In today’s global economy, there’s nothing unusual about consultants placing a Skype call to Shanghai at 3 a.m. from Long Island or gathering in their Brookville office for a 10 p.m. meeting with a client who has just flown in from Portugal. What made the environment exceptional for these recent meetings was that the people arranging them were all college students.
They are part of a program called LIU-iQ Consulting at LIU Post, through which student consultants meet weekly with local and international companies to discuss projects like financial forecasts, branding, marketing strategy and regional expansion.
The consulting program was established at the Brookville campus in 2015. To date, there have been close to 50 projects, about 10 a semester, each involving six to seven students. They have worked with U.S.-based businesses including Empire National Bank, eParel, Blackman Plumbing, Institutional Investor and Bayside Brewery, as well as overseas companies such as Wileyfox in London, the Vision Group in Brazil and Dongkang Medical Center in South Korea.
The students aren’t paid but get college credit and valuable real-world experience. The companies pay the school an average consulting fee of $20,000 per project; the fees go into a restricted fund that pays for student travel to meet with international clients.
The program is managed by three deans in the College of Management who have backgrounds in the financial industry: dean Robert Valli and assistant deans Graziela Fusaro and Ray Pullaro. According to Valli, who directed a similar program at the University of Illinois, the importance of LIU-iQ is that it connects learning in the classroom to what is required of graduates when they start working in the corporate world.
Pullaro said that can mean “helping a company bring an existing product into a new market, thinking about what new products or services they want to offer for the first time, or doing a valuation for a new company that wants to try to raise money.”
Fusaro identifies those as the hard skills that increase students’ employability. “We also teach them soft skills, which are about managing people. They have to learn how to manage the client relationship to make it productive.”
A buzzword for the program is agility, something 19-year-old Zeynep Atabay, an international business major, learned while working on a project this semester with a $1.3 million company.
“Our team is in direct contact with the CFO, and we presented in front of the CEO, and it all required a lot of research,” she said. “Our team ended up changing the scope of our project, because we found out that this company needed a little more help in a certain area.”
Adds finance major Natalia Schaefer, 20: “Being able to identify the client’s personality, the ones who want to be part of everything and the others who want to know just what they need to, and being able to change your tactics mid-meeting is important. As students dealing with professors, the experience is very hands-on, but with clients when you’re not getting feedback you have to go with your gut. That’s the real world, where no one will hold your hand.”
During their first semester in the program, students have a domestic project. Just as in the real world, they sign a nondisclosure agreement with the client. They work through Fusaro’s three-credit class, in which they learn skills such as how to prepare a PowerPoint presentation and do financial modeling. In the second semester students can do a project abroad through International Consulting Network (ICON), which is a partnership with seven other universities that ends with a one-week conference in the country where the company is based. These trips are fully funded by the consulting fees collected from clients.
Kevin Schiesz, CEO and co-founder of eParel, was a client in the first cohort of LIU-iQ Consulting. Through his brand, Bib & Tucker, the company provides an online platform where managers of businesses in the service industry can assemble work uniforms for their employees.
Schiesz said the students “played a crucial role in helping us navigate the complex process of applying to the Start-Up New York program,” which offers companies tax incentives. “That included writing marketing materials, bookkeeping and even fashion merchandising, a program they have at LIU. The team conducted and issued a valuation using a discounted cash flow model, and reconstructed our pitch deck for possible investors.” At the same time, “the students got enlightening experience about entrepreneurship,” he said.
eParel was accepted into the program and is now located in the Start-Up NY zone on the LIU Post campus.
William Franz, senior vice president and director of marketing and investor relations for Empire National Bank in Islandia, found the experience to be collaborative when his company connected with its student team in 2016.
“We gave them a query tool that helped them with their research of different financial metrics to come up with a competitive analysis and how it would work for us. As a result of the discussions we had on the project, we took a deeper dive into some areas we had not been doing business in, SBA loans and also entering into jumbo mortgages,” he said.
These experiences tend to put LIU-iQ students at an advantage in the job market, Valli said. “We don’t have a single student who has graduated without a job offer. When they go to an interview, they can compete against Ivy League students because they can articulate a story where they identified a problem, took an action, showed they can work as a teammate, show evidence-based results and come up with solutions, whether right or wrong. Being able to show that logical progression is what an employer looks for.”
That’s what happened for Adam Bhatti, 23, of Ronkonkoma, who graduated from LIU in 2016 with a business administration degree. As a student, he was a consultant on the eParel project, experience he said was key when, before graduation, he was interviewed at the market research company NPD Group in Port Washington for an entry-level training program. He said that because he was comfortable talking to clients and making presentations, he was instead interviewed for the position he really wanted, account associate in financial services. “I essentially started a year ahead of schedule in my professional life.”
AT A GLANCE
Program: LIU-iQ Consulting at LIU Post
Launched: Fall 2015
Number of students who’ve participated: About 200
Total projects to date: About 50
Average consulting fee: $20,000
Locations of other universities in the International Consulting Network: Chicago, South Korea, Israel, Sweden, Switzerland, Mexico, China