Classroom Meets Boardroom in MBA Finance

Presenting a semester's worth of work in front of a room during finals can be a nerve-racking part of any course. Now try doing it in front of senior management at a Fortune 500 company.

That is exactly the experience Opus College of Business MBA students had in associate professor Mufaddal Baxamusa’s Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) finance course last fall. Thanks to the college’s Prof-Prof (Professional-Professor) program students worked throughout the semester with Jeff Hawkes ’14 of Ecolab, and for their final presented and defended their ideas for potential business “targets” to Ecolab’s M&A division leaders.

“I was nervous, of course; those [Ecolab] guys have been in that field for years,” said MBA student Marc Riemann, who graduated in May. “It was exciting to see how this is done in real life, really getting the feel of the real-world experience.”

Real-world experience is at the heart of the Prof-Prof model, which piloted in 2015 and ramped up last year. With Hawkes as his professional partner, Baxamusa connects the classroom’s theoretical work with a real company’s M&A goals and execution.

“It gives [students] that flavor and goes beyond what the textbook would show you,” Hawkes said.

Well before anyone walked into the boardroom, Hawkes presented to the students and charged them with finding possible fits for Ecolab. Students came up with three potential targets, presented them all to Hawkes, and then zeroed in on the strongest candidates, building their case for a final presentation. Throughout, Baxamusa and Hawkes helped guide them with general M&A experience and Ecolab-specific knowledge only an employee could offer.

“We got to know the inside, the daily tasks and focus of someone working [at Ecolab] in M&A,” Riemann said.

When the time came to show their months’ worth of research to Ecolab’s management, the hard work showed, Hawkes and Baxamusa said.

“I was thoroughly impressed with the work the students did. I put myself back in their shoes, and I don’t know if I would have done as good a job. They were well prepared; the presentations were great. They were poised. They were confident,” Hawkes said. “And the final is a real-life final; there was no kid gloves, no, ‘Let’s treat them like students.’ They were treated like investment bankers coming in to pitch a story.”

“I was very much amazed at the level of preparation the students put in,” Baxamusa added. “The ability to stand before execs and answer back to questions is a very important skill. We’re preparing future business leaders, so you need to know how to present before actual business leaders – how to think on your feet, reply back and make a decision. It’s very important.”

Riemann said the class was an “awesome format” and, along with the rest of the MBA program, has him in a much better position as he now starts his career.

“This whole thing is a win-win, for myself and Ecolab and for the students,” Hawkes said. “It’s a unique way of teaching that you’re not going to get at other schools.”