David Elster I strolled into my first capstone client meeting with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) with what can only be described as “second year swagger.” However, after this meeting with Steven Cooley, Divisional Vice President of Strategic Market Research at BCBSIL, my hubris had been replaced with humility. I had definitely underestimated how challenging this project would be. My partner and I were tasked with conducting “research on research,” focusing on a narrow segment of an industry that neither my partner nor I had experience in. The final deliverable would be a 40-page technical white paper.

Rather than letting the gravity of the effort completely overwhelm me, I began conducting research for the project. I scoured the internet, books, and academic journals, while intermittently conferring with other MBA students. After tapping into all of these resources, the learning curve still seemed insurmountable. In what seemed like a last-ditch effort, I leafed through archived projects that former students had completed for this same client. To my surprise, I discovered the most valuable piece of information during the process of dusting off these old documents. Perhaps even more surprising, was the fact that the major discovery was not content for the paper, but rather who previous students has cited in the “Acknowledgments” sections. While it seems obvious in hindsight, it was the discovery that my best resources for this research were alumni of the UW A.C. Nielsen Center as well as members of my external advisory board that gave me the jumpstart I needed to start making real progress.

From that point forward, the finish line was in sight. Upon compiling a veritable “VIP” list of esteemed board members as well as other industry and methodological experts, we began setting up expert interviews. Each meeting added unique and incremental value to the research. Because of this support, we developed our central hypotheses and found a supplier for our proof of concept. By the end of the project, we conducted 15-20 expert interviews with (among others) VPs, Presidents, and methodological experts.

In addition to the unparalleled “external” expert help, our client—Steve Cooley—generously donated 20-30 hours of sage wisdom and clarity in the form of weekly discussions as well as written white paper feedback. In the classroom, fellow second year students—our favorite harshest critics—provided unfiltered feedback and motivated us to consider new solutions to problems.

Because of this capstone consulting experience, I was challenged to search for answers outside of a textbook. In my last months in graduate school, I was reminded that 99% of the time, my best work is not accomplished in a vacuum; it benefits from many eyes and diverse perspectives. While I will not have the same privileged access to so many expert marketing researchers when I start my full-time job, because of this class, I was reminded of the importance of reaching out to my connections. I am especially grateful for the willingness of my peers, alumni, and board members to go the extra mile in lending guidance to an MBA Badger in need.