The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and the Performing Arts was looking, in a sense, to change its tune. The Fox School of Business’ equivalent of the Fab Four helped the organization do just that.
Four students nearing completion of their MBA programs in Spring 2016 – Prince Ebo, Meco Sparks, Jim Shovlin, and Tom Finnerty – used their capstone project within the renowned Fox Management Consulting practice to develop a strategic plan for the 50-year-old organization. And the plan, said Anne Edmunds, the Clef Club’s strategic advisor, has been “transforming.”
“At the start of the process, the Philadelphia Clef Club did not have a clear direction and strategic planning process,” she said. “The mission became clear. The direction became clear.”
Because of the plan, the organization’s leadership has been galvanized. Partnerships have been formed between the club and the School District of Philadelphia, as well as other local musical organizations. And perhaps most importantly, fundraising has been ramped up.
Within the Fox Management Consulting (Fox MC) practice, students apply, integrate, and demonstrate business training by delivering professional-grade strategic solutions to paying clients. For the clients, who stem from the private, public, and social sectors both locally and globally, Fox MC offers unmatched cost-effective, research-based consulting.
“It’s the interface between business school and the business world,” said Dr. TL Hill, Academic Director of the Fox Global MBA program. “We’ve conducted more than 300 projects, and in each case, we’re always looking to solve a strategic problem, and provide a business solution for the client and live, experiential learning for our students.”
The Clef Club, described by project executive Omar Woodard as “a jewel of the community,” began in 1966 as a trade union for African-American musicians denied access to other unions – Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane have been among its members — and later branched out into performances and music education.
Edmunds, who runs her own consulting firm, did an initial assessment of the organization in 2014.
“I found they were not fundraising,” she said. “They were trying to be self-sufficient, living on earned income. They were getting themselves in debt, trying to work day to day.”
The four students in question knew little about the club before delving into the project, much less its plight. But Dave Nash, Fox Management Consulting’s Director of Operations and an Assistant Professor of Strategic Management, circulated an email in December 2015 about a potential project involving the organization, and it caught Ebo’s eye.
“I’m a big music fan,” said Ebo, who grew up in West Philadelphia and is the son of Nigerian immigrants. “I said, ‘Why not apply my business knowledge to this special organization?’ ”
Truth be told, he had been preparing for the capstone project from the moment he began studying toward his MBA three years earlier. He remembered being told during orientation that it was imperative to assemble a strong team, and he took that to heart.
He and Sparks, who had several classes together, were the first to cross paths.
“We realized we clicked as far as our work styles,” he said. “We both agreed that we have to come up with a dream team.”
He was left with a positive impression of Shovlin after the two had teamed on a project in a finance class one summer. And Shovlin, who had shared some classes with Finnerty, felt he too would be a good fit. The die was cast. Ebo took on the role of project manager. Sparks specialized in marketing and branding. Finnerty was the self-described “finance guy.” Shovlin zeroed in on strategic planning, though Finnerty also thought his big-picture thinking was invaluable.
“He would step up to the white board and draw things out (during meetings),” Finnerty said of Shovlin. “He did a fantastic job of tying together all of our ideas.”
It proved to be a tight-knit team. Everybody pulled his or her weight. Dissension was never an issue. And momentum quickly built.
“I don’t know how we ended up being so lucky,” Ebo said. “There was too much laughter and good times. It worked out perfectly.”
The task was daunting, though.
“Basically it was trying to do two full-time jobs at once,” Sparks said. “We promised the moon and the stars, and we had to deliver. That was the biggest challenge.”
All four continued working their day jobs. Ebo is the manager of Neighborhood Business Development Strategies for the City of Philadelphia, Sparks a marketing manager at Delaware Investments, Shovlin a corporate real estate manager at Johnson & Johnson and Finnerty the procurement manager at PBF Energy.
None of that stopped them from doing the necessary legwork for the project.
“Our goal was to dive as deep as we should,” Shovlin said. “We wanted to make sure to cover all the key components and not overlook anything.”
By semester’s end they presented a 60-page report to the club’s 11-member board, along with an executive summary, a detailed financial model and a calculator (produced by Finnerty, of course) that would enable the club to price things correctly.
“It stood out as an incredibly thorough job,” Woodard said.
And for the students, an enjoyable one. That was particularly true in Sparks’ case, since she remains a marketing consultant to the Clef Club, but it extended to the rest of the dream team as well.
“Working with a nonprofit was something I wanted to do,” Finnerty said, “not only as a resume-builder but from a mission standpoint. I feel like I did something good that semester. I miss it somewhat. My wife, not so much.”