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Skidmore College

Forty years of MB 107, a rite of passage at Skidmore

December 15, 2021
by James Helicke

For the past four decades, the end-of-semester scene has been a familiar one at Skidmore: Students, dressed up in business attire, present a detailed business growth strategy to a board of real-world executives, who ask tough questions and provide feedback to the often-nervous students.  

“Why are you limiting your sales to the United States?” “What do you see as the biggest threat to your strategy?” “How did you come up with these numbers?” These are just a few questions that the judges — alumni, community members, parents of Skidmore students, and other executives volunteering their time — asked recently during executive presentations for MB 107, the cornerstone course of Skidmore’s management and business major and minor programs.

This academic year, Skidmore is celebrating 40 years — 80 semesters — of the rigorous course that is deeply engrained in Skidmore’s liberal arts curriculum and its longstanding tradition of cultivating both “mind and hand.”  

For many, the course, officially named Business and Organization Management, has become a rite of passage at Skidmore: About a third of all students, including many who do not end up pursuing a business degree, take the course before graduating; many describe the introductory course as a defining moment in their college experience and note that it’s the type of course one would usually only experience in an MBA program. 

For the entire semester, students, often early in their academic careers, work in small groups, together poring over data, researching markets and companies, and coming up with a creative solution to confront real challenges faced by a real company. At the end of the term, they present their solutions to a room full of executives, who scrutinize their work.  

This semester, the students were tasked with increasing Lego’s operating profit by 10% by 2026 in an increasingly competitive business landscape.  

First-year student Sritha Ravi ’25 shakes hands with alumnus Andrew Hughes ‘92, who served on the panel of executives, for the executive presentation.

First-year student Sritha Ravi ’25 shakes hands with alumnus Andrew Hughes ‘92, who served on the panel of executives for the MB 107 presentation.

Jimmy Gibbons ’25, Amelia Murphy ’23, George Ogenah ’24, and Sritha Ravi ’25 toyed with several business development plans, including a monthly subscription box that they discovered to be too costly and new Lego figures based on anime characters that they realized were likely to become bogged down in expensive and complicated licensing issues.  

Recognizing a gender gap in Lego sales and drawing on their own experiences, the group finally settled on a proposal to develop Lego figures, sets, and a TV show about important historical female figures ranging from Junko Tabei, the first woman to summit Mount Everest, to U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe. Members of the group said the proposal was aimed at inspiring young women, educating young males, and promoting inclusivity. It would be featured on streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ and be accompanied by a comprehensive marketing campaign.  

“This is the first class where I worked the entire semester on a project due at the end of the term,” said Ogenah, a business major. “I personally got a much better sense of the basic logic of business and an enhanced understanding of time management: To work together, you need to be able to communicate, to be able to work around the clock and work around each other's schedules in order to succeed. And that's what we did.”  

Students celebrate following a successful MB 107 presentation.

Students celebrate following a successful MB 107 presentation.

Ogenah, a member of the men’s basketball team, said he had to juggle not only a full slate of other classes but his busy athletics schedule. His group sometimes met both in the morning and at night to prepare and repeatedly practice the team’s executive presentation. 

Course expectations are high, but MB 107 remains very popular, with five fully enrolled sections this fall alone: Assistant Professor Mike Dunn teaches a section and coordinates the program, an effort managed for many years by Executive in Residence Colleen Burke. Other sections were taught by professors Tim Harper, Minita Sanghvi, and Jina Mao.  

Students describe the atmosphere as simultaneously challenging and supportive: Students are aided by faculty and upper-level student coaches who help guide them through the semester. The executives not only provide critical feedback but also encouragement. 

Many of the executives, like Steve Nettler '85, are alumni who say the course played a formative role in defining their academic and professional careers. Nettler, who was among the first cohort of students to participate in the course 40 years ago, noted nearly everyone who has ever taken the course can quickly recall the case study they worked on. (His was the Dennison paper company.) 

“I came into Skidmore without a vision of what I was going to be or what I was going to major in. Taking BU 107, as it was called then, really sparked my interest in the business world and solidified what I wanted to major in and do with my career and in my life," said Nettler, a managing director at ING Capital.

Even now, I remember MB 107 as, by far, the most impactful course I ever took, whether in college or business school.
Steve Nettler '85

“It's the experience. It's the ability to make mistakes in a relatively safe environment and learn and take those lessons with you into the business world. You're learning how to present, how to analyze, how to think in a way that's going to help build your career.” 

Many students also take the course as they explore majors. Ogenah’s teammates Gibbons and Ravi took the course during their first semester at Skidmore. Ravi said she is considering a major in gender studies but benefited immensely from the management and business course.  

“Not only did I learn about business strategy, but also basic skills that will really help me not only in my career but in a personal setting as well,” Ravi said. “I was in charge of doing financials for my group. I learned about what an income statement is. I learned about team dynamics, about how to work with peers, about what we’re capable of doing, and also about when we need to ask for help.” 

Amelia Murphy ’23, center, speaks during an executive presentation. Also shown are Jimmy Gibbons’ 25, left, and George Ogenah ’24.

Amelia Murphy ’23, center, speaks during an executive presentation. Also shown are Jimmy Gibbons’ 25, left, and George Ogenah ’24.

Murphy, a psychology major, said despite some jitters, she enjoyed the “creative freedom” the course afforded. She said the presentation was a positive experience that reinforced her interest in pursuing a business minor along with a second minor in dance.  

“As a dance minor, I can relate this experience to performing: Right before I walk on stage, I'm so nervous, but as soon as I go on stage — as soon as I started my part of the presentation — I just got into the flow of things and forgot about being nervous,” she said. “It was very helpful listening to the feedback of the executive judges, even if it was definitely very nerve-wracking beforehand.” 

Alumnus Andrew Hughes ‘92 of OCP Capital also volunteered for the presentations. Hughes said he came to Skidmore through its Opportunity Program, and the course helped strengthen his sense of self-confidence and ability to tackle challenges that businesses face.  

“You were doing something that these graduate-level Ivy League schools were doing, and you had the same ideas and the same materials and, probably in some cases, maybe even better ideas,” Hughes said. “You walk away feeling a little bit more confident and also realizing that this might be the toughest class you take for a while, and you accomplished it. You feel pretty good after that.” 

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