Intensive Deal-Making Course Fills a Need for Eager Entrepreneurs
Let’s make a deal! That’s what entrepreneurial-minded students at the Whitman School were asking for, as they were eager to sharpen their deal-making skills in the business world. The call did not go unanswered. Last October, John Torrens, professor of entrepreneurial practice at the Whitman School, collaborated with Alexander McKelvie, associate dean for undergraduate and master’s education and chair of the Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises Department, to create a one-week, 40-hour course to help students become expert dealmakers. This past January, more than 35 students signed up to hone their deal-making skills in this inaugural course offering.
“We realized the idea of deal-making at an entrepreneurial level was a need among our students.” - John Torrens, professor of entrepreneurial practice
Every morning, the class would start with a lecture or negotiation exercise. In the afternoons, students would hear from alumni guest speakers from companies like Synchrony Financial and the financial services firm PwC. Hal Fetner ’83, president and CEO of Fetner Properties, the recipient of Whitman’s 2018 Holtz Alumnus of the Year Award and a recently-appointed Syracuse University Trustee, also spoke to the class.
The negotiation exercises were often related to the guest speakers. For example, one of the exercises asked the students to negotiate with a theater on behalf of a theater production company, thus the guest speaker for that day was a Broadway producer, Suzanne Gilad. Later that night, the class attended the producer’s play.
Over the course of the week, students participated in a mini-capstone based on the red paper clip exercise, where Canadian blogger Kyle MacDonald documented his experience trading a red paper clip for an item of greater value until, over the course of a year, he had traded his collected items up for a house.
“The goal was to turn aspiring managers into experienced deal-makers,” Torrens said.
Students were required to start with a red paper clip, just as MacDonald did, and make at least one trade per day. After the five-day course, the students presented on what they acquired through their trades. The students continued to trade through the month of March and then presented some of the unusual things they received. While no one was lucky enough to get a house, it was interesting to see what a red paper clip and some newfound deal-making skills were able to acquire.
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