For many organizations, business as usual was no longer an option after COVID-19 hit. Instead, they had to find new ways to adapt or risk closing down operations altogether. But thanks to the HBA/MBA Ivey Field Project (IFP) and the MSc Business Project (BP), organizations from a wide range of industries were helped through professional consulting services from students who were supervised by an Ivey faculty member and mentored by a seasoned executive. As a result, they’ve found ways to survive or even thrive in this new environment. Here’s a look at how two Canadian organizations recently benefited from the work of Ivey students.
Prior to the pandemic, Dane Chauvel, MBA ’84, CEO and Co-Founder of Organic Ocean, had a successful business supplying sustainably harvested all-natural seafood to the world’s top chefs at restaurants and hotels. But by March 2020, COVID-19 had forced many restaurants, particularly high-end fine dining, to hibernate or significantly scale back operations and Organic Ocean lost its market.
Chauvel had previously considered creating a retail consumer strategy and decided it was time to execute the idea as quickly as possible. Within two weeks, he launched an online fish market using an e-commerce platform and began offering next-day delivery of fresh seafood via trucks to consumers in the Greater Vancouver area where the company is based. Although the pivot was originally intended to keep the organization afloat until the world returned to normal, Chauvel said the new consumer business showed great potential and he wanted to expand it. But to do so, he would need to explore different shipping transportation logistics options to find one that was economically viable, environmentally friendly, and socially responsible. Additionally, he’d need to build digital marketing and social media strategies to reach new customers.
“We had identified this growth engine. We just didn’t have a good grasp of what to do or how to exploit it,” he said.
He was considering how to tackle those challenges last summer when he was approached by two Ivey student teams, one from the MBA program and another from the HBA program. The student teams were interested in providing strategic consulting for Organic Ocean through the Ivey Field Project. He took them up on their offers and the student teams worked with him on their consulting projects between September and December 2020.
“We lacked human resources and we lacked capital so I said, ‘If you want a challenge, here you go,’” said Chauvel. “I was also interested to see how two separate teams from different programs at the same business school would approach the problem.”
Chauvel said both teams provided useful insights, each in different ways. While the MBA team focused more on the operational issues, the HBA team looked at who Organic Ocean should target and how, even doing focus groups with existing customers on their buying behaviour.
Thanks to the recommendations of the student teams, in January, Chauvel was able to expand the consumer business to provide next-day shipping of seafood via FedEx to many locations in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan.
“The students should take great pride in what they contributed to the initiative … We turned lemons into lemonade,” he said. “It was also a symbiotic experience. Our business benefited significantly from their efforts and they were getting an education that they probably wouldn’t have had under any other circumstances … This was a real-world situation and their work would determine the success or failure of the strategy.”
Nick Lindley-Peart, an Engineering/HBA ’22 candidate, was the lead of the HBA team. The team also included Jessica Hu and Shairi Islam, both HBA ’21 candidates; Tiffany Liu, a Medical Science/HBA ’21 candidate; Brodie Nauss, an Engineering/HBA ’22 candidate; and Komal Patel, a Medical Science/HBA ’22 candidate. Lindley-Peart said the team was interested in working with Organic Ocean because the students are passionate about sustainability and were intrigued by the business model. But the chance to work on a real-life problem of such importance trumped all.
“We thought the challenge was so dynamic and real that it would be a really fascinating project. We really wanted our project to matter for the client and know our analysis and solutions could impact the whole strategy and business model,” he said. “We’re so proud of the work we’ve done and of Organic Ocean. We’re happy it’s working out for them and excited to see where they go.”
“The students should take great pride in what they contributed to the initiative … We turned lemons into lemonade.”
—Dane Chauvel, MBA ’84, CEO and Co-Founder of Organic Ocean
When the pandemic hit, CCM Hockey, one of the world’s largest hockey equipment manufacturers, was forced to put its digital transformation and diversification strategy plans into overdrive. With declining hockey player enrolment across Canada, the company sees its less-known soft-good division (branded/lifestyle apparel, gamewear, accessories, etc.) as critical to its future sales growth and resilience. Coupled with plans to launch a direct-to-consumer website, CCM Hockey needed to first identify market opportunities for soft goods. The company was working on this initiative last summer when a team of Ivey students approached the CEO to ask if CCM Hockey could be the focus of the students’ Ivey Field Project. Julien Lefebvre, Manager of Strategy & Analytics with CCM Hockey, said the company had worked with a student team through the Ivey Field Project a few years prior with good results so agreed to participate in the fall 2020 program, which ran from September to December.
“We were super satisfied with the output back then so when Ivey students came knocking again, we were more than happy to take them on,” he said.
For their project, the students were tasked with analyzing CCM Hockey’s entire soft-goods product offering to determine which styles/SKUs were strong performers and which ones the company might consider eliminating. They also surveyed consumers and retailers in the market in an attempt to identify new growth opportunities for CCM Hockey’s branded/lifestyle apparel products.
Lefebvre said the students identified that the company might be potentially losing sales because it didn’t hold enough inventory on various apparel products. They recommended increasing that inventory, while also reducing non-performing products/inventory.
“They helped us to create a leaner, more profitable product offering. The data and insights they provided helped us to make some catalogue decisions that will be implemented this year,” he said. “I would definitely recommend all businesses take advantage of the program. It’s like getting a brand new team of talented analysts. You can put these young minds to work on real challenges that we often don’t have time to tackle ourselves due to resource constraints.”
James Silva, an HBA ’21 candidate, was the lead of the team. The team also included Leah Barro, Rahina Damji, Alexander Demopoulos, Zachary Francis, and Dea Singh, all HBA ’21 candidates. Although the initial appeal to work with CCM Hockey was because a few of the team members play hockey, Silva said the company stood out from others considered because it is large and the project would have a big impact. And even though it is a large company, Silva said the students were offered access to all members of the CCM team, from salespeople to representatives from upper management.
“CCM Hockey was an incredible client. They opened their arms and gave us full run and access to anything we needed. Everyone was very supportive and wanted to see us succeed,” he said. “It was super rewarding to be able to take an unstructured challenge and create structure with it and then provide some sort of solution.”
“It’s like getting a brand new team of talented analysts. You can put these young minds to work on real challenges.”
—Julien Lefebvre, Manager of Strategy & Analytics, CCM Hockey
Apply to work with a student team through the Ivey Field Project
Organizations can apply online between May 1 and August 10 to participate in the next edition of the Ivey Field Project. HBA and MBA teams will work on projects between September and December 2021. For more information, visit the Ivey Field Project website.