Tackling a Global Consulting Project Amid the Pandemic

During Spring Quarter of 2021, five Foster graduate students had the opportunity to provide consulting services for PepsiCo Latin America (LatAm) through a partnership between Foster’s Global Business Center (GBC) and the Strategic Consulting Program. Amrita Chopra (MSCM ’21), Geethapriya Kumaraguru (MSCM ’21), Tyler Sterling (MBA ’21), Spencer Wang (MBA ’22), and Whitney Wood (MBA ’23) teamed up to tackle a pressing issue facing PepsiCo LatAm: how to leverage their know-how, network, and capacity, primarily in Brazil, to increase their impact.

The GBC checked in with Tyler Sterling, after the project was complete, to get his feedback on the experience and gain insight on the value of tackling global consulting projects, even in the midst of a pandemic.

GBC: What did you expect going into this experience?

TS: Going into this experience, I think my 4 teammates and I believed we would hit the ground running and the project would go smoothly from the beginning. But as with every project, there were bumps all along the way. It was a good reminder of how important communication and patience are whenever working closely with the customer and how empathy and a growth mindset are what carries a team to success.

GBC: What surprised you by the experience?

TS: I’m not sure why this surprised me but I thought going into this project that we, as a team, were good communicators. However, I was reminded that individuals can never over communicate with their customers—whether clarifying the problem, proposing new solutions, or making clear what the action items were in our meetings. Occasionally, we found ourselves feeling frustrated but when the project was completed, we were able to take a step back and evaluate where we could have improved. Ultimately, we decided that g communication would be a key area of focus for future projects.

GBC: How do you think the virtual environment impacted your experience?

TS: I didn’t feel working in a virtual environment, because of COVID, affected anything with our project differently since this was a multi-national effort. Regardless of COVID we would have been working virtually. There were PepsiCo LatAm employees or associates in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and Peru we worked with throughout the quarter. But the complexities of working across multiple cultures, languages, and borders did demand more flexibility and patience from both us and our customer.

GBC: Would you recommend this experience to other Foster MBAs?

If you are looking for exposure to a professional field in which you have little to no experience, I would highly recommend participating in the Strategic Consulting Program. Or, if you love to problem solve or have a desire to increase your Foster and professional network, this would be a great program to consider.

GBC: What was the most valuable takeaway from this experience?

TS: My most valuable takeaway has been the value in teamwork—learning when to rely on one another and when to pull your own weight. Just days before the end of the project, we were warned by our customer that we were ill prepared to present to the VP’s at PepsiCo. But within those few days, we revamped our final presentation containing our proposed solutions and ended up presenting them in a much more engaging way. In the end, we delighted our customer and they have expressed interest in continuing their relationship with Foster and working with another MBA team to gain further insights into solutions for PepsiCo’s future growth.

GBC: Did you feel as though this experience helped you to further develop your executive presence as a professional?

TS: Working with a large company such as PepsiCo LatAm required each of us to bring our best selves to the table everyday. Understanding that the effects of our findings could significantly affect PepsiCo’s bottom line pushed us to develop ourselves professionally and I believe accelerated our executive presence. When you interact with individuals who make critical decisions for a company everyday, you want to be sure they trust you from the very beginning. As a consultant, you are there to complement, listen to and aggrandize your client. As in the words of Dale Carnegie, “If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive.”

GBC: By working on this project, what did you learn (or what are your key takeaways) about engaging in global business and/or business in LatAm?

TS: Several key takeaways come to mind with regards to doing global business and doing business in Latin America:

    • Experiencing language and cultural barriers is inevitable. Any individual working across borders must not just be aware of the cultural differences of their client but also the differences they themselves bring to the table. Differences can either be frustrating or they can be reason to try harder to understand one another and be used as a synergistic energy.
    • You are always going to run into unforeseen obstacles and speed bumps. This means one must learn to be adaptable. Coming up with a plan during the beginning stages with the client for how you will work through obstacles is crucial. We didn’t do the best at this but hopefully as my teammates and I move forward and upward in our careers, we can remember this important lesson!
    • Conducting global business requires the utmost professionalism and clear communication. There are a lot of social queues missed in a digital call. Make sure that each of the action items and who they are assigned to from each meeting are clearly summarized at the end of each meeting and then followed up with a written communication.
    • Showing up virtually again and again can require more energy than if meeting in person. “Zoom fatigue” is real!
    • The challenge of working with different cultures across several borders and sometimes even on different continents is fun! Don’t get lost in the discouragements, disappointments and setbacks. Recognize the great opportunity you have in front of you and enjoy it.

GBC: How do you think this experience will contribute to your career goals?

TS: As I continue my career search, this experience has certainly given me valuable experience working together with a customer and delivering something to them that is tangible and is a solution that hasn’t previously been considered. It will give me a great talking point in interviews of how we worked as a team to implement critical feedback in a way that resulted in our ability to confidently present our innovative solutions. These solutions will help PepsiCo further serve their community and grow as a company – a sentiment that was shared by PepsiCo leadership at the end of our final presentation.

Congratulations to Whitney, Spencer, Amrita, Geetha and Tyler for a job well done. If a global consulting project sounds like something you’d be interested in, reach out to the MBA Strategic Consulting office at [email protected], or apply for the Global Business Center’s Global Consulting Project: Japan.

This program was made possible with support from the U.S. Department of Education Centers for International Business and Education Program.