Haas@Work Students Tackle Health Care, Air Travel

Berkeley MBA students in the Haas@Work program are preparing for takeoff this week with new client Virgin America, which has hired them to help continue to drive innovative new guest and loyalty strategies in the airline industry.

Virgin America is one of the four companies to partner with the Haas School's applied innovation program this spring. The others are McKesson, Haas@Work's first health care client; design software leader Autodesk, and returning client Cisco Systems.

Haas@Work dispatches 40 MBA students to develop solutions to pressing business challenges. Students work in 8-person strike teams to develop breakthrough ideas, then pitch their plans to top executives in a daylong workshop. New teams then follow up with 100 days on the ground, putting the favored ideas in motion.
"There are three elements to the value proposition for clients,” says Adam Berman, executive director of Emerging Initiatives, who launched Haas@Work four years ago. “Clients get a fresh perspective, unencumbered by company bias; they get concrete, tangible results in a very short time period; and they get to see prospective employees in action.”

Students kicked off the Virgin America project Monday night. They will spend the next two weeks observing and interviewing current and prospective passengers, analyzing the competitive situation, and experiencing the Virgin America guest experience first-hand by flying the airline.

Students also will be developing strategies for Virgin America, the only California-based airline, to take advantage of its unique position and the rapidly changing technological landscape to maximize customer engagement, loyalty, and sales.

Since its launch in August 2007,Virgin America's unique amenities – such as Internet service on every flight and the nation's largest in-flight entertainment library — have helped the airline capture several awards, including being named “Best Domestic Airline” in both the Condé Nast Traveler 2009 Readers' Choice Awards and the Travel + Leisure 2009 World's Best Awards.

The Haas@Work Cisco project, focusing on improving the company’s worldwide service support process, will begin later this spring.

The McKesson and Autodesk projects are in their second phase — the implementation phase. At Autodesk, students are developing solutions to re-engage, develop, and retain customers to help the company reach its goal of doubling revenue to $4 billion.

At McKesson, students were tasked with developing a common, value-added approach for five of the company’s businesses that share the same market — independent physicians.

“We gave Haas students very little direction or hand-holding, and they dove into the market and the operations of the five businesses,” said Dave Henriksen, senior vice president and general manager for McKesson Physician Practice Solutions. “They brought six ideas, and we liked every idea they had.”

McKesson engaged the students to move forward with one main recommendation and parts of two others, including a frequent-flier-type program that gives customers financial and operational benefits from doing more business with the company.

Evening and weekend Berkeley MBA student Anshul Bhargava, MBA 12, says the McKesson project took the skills he’s learned in the classroom to a new level: He had 26 days to develop deep knowledge of the health care industry, learn to work with a diverse set of teammates, and solve a real business problem.

"If you haven't experienced the thrill and the joy of participating in the Haas@Work program, you have missed something in your MBA," he says.

For more information on Haas@Work, visit groups.haas.berkeley.edu/Haas@Work/.