Charlotte MBA Students Challenged to Revitalize a 100-Year-Old Nonprofit’s Brand

Adjunct professor Alan Kelly saw an opportunity to bring his students in the Charlotte Saturday MBA program a case that would not only challenge them, but also benefit a nonprofit organization with a worldwide impact on youth education and employment.

Kelly, the retired president of ExxonMobil fuels, lubricants, and specialties marketing, also serves as marketing chair for Junior Achievement Worldwide’s (JA) board, a nonprofit organization that delivers cutting-edge, experiential learning in financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship to more than 10 million students in more than 100 countries.

“What I wanted to do was create a scenario where you’re coming into a real live board room, and you’ve got 20 minutes to make your point,” Kelly said. He set a date for presentations and invited members of JA’s executive team, along with branding and marketing executives from agencies in the United States and England, to serve as judges.

“The business case challenged students to use our 100th anniversary as a galvanizing moment to elevate the brand,” said Asheesh Advani, JA Worldwide’s CEO, who served as one of the judges. “We like to say that JA is the world’s best-kept secret, probably because it’s tough for nonprofits to raise funds to invest in marketing. But Alan thought that the clever students at this university could help us make a difference.”

In addition to their presentations, several of the students served as JA volunteers while juggling their work, family, and MBA commitments.

“It was an opportunity for us to think about how we apply our business skills to something that’s a global issue,” said John Montana (MBA ’19), a second-year student.

“It was an opportunity for us to think about how we apply our business skills to something that’s a global issue,” said John Montana (MBA ’19), a second-year student.

Sue Burke-Lydon (MBA ’19) didn’t know anything about JA before the challenge, but once she started working with her teammates, she realized her 7th-grade daughter was a JA alumna, having participated in BizTown when she was in elementary school. “I think the biggest item that stood out to me is just how big the organization is and what the impact is worldwide,” she said. “It seems so strange that it’s a big secret because the programming is so good.”

Nine teams presented their recommendations to executive leadership on improving brand visibility and reach, modernizing the brand, harmonizing brand standards, leveraging the nonprofit’s upcoming centennial, and mobilizing the Junior Achievement alumni network. Ideas from the challenge were presented to the organization’s board of directors for integration into the global marketing plan.

Advani said he took pages of notes to bring back to the next board meeting. The organization is in the middle of a six-year strategic plan, with a refresh coming up in about a year. “This is the right time for us get some genuine feedback about the final phase of our plan,” Advani said. “We get the benefit of bright minds who are in a state of their careers where they are very creative and will help us push the envelope.”

Kelly enjoyed offering his marketing students real-world experience.

“We are in business because it’s a noble profession,” he said. “We believe we raise the tide. And when you raise the tide, more boats will float.”

Second-year student Matt Phelps (MBA ’19) said, “Our hopes for JA for the future are that they are able to claim their rightful position on the global stage as the force in youth employment and economic development.” His sentiments were echoed by many of his classmates, who said the project was not only a learning experience but a connection to the University’s Pro Humanitate motto.

“In the business school we talk about how you can do well as an organization, as a community, and also do a good job at the same time by providing an impact,” Montana said.

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