Out-of-the-box thinking puts MBA students ahead
A little innovation can take an employee a lot further in his or her career than many often realize. Sometimes, just the act of a boss knowing his employee is thinking outside the box shows that he’s engaged.
“It’s so important that you have individuals within a company that can bring new and innovative ideas to the table,” said Gail DePriest, Clemson MBA director of corporate relations and career management. Every fall, she teaches an MBA seminar class where she aims to teach working professionals how to manage their careers, which often means being more engaged where they currently are.
For the second year, she had her students serving up money-saving and morale-boosting ideas to make a difference in their own workplaces.
In a project she calls Innovation at Work, students are asked to come up with and present an innovative idea for their workplace that supports company green initiatives, increases employee retention/engagement, reduces company cost or increases revenue.
Inspired by the class, the project and their peers, some of DePriest’s students are taking those ideas and putting them into action.
David Pruitt, who was voted by classmates as the Innovation at Work competition winner, has discussed his money-saving idea with his bosses at an Upstate distribution center. They’ve given him the green light to look into whether it can be done.
In this case, “it” is reusing cardboard boxes that bring product into the distribution center. Right now, boxes are simply broken down and recycled, but Pruitt and his boss wonder if the boxes can either be turned inside out or a paper wrapping stuck on the outside to make them reusable, resulting in a potential savings of $3.4 million a year.
“The class did change the way I think about projects,” Pruitt said. “If you have a good idea, the best thing to do is get it all together and present it to upper management. If you can tie a number to it, that’s when you’ll get attention. You sort of make it your own or let the company take it over.”
That’s exactly what Pruitt did, and it turns out his boss had a similar idea, but hadn’t looked into it further. With his connections at Clemson and throughout the Upstate, Pruitt is trying to come up with a cost-savings solution for his company while at the same time studying and preparing himself to stay ahead of the competition.
But what makes all the class hours after a full workday worth it isn’t just these ideas; it’s sitting in a room with 30 to 40 high-caliber people who can share their experiences. Something Pruitt called “unmatchable.”
DePriest absolutely wants her students to learn as much from their peers as they do from her as they meet weekly to learn how to manage their careers for success and balance.
“I feel kinda lucky and spoiled — I get to sound off ideas on these people who are more experienced than me,” said Wade Lindsey, Innovation at Work runner-up.
Lindsey’s grandfather started Wade’s Restaurant in Spartanburg almost 64 years ago, and now Lindsey’s father and aunt run it. After working in data entry for a while, Lindsey came back to the family business and has been working his way through the various positions — wait staff, fry cook, dishwasher, takeout carrier.
“I’m doing the MBA program to learn how to expand our brand and our business. My dad and my aunt have raised our single unit restaurant to what it is today. We just haven’t been able to step out yet,” he said.
As he focuses his studies on entrepreneurship, he sees a very real need for their business to revamp the now hours-long orientation process.
“I want to not only show new employees what we’re asking from them, but also get them motivated about working for us,” he said. “You can make someone excited to work almost anywhere with the right attitude, and we have a great place to work.”
With this idea, Lindsey is taking steps to bring an element of change to his family business.
But not everyone works for a family business; many embrace the corporate or academic world as their own. On campus, Clemson employee Zeke Lollis decided to focus on his office’s morale. After so many retirement incentives and positions going unfilled, he and his human resources co-workers weren’t feeling too perky at the office.
So, he grabbed what he had on hand — pancake batter and a griddle — and started a weekly office breakfast. It’s a time for Lollis and his co-workers to get together and visit before the workday starts.
Now, Lollis wants to take his show on the road, going to campus offices and answering employees’ human resources questions. He did a trial run at the MBA offices on Clemson’s Greenville campus, which everyone called successful.
“I want to go around and cook for people and visit people so they don’t have to cart themselves over to our office on campus,” said Lollis, who received his undergraduate degree from Clemson in 2007.
Ultimately, he wants to make a difference — the same as his fellow MBA peers.
And while not all MBA students will own their own business or even work for a family-owned establishment, each can still bring change and new ideas into his respective work environment.
Sometimes, a little innovation goes a long way.
Find out more about the Clemson MBA program at www.clemson.edu/mba