Turning Business Students Into ‘Business Adventurers’


One of the MBAs on the trip was Hery Sofiaji. He came to Purdue’s Krannert from a senior manager position at Bank Mandiri, Indonesia’s largest bank. Sofiaji chose Krannert over higher-ranked European schools even though he had never even been to America, because he believed an American MBA would be more valuable.

During his first semester, he took Allred’s marketing management course. Allred introduced the project to the class and Sofiaji was the first to sign up. The next summer, he found himself on the initial trip to Thailand. It was also Sofiaji’s first trip to Thailand. Sofiaji, who will be returning to Bank Mandiri in a couple weeks for a higher position, says it was the first project of this kind he ever worked on.

“Professor Allred was very excited about the project and I have never been involved in a social impact-type project,” Sofiaji says.  “It was also my first new experience implementing a real marketing project.”

The team of students to make the first trip to Baan Tawai during the summer of 2014. Pictured bottom left is Hery Sofiaji. Courtesy photo

The team of students to make the first trip to Baan Tawai during the summer of 2014, Hery Sofiaji bottom left. courtesy photo


The result of the research Sofiaji and the rest of the team conducted was numerous projects Allred took back to his marketing courses. And consequently, Allred’s courses and how he taught them changed. “My role became less of a lecturer and more of a manager,” Allred says. This past year, Allred has started his classes by presenting them the issues of the artisans. How they need a cohesive brand and creative ways to market that brand to a global audience. How students plan to move products through the supply chain, and the logistics of shipping those products.

“What we are doing is more like an archeological dig,” Allred explains. “The curriculum is in the activity itself. The students start by getting cultural training, choosing an issue and then developing project plans. The rest of the time students are working in the marketplace and working to bring back actual content to class.”

Allred creates a “Wiki-like document” at the beginning of the course for the students to track their progress. Additionally, the detailed descriptions of the projects allow future students to build on projects. “It’s not as much working on material at this stage, it’s about them bringing back relationships and information,” Allred says. Students have developed relationships with professionals in everything from distribution channels to the media.


As one could expect, this type of unconventional class structure will elicit different reactions from students. But Allred knows early on who will thrive and who will struggle. “There’s two different kinds of students that show up,” Allred says. “One group I call the business tourists. They like to come to class, and just want to be told what they need to do to get the grade and degree and move on. The ones that are really going to succeed are the ones that say they really want to do it. They want to learn from the experience.” The business adventurers are the ones that thrive, he says.

One of those students is undergraduate student Xavier Thompson. After spending a year at Notre Dame, Thompson, who is the son of former McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson, took a year off from school to work as an assistant manager for an account in a New York-based marketing firm. After a year, Thompson decided to return to school but transferred to Purdue where both of his parents went to school.

Once on campus, Thompson found himself in Allred’s marketing course. “At the time, he didn’t have anything more than a Facebook page about the project and artists,” Thompson says. “But the amount of passion and heart he had for this idea was enough to get me excited. And then I saw those pictures and it was the most gorgeous art that doesn’t get seen. They are great artists and deserve to have their work seen.”


MBA student Alex Serena served as a project manager for the market research team over the past year. For Serena, the idea of helping others sustain a livelihood while doing something they loved was personal.

After nearly a decade of public service work, most recently with TELACU, an organization dedicated to providing tools and assistance to help individuals and communities be self-sustaining, Serena left his home in East Los Angeles for West Lafayette, Indiana and an MBA at Krannert.

“There was quite a culture shock,” Serena says. “I was living next to the Staples Center and was a huge (Los Angeles) Kings fan. And my wife stayed there for a few months to finish her job. But the funny thing about Indiana is it grows on you.”