Innovative Student Campaign Targets Elusive Millennial Market

Bob Gilbert

Faculty member Bob Gilbert

This semester, a group of Pitt Business marketing students are racing against the academic clock as they compete in a nationwide contest, the Acura ILX Marketing Challenge 2016.

The undergraduate team, called “Pros in Motion,” is competing with 20 other prominent universities to develop and implement an integrated marketing communications campaign for Acura’s ILX model.

In this class, the students shift their focus from “getting an A” to winning a nationwide competition. The class, called ‘Projects in Marketing’ organizes students into a working marketing agency, with four key departments:  Campaign Strategy, Public Relations, Advertising and Research. As their campaign progresses, students learn the value of cross-functional teamwork in addition to the specialized skills required in each department.

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Corrosive Mentoring – Boundaries, Traps and Trust

Faculty Member Audrey Murrell

Faculty Member Audrey Murrell

Mentoring relationships are important for developing an invaluable and intangible asset in the workforce — our ability to connect and build positive relationships. Mentoring has been shown to be an effective tool to advance careers in all types of organizations and has been linked to a number of positive outcomes.  However, interactions within mentoring relationships are not uniformly positive.  A recent article in the New York Times Magazine described a disturbing relationship between a student and adult sponsor that shifted from academic and career guidance into toxic territory including sexual harassment and allegations of assault.  The article discusses the “murky situation” during which mentoring relationships go horribly wrong and argues for greater monitoring of mentoring relationships involving students. Continue reading

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Merger of Staples-Office Depot Makes Economic Sense

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Faculty member Diane Denis

The planned merger of Staples Inc. and Office Depot Inc. is a textbook merger transaction, illustrating several of the common characteristics of sensible economic transactions that I discuss with students in my mergers and acquisitions course.

  • First, it is taking place in a relatively mature industry. Students generally view M&A as glamorous transactions. The fact is, however, that many of the most sensible transactions take place in industries for which high growth is a thing of the past and consolidation is the most effective way forward.
  • Second, as is so often the case, the Staples-Office Depot combination is a reaction to fundamental change within their industry. In the case of the office supply industry, that change comes in the form of increased competition from new sources, particularly online from Amazon but also from more general big box retailers such as Target and Walmart.
  • Third, the benefits of the Staples-Office Depot transaction are projected to come in the form of cost reductions, which they forecast will eventually total $1 billion per year.

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A New Era for Microsoft?

Faculty Member Richard Franklin

Faculty Member Richard Franklin

On January 21st, Microsoft announced that its next release of Windows, Windows 10, will be available as a free upgrade for users currently running Windows 7 or higher.

Pre-release reviews of Windows 10 have largely been positive, and it incorporates an impressive list of new, desirable-sounding features. These include Cortana – Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri voice-controlled assistant.

This announcement of free upgrades for such a large user population is something of a reversal of traditional Microsoft strategy. Why would they make such a move? Probably because they are facing some very large long-term problems:

  • The Windows sales model is over twenty years old and will not be sustainable much longer. Licenses sold bundled with new PCs from makers like Dell, HP and Lenovo have long been an automatic-pilot, high-margin revenue stream that accounted for as much as 35% of Microsoft’s total revenues as recently as 1999 and in 2012 still made up more than 25% of Microsoft’s revenue. This is rapidly tailing off as PC sales drop and mobile device sales grow.
  • With the exception of the business/enterprise desktop/laptop market – where it still dominates – Windows has become increasingly irrelevant as users have migrated in huge numbers to mobile devices running either Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android.
  • Microsoft’s entry into the pad/mobile market, Surface, has sold anemically and received – at best – mixed reviews.
  • Windows 8 was a marketplace disaster. The new “tiled” interface, intended to provide consistency between mobile, pad, and desktop devices, turned off end-users. Windows 8.1 restored the option for the more traditional look and feel, but the damage had been done to its reputation.
  • The mobile version of Windows 8 actually received positive press, but made only minor inroads in the smartphone market – in spite of the adoption of Windows by Nokia.
  • Once seen as a market and thought leader, Microsoft has become something of a sideshow, ceding the spotlight to companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

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China 3.0: The Shift Toward Advanced Industries and Implications for the West

Ravi

Faculty member Ravi Madhavan

China is facing massive pressures – internal and external – regarding environmental issues, resource availability, social and economic inequality and more. In many ways, the People’s Republic is facing an imperative to change its economic model and advance not only its methods of production, but what it’s producing. Two examples are China’s foray into nuclear energy and its imminent entry into the commercial aerospace sector.

If Mao’s China was China 1.0 and today’s low-cost manufacturing powerhouse is China 2.0, this new China will be China 3.0. As Chinese policy-makers confront the prospect of slowing growth and the middle-income trap, more business leaders and policy makers are noting everything China buys is becoming more expensive and everything China sells is becoming cheaper. This is one reason why the imperative to master advanced industries is gaining strength: the promise of higher value addition combined with the desire to demonstrate national capability. These developments are significant in their respective industries, but in a more fundamental sense, they are symbolic of a new emerging China – one that is focused on mastering advanced industries that embody complex technology and systems integration. Continue reading

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Is Web-Based TV Disrupting Cable and Satellite TV?

Faculty member Narayan Ramasubbu

Faculty member Narayan Ramasubbu

Web-based TV (aka, streaming TV or Internet TV) is in the limelight with the recent announcement of Sling TV by Dish Network at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show. Dish CEO Joseph Clayton described it as a disruption and “the launch of a whole new industry.” I primarily see this as another experimental move and an incremental chapter in the TV platform competition. And, I believe the sports fan is a main character in this chapter.

Sling TV is an experiment to make traditional TV relevant for a new generation of consumers. While cable TV (e.g., Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon) and satellite TV (Dish, DirecTV) providers have been the traditional heavyweights, web-based streaming service providers such as Netflix have begun to eat into their market share. Online video-streaming services have already started to become substitutes for the traditional services offered by cable and satellite companies. Now one of the traditional heavyweights, Dish, wants consumers to “take back TV” (interesting slogan for Sling TV).

Will it work? Maybe, and likely only for a small consumer segment. Here is why: Continue reading

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Can We Expect Better Business Relations with Cuba?

Faculty Member Jo Olson

Faculty Member Jo Olson

President Obama’s announcement on December 17 that the U.S. will work with Cuba to restore normal diplomatic relations between the two countries after more than 50 years should be good news to the majority of Americans who support better relations with Cuba.  It is particularly exciting for an old-timer like me, whose father regularly traveled to Cuba on business in the 1950s.  I remember how much my father loved Cuba and how excited he and his Cuban colleagues were when a young Fidel Castro overthrew the brutal dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959.  Unfortunately, Castro was not the democratic liberator those middleclass Cuban businessmen had expected, and soon they all fled Cuba.  My father always hoped to visit Cuba again, but he died without doing so.

According to The New York Times[1], President Obama will take executive actions that will reduce restrictions on banking and remittances of Cuban Americans to family members in Cuba. Actions should also permit telecom and Internet connections between the two countries and travelers will be allowed to bring back $400 in goods, including $100 in Cuban rum and cigars.  The President has asked Secretary of State John Kerry to work on re-establishing diplomatic relationships with Cuba and re-opening a U.S. Embassy in Havana.  Secretary Kerry will also investigate whether Cuba can be removed from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, a list it has been on since 1982.  High-level delegations will begin talks on issues such as Cuban-American migration, narcotics, the environment, human rights and human trafficking.  Travel restrictions will be eased for the 12 categories of visitors currently allowed to visit Cuba, but not for the ordinary American tourist looking for an inexpensive vacation on a sunny beach in Cuba. Continue reading

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Work + Vacation = Work-cation (It’s Not as Bad as it Sounds)

Faculty member Deborah Good

Faculty member Deborah Good

A recent news story in MarketWatch noted that Americans only take 51% of their allotted vacation days largely because they fear getting behind. Enter the work-cation (as highlighted in a recent article on CNN.com) where vacation time is integrated with work. So the e-commerce employee responsible for writing product descriptions for a company website can take four days to travel halfway across the United States for Thanksgiving at Grandma’s, enjoy dinner and still have the firm’s products ready for sell on Black Friday and may have only taken two days vacation time in the process.

Many employees will view such an arrangement in a positive light as it helps relieve the stress experienced not only from day to day activities in the workplace, but from the challenges faced trying to satisfy both those work-based roles and family-based ones. As we have moved from a manufacturing-based economy to more of a knowledge-based one, our roles in the  workplace have expanded such that we are much more flexible in the duties that we perform on a daily basis. As job descriptions become less specific in their orientation and organizations increasingly move to more cross functional team-based work assignments, our workload varies. Taking a vacation could easily put us far behind in the work on any one of those projects not to mention creating potential interpersonal issues with those employees who remained at work while you were out. Continue reading

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The Daddy Bonus – Fact, Fiction, or Optional?

Faculty Member Audrey Murrell

Faculty Member Audrey Murrell

A recent report issued by CNN Money revealed that fathers have a median salary of $49,000 compared to $29,000 for men without kids. While some of this can be explained by the fact that fathers tend to be older and more established, there is a gap in the earnings even for men of the same age and career stage. Although working mothers still make substantially less than working fathers, the benefit of having children appears to be true for both men and women. Parenthood clearly can give a financial boost, which is consistently greater for men relative to women.

In an earlier blog, I wrote about “Having It All But Not Getting It,” arguing that the gender imbalance in terms of household work and childcare remains intact. Women still work longer combined hours at home and at work compared to men and this persistent “double burden” for working women appears almost permanent. The salary data reported by CNN isn’t the only important trend related to worker-parents. There is a growing number of working fathers and mothers reporting concerns over asking for flexible arrangements because of their view that balancing work and family obligations can derail a career or even destroy it. A report published in the Journal of Social Issues reveals that employees often don’t take advantage of work-family offerings for fear of wage penalties, low performance evaluations, and limited opportunities for future promotion. Both men and women feel they risk being perceived as not career-focused or committed to the organization if they voice a desire to have harmony across the work-family divide. Some argue that there is even a higher penalty paid for fathers versus mothers who want to emphasize family over career because of the persistent stereotype that men are (or should be) success-orientated, work-focused, career-driven employees. Continue reading

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Giving your Meal a Silver Lining! Vice-Virtue Bundles Can Offer Healthier and More Satisfying Choices

Faculty member Cait Lamberton

Faculty member Cait Lamberton

Given that more than 25% of national health care costs are tied to obesity, making healthier eating choices should be a priority for us as a society and as individuals. And while lots of research and educational campaigns have tried to prompt healthier eating, they aren’t changing people’s behavior. One reason is our belly’s susceptibility to “licensing effects.” This is when we feel that making one virtuous choice frees us up to eat something unhealthy. Depending on how much food we feel entitled to consume, this might entirely undermine the benefits of the first choice.

Here’s how it works. When we’re out at a restaurant we think, “I got the healthy entree, so maybe getting fries for my side won’t hurt.” Or, “Maybe I’ll take a big piece of cheesecake over fruit salad for dessert.” Sound familiar? By choosing these calorie-laden dishes, we potentially undo all of the good in choosing the salad. And worse, we sense that we sabotaged our own goals to be healthy, leading to guilt and regret. Continue reading

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