesses within the business school in partnership with companies where our students actually run the business.’”

DeRue and Leward’s initial idea came to fruition with the first Living Business Leadership Experience class during the Fall 2017 semester. Now, the course is in its second semester, and current projects extend across industries, from affordable housing to education to technology development.

McGhee was a member of the inaugural class last year, and she has re-enrolled in the course this semester to continue her assignment as a Shinola team lead, contributing to the rollout of their headphones.

“We helped set the price point for the headphones. So I think we are actually listened to, and they take our advice, and I think there is a really great relationship that we established,” McGhee said. “Especially, we have made changes since last semester. A big change is that we go down (to Detroit) much more frequently and I think it is really great to have that cadence and actually feel a part of the team.”

As a lead organizer and faculty member for the course, Barger echoed the experience of McGhee, sharing an observation he’s witnessed among students taking the course.

“In every single one of the 48 ten-page papers I read over the Christmas holiday, there was a situation where (the students) had asked for some data or asked for some help from someone and (the company) hadn’t delivered the data or the help,” Barger said.  

However, Barger believes this obstacle represents the beauty of the course and portrays an accurate image of the workplace, as students learned to stop waiting and “go knock on the door.”

When the course is fully scaled in six months, DeRue says the projects will span 12 partner companies, allowing participation to reach 200 to 300 students. DeRue emphasized his enthusiasm for the future and how the course is transforming the traditional business classroom.

“This is an important piece of a larger puzzle that is establishing us as one of the most innovative business schools in the world,” DeRue said. “I am super excited about what innovations like this are doing, not only for the student experience and how that is opening up opportunities, but it is also attracting talent.”

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