Ross Reflections: 5 Most Impactful Business Classes I’ve Taken

University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business

3. MKT 310: Fundamentals of Sales Management

MKT 310 was one of the most impactful classes I’ve taken at Ross because it completely changed my perception of what a career in sales entails.

After taking the class, I am actually now enrolled in the Cappo Sales Track at Ross, which is a program open to all University of Michigan undergrads who are interested in a career in sales. Students learn how to build customer relations, develop sales strategies, and drive business revenue.

My professor, Follett Carter, actually runs the Cappo Sales Track. He has 35 years of experience in the sales industry. His personal connections and years of experience in the industry enabled him to invite a lot of guest speakers to our class. Having guest speakers was one of my favorite parts of the class because I learned about different industries from a diverse group of speakers.

Two of my favorite speakers were Bill and Sarah Minnis, who taught us about Language Patterns. They explained that it’s important to distinguish who your prospect is and what kind of person you’re selling to. Are they an external or internal person? The kind of person they are should dictate how you communicate with them.

For example: when communicating with an internal person, you should constantly ask for their permission to continue, ask them questions, and validate their concerns. When communicating with an external personal, be more assertive with your opinion and follow up so that you stay fresh in their mind.

I might not be pursuing a career in sales post-grad, but the concepts that I learned in MKT 310 will always be applicable to me. I mean, to some extent, we are constantly selling ourselves every day –whether it’s “selling” yourself in a job interview or “selling” your ideas to your colleagues at work or group project members in class.

Professor Follett Carter

Meet Professor Carter

How long have you been teaching at Ross? I joined Ross after working in Sales and Marketing for 35 years in 2006, so my tenure at Ross is 16 years.

What is your favorite thing about teaching? Being around young people with their energy and desire to make their way in the next chapter of their life. Based on my age, I also have the experience of seeing every student from a parent and grandparent perspective, which I take very seriously. I am available to help any student at any time and I care about each one becoming the best they can be.

What is the biggest takeaway that you want students to take away from your class? I want students to have an understanding of sales as a profession that is critical to generating revenue and profits for a company. Hopefully students understand in business, they are the ones that determine their success and that self-initiative is critical to their business success. I also want them to understand that selling is a position where performance is measured objectively based on numbers and with objective measurement there is no place to hide. A salesperson is rewarded for their performance and easily identified for lack of performance. Selling pays well, but selling also is a profession of survival requiring a salesperson to deliver clear objective goals set for them.

As a student, what was your favorite business class and what was your most valuable takeaway from it? I never took a business class as an undergraduate. However, after receiving my undergraduate degree, I immediately began my MBA studies at Columbia University. I was a Finance/Marketing major and both areas of study had interesting courses. My first job when I graduated from Columbia was with Mobil as a financial analyst. My takeaway was I did not want to be in finance. I liked marketing as a second choice and my first job after my finance position was with IBM as a salesperson.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: After a long business career, the different management positions I held prepared me for teaching in a business school. There were no surprises when I began teaching in 2006. I was 100% on my own in course design and delivery and my goal in teaching was to give knowledge back to students that I had developed over 35 years in business in the area of Sales and Marketing.

When did you know when you wanted to be a business school professor? I always had a goal of teaching after I retired from business. In 2006, the University of Michigan gave me that opportunity. The ability to make a difference in someone’s life is important to me. In business, developing successful salespeople and sales/marketing managers was an important goal. Teaching at Ross is just an extension of that goal.

Professor Carter added, “I have never looked at my responsibilities of teaching as well as managing the Cappo Sales Certificate as work. I look at my role as making students aware of career choices but also from this time forward the importance of learning to sell, whether it’s a product, a service or most important themselves.”

4. FIN 300: Financial Management

You’ve probably noticed that most of the classes that I have listed above are marketing classes. After all, I am a Marketing major. However, you might be surprised to learn that I included a finance class as well.

FIN 300 is a floating core class, which means that all BBAs need to take this class at some point before the winter semester of their senior year. BBAs are able to start taking floating core classes beginning the winter semester of their sophomore year. I wanted to push this class off as late as possible because I really was not looking forward to taking such a dry quantitative class.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by this course. This class was taught by Pedram Nezafat, who is by far one of the most thoughtful and accommodating professors that I have had at Ross. He really broke down and simplified financial concepts for his students.

For example: Professor Nezafat had a cookie analogy that he used to teach the concept of capital structure. Over Zoom, he broke a cookie in half and then “put” the cookie back together to demonstrate that it doesn’t matter how a firm finances themselves. Their market cap (value) will stay the same, much like how if you put the cookie back together, it’s still the same cookie. As a visual learner, this simple analogy will always stick with me. I’ll always remember that it doesn’t matter if a firm finances themselves with equity or debt, their market cap will stay the same.

Professo Pedram Nezafat

Meet Professor Nezafat

How long have you been teaching at Ross? I started teaching at Ross in Fall of 2020.

What is your favorite thing about teaching? You can impact the next generation and can show your students that they have more potential than they actually think that they have. At times, students have doubt about their abilities, but as an instructor you are in a position to change their perceptions and have a long-lasting impact on their lives.

What is the biggest takeaway that you want students to take away from your class? That the possibilities are endless for them; finance can have a major impact on their lives and the society, and having high ethical standards is of paramount importance.

As a student, what was your favorite business class and what was your most valuable takeaway from it? My favorite classes in business school were all related to pricing of financial assets and choosing investment portfolios. The more I learned about financial markets, the more I realized how difficult but important it is to price assets. My most valuable takeaway from these classes is that through diversification you can build wealth over time; I learned this lesson the hard way, though, as I did not believe what I was taught.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: Teaching at a business school is very different from teaching in other schools. Students are engaging and you should be open to question all your prior knowledge on a regular basis as the financial markets throw you curveballs all the time.

When did you know when you wanted to be a business school professor? It was in graduate school that I really became interested in becoming a faculty. It is one profession that can be intellectually challenging and engaging and allows you to work on topics that are of interest to you.

Professor Nezafat also added, “Students should focus on learning the materials instead of focusing solely on their GPAs. They also should consider college as an opportunity to grow both personally and professionally. Being open to failing is a part of growth and if you are not failing in your undertakings then you may not be taking risk in your life and you may never know your own potential.”

5) STRAT 390: Corporate Strategy

STRAT 390 is a required class that all BBA seniors take their fall semester of senior year. I thought that the class would simply be an extension of STRAT 290: Business Strategy, another required class that BBAs take in the winter semester of their sophomore year.

In some ways, STRAT 390 was a refresher of concepts that I had previously learned. However, I found the class to actually be more relevant than I initially thought. As nerdy as it sounds, I enjoyed being able to apply class concepts to everyday life.

For example: a couple weeks ago, I read that McCormick Spice Co. bought Cholula hot sauce for $800 million dollars. The firm had previously acquired the hot sauce category leader Frank’s RedHot. The Cholula acquisition exemplified the concept of resource relatedness, which determines the range of products and services that a firm should offer and refers to the similarity of resource requirements across businesses. Because McCormick already has Frank’s RedHot under its brand portfolio, they also have the capabilities to sell and distribute Cholula.

STRAT 390 was also an impactful class because Professor Jue-Rajasingh helped to push me out of my comfort zone. I don’t really like to participate in class; however, participation plays a significant part of your grade in any Ross class.

One day, Professor Jue-Rajasingh emailed me to tell me that she found my comment on our class discussion board to be insightful and that she wanted me to share my comment in our class that day. To be honest, I was caught off guard by her email. However, I really appreciated her reaching out to me. Her email was validating and after that particular class, I made more of an effort to participate in future class discussions.

Professor Diana Jue-Rajasingh

Meet Professor Jue-Rajasingh:

How long have you been teaching at Ross? I have been teaching at Ross for two years, while working toward my doctorate.

What is your favorite thing about teaching? My favorite thing about teaching is getting to know students and hopefully impacting them in some positive way. Perhaps the impact comes from helping students learn something that they hadn’t realized or appreciated before, either about the class material or about themselves. For example, I find immense satisfaction in observing the different ways that my students contribute to the class over the course of the semester and ultimately sharing with each person the unique ways in which I see them adding value to the classroom, even if these contributions are somewhat hidden or aren’t directly measured by standard performance metrics. I think it’s important for students to receive feedback on how they are making a positive impact on their immediate environment, and I’m in a position to provide this input.

What is the biggest takeaway that you want students to take away from your class? I teach business and corporate strategy, so in relation to the class material, I want students to draw connections between strategy frameworks we learn in class and decision making in their personal and professional lives. Strategy concepts are helpful for understanding where and how to compete, and they bring choices and tradeoffs to the forefront. The implementation of strategy requires consistency across our actions and between our actions and our values. I hope that students can reflect on their own values, actions, and choices as much as they reflect on what firms are doing in the markets around them. This will make them internalize the concepts and make them better strategists!

As a student, what was your favorite business class and what was your most valuable takeaway from it? My favorite business class was probably a class that I took about the positive role of business in international development, which I took at MIT. This class inspired my work as a social entrepreneur in India, which was what I was doing before I came to Ross.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: Ross BBAs are extremely intelligent and passionate, but they can be very hard on themselves. While it’s important to teach the material well, it’s probably more important to teach with humanity.

When did you know when you wanted to be a business school professor? I never had an ah-ha moment when I knew that I had to be a business school professor. I have always strived, however, to positively impact the people around me, and being a professor is one of those professions in which I get to do this on a regular basis. It helps that I have experience running a company and a natural desire to instruct and mentor others!

I hope you found my thoughts (and my professors’ thoughts) insightful and interesting. I am extremely grateful to be attending a top-ranked business school where I have access to such amazing professors and where I am constantly being challenged. I know that the lessons that I learned in all of these classes will serve me well post-grad.

My name is Alexa Tran and I am a senior at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business studying Business Administration with a minor in Religion. I was born and raised in Ann Arbor, so I knew that I always wanted to be a Wolverine! I am passionate about traveling, mentorship, iced coffee, and Trader Joe’s. I enjoy spending time with friends and family and managing my travel Instagram and blog: @adventuringwithalexa.

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