Photo 3 edIt’s one thing to read about the strategic planning process and SWOT analyses in a business management textbook. It’s quite another to observe a company go through it first-hand. That was the unique opportunity presented recently to two Collat students who were able to accompany UAB Collat faculty as they fascilitated strategic planning sessions for Mayer Electric Supply Company. Industrial distribution major Pacifico Otamias and management major Catarina Mojica were invited to attend the sessions at Embassy Suites in Homewood to see firsthand how a company works through the strategic planning.

"Seeing a planning session in real life is so much different than class. You're able to see it in real, everyday life," Pacifico said. He and Catarina said the hands-on experience allowed them to observe situations not addressed in their textbooks and to learn new facets of revising an established company's strategic direction.

Mayer Electric Supply Company is one of the nation's largest and most rapidly expanding distributors of electrical supplies. The company had requested help from Collat’s management and strategic leadership faculty to facilitate its planning session. The faculty saw an opportunity to expose students to a real-world business experience, a priority at the Collat School of Business. Mayer Electric, which has partnered with the business school in the past for career fairs and other events, encouraged the students' attendance.

"The managers at Mayer Electric were quite welcoming and courteous," Catarina said. "Several of them introduced themselves to us, and they thanked us for being involved. We were also given business cards."

Dr. Molly Wasko, a management professor and chair of Collat's Department of Management, Information Systems and Quantitative Methods, facilitated the planning session. She dug deep to understand the core ethos of the company, leading the discussion past "how can we sell this product" to "why we should sell this product," Pacifico said.

In the session the students attended, Mayer Electric managers discussed ways to augment the company’s strengths for continued success. For Catarina, this process was exciting. “It was a whole new experience from classroom learning," she said. "Each company handles policies and strategies differently. It was eye opening to see a company work through various issues."

She learned that it can be difficult – but ultimately impactful – for managers to be honest about their strengths and weaknesses. However, she says, understanding those characteristics are critical for improvement.

"They discussed how they can bring value to their customer relationships. They talked about how they can build stronger relationships with their providers, which can help lower costs for the customer," Pacifico said. "They are continuously evolving their product, looking for ways to be better."

Both students left the meeting energized and brimming with ideas.

"My experience in shadowing the session was very beneficial and enlightening. The faculty from UAB and the managers from Mayer Electric were helpful in understanding concepts that I learned in the classroom," Catarina said.