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Cutting to the Core of the Business World

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Published on Feb 26, 2009

Last spring, Andrea Cioffi began working as an intern at the Australian advertising agency SMART. But by the time she finished her study-abroad program, she was a full-time employee at the company — and still a college junior.

As a junior account executive at SMART, I worked on a competitive brand review for several beverage products, says Cioffi (SMG09). I laid out each brands positioning and how they were using media to target customers, all of which are concepts I learned in Core.

Core is School of Management shorthand for the required course program Cross-Functional Core. Each year, more than 600 SMG students enroll in Core, an award-winning suite of classes that consists of four functional courses — Marketing, Operations, Information Systems, and Finance — that are integrated through a semester-long project.

While taking Core, students have the opportunity to essentially operate a full-fledged business in an academic setting, says Jeffrey Allen, an SMG assistant professor of information systems. It takes them from the process of developing a product idea to getting their product out to the consumer.

In addition to providing a real-world look at the major functions of a business, Core also pushes communication and cross-department collaboration — a key skill for any future business leader, says Theodore Chadwick, a senior lecturer in finance and economics at SMG.

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Before Core was first offered at Boston University in 1994, our students were experiencing the same problem that we hear from some corporations: an analysis would be done in one companys department without talking to the other departments — a terribly inefficient system, he says. If only they had worked together from the beginning — sharing information and coordinating decisions, as is taught in Core — they wouldnt have had this terrible silo effect, where departments dont understand the impact their decisions have on other parts of the organization.

As evolving technology changes business practices, Core changes too. The curriculum is redesigned every two years. The first time we taught the course, the Web had just opened up, says Chadwick. E-commerce and international supply chain management, things that are common knowledge now, didnt exist, so we changed the curriculum to incorporate these ideas. Were moving into a more fast-paced, interdependent, and team-based world, so Core is even more relevant today than when we first created it.

Over the course of a semester in Core, students develop a 100-page business plan and present it at the New Product Showcase, where each team shares its product ideas. Many companies know about Core, and alumni come to recruit, says Jonathan Hibbard, an SMG assistant professor of marketing and a Core course coordinator. So its not unusual for an alumnus to ask about a Core product.

One of the highlights of Core is the SM323/McGraw-Hill Irwin New Product Challenge, started in 1997 to recognize the top Core teams. Each year, Core faculty nominate projects from approximately 80 plans for review by publishing company McGraw-Hill Irwin, which selects three finalists.

Of the 10 best Core business plans from the 2008 calendar year, three teams have been chosen to present their business plans at this years SM323/McGraw-Hill Irwin New Product Challenge, on Monday, March 2. The event is at 4:30 p.m. at the School of Management auditorium, 595 Commonwealth Ave., and is open to the public. The winning team receives prizes and their product's name engraved on the SM323/McGraw-Hill Irwin New Product Challenge trophy.

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