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BUS SCE Revised 2/2/17 1

DEPARTMENT OF BUSINESS MANAGEMENT

Senior Capstone Experience Guidelines 2017-18

Table of Contents

Overview ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 2

Business Plan Capstone ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 2

ABSTRACT ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 3

CHAPTER 1: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY …………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 3

CHAPTER 2: GENERAL COMPANY DESCRIPTION ………………………………………………………………………………… 3

CHAPTER 3: PRODUCTS AND SERVICES ………………………………………………………………………………………………. 3

CHAPTER 4: MARKET RESEARCH …………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 3

CHAPTER 5: MANAGEMENT AND ORGANIZATION ……………………………………………………………………………… 6

Special Topic Capstone ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 6

Strategy Capstone ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 7

ABSTRACT ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 7

CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 8

CHAPTER 2. ANALYZING THE INDUSTRY ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 8

CHAPTER 3. ANALYZING THE FIRM ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 10

CHAPTER 4. RECOMMENDATIONS ……………………………………………………………………………………………………… 13

Research Ethics …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 14

Managing Your Research ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 14

Charts, Images, and Supplementary Material …………………………………………………………………………………………………… 15

Draft Chapters …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 15

Final Chapters ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 15

Grading the Capstone …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 15

Writing Guidelines …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 19

DOCUMENT FORMAT: APA………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 19

STYLE DO’S AND DON’TS ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 20

General Timeline ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 21

APPENDIX A: Business Management Student Learning Objectives …………………………………………………………………. 22

APPENDIX B: Sample Cover Page ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 23 BUS SCE Revised 2/2/17 2

Overview

One of the defining elements of a Washington College education is the senior capstone (officially, the Senior Capstone Experience, SCE). The SCE in Business Management is an intensive individual project that requires extensive research, thoughtful analysis, and clear writing. There is no set length, but most capstones are at least 40 pages long (longer is not necessarily better). Because each student may choose (in consultation with a professor) his or her own capstone topic, the capstone gives you a chance to gain expertise and skills in an area of business or management of your choice, from marketing to finance to information systems.

Beyond research and knowledge, the capstone is an opportunity for you to exercise and display your thinking and communication skills—skills that are highly in demand from employers. A 2010 American Association of College and Universities survey found that 84% of business leaders want college students “to demonstrate a significant project before graduation, to demonstrate their depth of knowledge and a passion for a particular area, as well as their acquisition of broad analytical, problem solving, and communication skills.”

So the capstone is more than a graduation requirement: it’s one of the best ways to help you embark on a career.

Capstone tracks. There are three tracks for the senior capstone in Business Management: (1) the Business Plan

Capstone, (2) the Special Topic Capstone, and (3) the Strategy Capstone.

Course registration, grading and alignment with departmental student learning outcomes. The capstone counts as a course, BUS SCE. Students are enrolled in the 4-credit BUS SCE course in the senior year, usually in the final semester, by the Department Chair. The capstone receives a mark of Pass, Fail, or Honors. Grading is aligned with several Business Management student learning outcomes: managerial knowledge, critical thinking, communication skills, and ethical awareness. Global awareness is incorporated in all Strategy capstones and many other capstones depending on the nature of the topic chosen. Collaboration skills are not an element of the SCE.

Double majors. Most double-major Capstones will fall into the Business Management Department’s ‘special topic’ track (see below), which provides considerable flexibility in designing, researching, and writing the Capstone. The Department encourages double majors to write a single integrated Capstone that can be submitted for both majors. . When faced with timelines from two departments, students should expect earlier ones to take precedence. Double majors can only earn 4 total SCE credits, even if they write two Capstones.

Application and timeline. The first step in pursuing your Senior Capstone is to complete the SCE application form found at http://bit.ly/2j2k2sr. Please see the last page of this document for due dates.

Business Plan Capstone

Students interested in learning what goes into starting a business can get a head start on launching their own enterprises by writing a Business Plan capstone. Students interested in this track should take BUS 320

Entrepreneurship. It is also recommended but not required that students interested in the business plan track take

BUS 212 Managerial Accounting.

Students desiring to pursue this track must meet these initial eligibility criteria:

 WC GPA of at least 2.75

 BUS GPA of at least 3.00

 

Students interested in the Business Plan capstone will indicate their business idea on the SCE application and follow up by submitting a complete application a neat, well-written, double-spaced proposal that includes the following elements.

  1. a) the business idea (description of the products/services)
  2. b) pertinent current trends in the industry/business; growth potential
  3. c) description of your core competencies that will support the business
  4. d) description of what makes your idea/business unique

BUS SCE Revised 2/2/17 3

 

This track is limited to a maximum of 10 students who will be accepted based on the quality of their proposals. Students who are not accepted to write a business plan capstone will write a strategy capstone instead.

The purpose of business plans are to serve as a roadmap for the entrepreneur to follow in establishing his or her business, to determine if the proposed business will be profitable, to identify strategies to minimize risk, and to provide required information for applying for bank financing of the enterprise. The business plan will consist of the following sections:

BUSINESS PLAN

ABSTRACT

The abstract comes first but gets written last. It is a summary of what you did and what you found: your argument in a nutshell, in 150 to 250 words. The abstract is the only part of your capstone that most people will read if you choose to have the library archive your work, so write it with care.

BUSINESS PLAN

CHAPTER 1: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This section should be written next to last and not exceed two pages. It should include everything that would be covered in a brief interview with prospective financial backers:

 Name

 Location

 Description of product or services

 Target market statement

 Legal structure

 Differentiation from competition

 What does the future hold for your business or industry?

 Business goals: include measurable short term (1 year) and long term (3 year)

 

BUSINESS PLAN

CHAPTER 2: GENERAL COMPANY DESCRIPTION

This section examines the nature of your firm and the environment in which you will compete. It should include:

 Mission Statement

 Company goals: where do you want your company to be in one year, in two years?

 Company objectives: what are the progress markers to reach each goal? How will you know when you have reached each goal? How will you measure each goal?

 Business philosophy: what is important to you in the business?

 Describe your chosen industry.

 Describe your target market.

 What are your company core strengths and competencies?

 What will be the legal form of the business? Why did you select that form over other recognized forms?

 

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BUSINESS PLAN

CHAPTER 3: PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Describe in depth your products and/or services. What factors will give you competitive advantages or disadvantages? Include pricing, fees, leasing structure, etc.

BUSINESS PLAN

CHAPTER 4: MARKET RESEARCH

Include both primary and secondary research. Primary research consists of gathering your own data (ex. traffic count, focus groups); secondary research is gathered from published information (ex. demographic profiles, trade journals, literature review). Address the following elements. BUS SCE Revised 2/2/17 4

 

Economics. Facts about your industry.

 What size is your market?

 What present share will you have?

 What is the current demand in the target market?

 What are the current trends?

 Growth potential

 What barriers to entry will you face (ex. high capital costs, training/skills) and how do you overcome these barriers?

 

Products/Services. In your earlier description of products/services, you described your products and services as you see them. In this section, describe them from your customers’ point of view. For each product or service:

 Describe the most important features. What is special about the product/service?

 Describe the benefits. What will the product/service do for the customer?

 What after-the-sale services will you provide (ex. delivery, warranty, follow-up)?

 

Customer. Identify the most important groups and for each group, construct a profile that includes:

 Age

 Gender

 Location

 Income level

 Social class/occupation

 Education

 Other (specific to your industry)

 

For business customers, factors might include:

 Industry

 Location

 Size of firm

 Quality, technology, price preferences

 Other (specific to your industry)

 

Competition. What products/companies will compete with you? List your major competitors (provide names and addresses). How will your product/services compare with the competition? Include a short paragraph stating your competitive advantages.

Niche. In one short paragraph, define your niche, your unique corner of the market.

Strategy. Your marketing strategy should be consistent with your niche.

Promotion.

 How will you get the word out to potential customers?

 Advertising: what media, why and how often?

 What image do you want to project? What plan do you have for graphic image support (logo design, letterhead, brochures)?

 Should you have a system to identify repeat customers?

 

Promotional Budget. How much will you spend on items listed above before startup and on an ongoing basis?

Pricing. Explain your method of setting prices. Compare your prices with those of the competition. Are they higher, lower or the same? Why? What will be your customer service and credit policies?

Proposed Location.

 Is your location important to your customers? If yes, how?

 Is it convenient?

 Is it consistent with your image?

 Is it what your customers want and expect?

 Where is the competition located? Is it better to be near them or distant?

BUS SCE Revised 2/2/17 5

 

Distribution Channels. How will you sell your products or services?

 Retail

 Direct (web, mail order, catalog)

 Wholesale

 Your own sales force

 Agents

 Independent representatives

 Bid on contracts

 

Sales Forecast. Monthly projection based on historical data, marketing strategies you described, market research, and industry data. You may want to include a “best guess” scenario and a “worst case” scenario that you are confident you can reach no matter what happens.

Operational Plan. Explain the daily operation of the business, equipment, people, processes, and surrounding environment.

Production. Explain your methods of:

 Production techniques and costs

 Quality control

 Customer service

 Inventory control

 Product development

 

Location. What qualities will you need in a location? Describe the type of location you will have including physical requirements and access.

 Construction: costs and specifications

 Cost: rent, maintenance, utilities, insurance, initial remodeling

 What will your business hours be?

 

Legal Environment.

 Licensing and bonding requirements

 Permits

 Health, workplace and environmental regulations

 Special regulations covering your specific industry of profession

 Zoning or building code requirements

 Insurance coverage

 Trademarks, copyrights, patents

 

Personnel. Facts about your industry.

 Number of employees

 Type of labor (skilled, unskilled, professional)

 Where and how will you find the right employees?

 Pay structure and benefits

 Training methods and requirements

 Who does which tasks?

 Do you have a schedule and written procedures prepared?

 Have you drafted employee job descriptions for each position?

 For certain functions, will you use contract workers in addition to employees?

 

Inventory. What kind of inventory will you keep? Will you need seasonal buildups? Lead time for ordering?

Suppliers. Include names and addresses, type and amount of inventory furnished, credit and delivery policies, history and reliability

Credit Policies. Do you plan to sell on credit? Explain.

Financial. Prepare a start-up financial profile (monies needed to get the business going before you have sold anything). Include: BUS SCE Revised 2/2/17 6

 

 

 Cash – initial amount and sources

 Capital expenditures

 Debt incurred and projected repayment schedule

 Needed ongoing monies to meet fixed and variable expenses until the business begins to generate a profit

 Length of time you believe it will be until the business generates a profit: best and worst cases (be realistic)

 

Pro formas. Prepare 1 year, 2 year, and 3 year financial projections for the business including:

 Income statement

 Balance sheet

 Cash flow projection

 Debt reduction statement

 Additional anticipated capital expenses based on market/product expansion

 

BUSINESS PLAN

CHAPTER 5: MANAGEMENT AND ORGANIZATION

Who will manage the business day-to-day? What experience does that person bring to the business? If you will have more than ten employees, create an organization chart. Include position descriptions for each employee and function, and if you are seeking loans or investors, include a resume for key employees.

Professional and Advisory Support.

 Board of Directors

 Management Advisory Board

 Attorney

 Accountant

 Insurance Agent

 Banker

 Consultant as needed

 Mentors/Key advisors

 

Special Topic Capstone

The Special Topic capstone is a research-oriented project reflecting the student’s interests and collaboration between the student and faculty advisor. Topics might include an integrated capstone (for double majors), a series of interviews in a particular industry or career path, a research study of a selected business or management topic, or empirical research tied to presentation at an academic conference. Students desiring to pursue this track are encouraged to directly request a business management faculty member to serve as capstone advisor well before the SCE application due date.

Students desiring to pursue this track must meet these initial eligibility criteria:

 WC GPA of at least 2.75

 BUS GPA of at least 3.00

 

Students interested in the special topic capstone will indicate their topic on the SCE application and follow up by submitting a well-written, one-page project description along with an outline of chapters and a reference list consisting of at least three credible, preferably peer-reviewed, sources that provide background and insight into the topic chosen.

Final determination of the student being able to pursue this track will be made upon review of the proposal. Students who are not accepted to write a special topic capstone will write a strategy capstone instead. BUS SCE Revised 2/2/17 7

 

Strategy Capstone

The Strategy capstone is the most popular track. In it, each student makes an intensive study of the recent activities and business results of one publicly traded firm, studied in its competitive environment, its industry. The Strategy capstone provides an excellent synthesis of all the major elements comprising the business management major: facility with statistics and financial analysis, ability to read financial statements, understanding of key business areas like marketing, information systems, organizational structure and leadership, the legal environment, and strategic management.

The Strategy capstone presents research, analysis, and recommendations on a firm’s operations and strategy. In other words, in this capstone the student studies what a firm tries to do within its competitive environment, what it actually does, and how successful it is. There are restrictions on what firms may be chosen for the Strategy capstone. Firms must be publicly traded, to ensure there will be sufficient financial information available, and firms studied within the recent past may not be chosen.

Any business management major may pursue the Strategy capstone. You may request a particular faculty member to serve as capstone advisor; if you do not, an advisor will be assigned to you. However, it is required that in your SCE application, you submit your first three choices for the firm that you will study (be sure to select companies that are not on list of ineligible firms provided). Mrs. Christy Rowan, the department administrative assistant, will confirm which firm you will study; in the event that none of your choices are available, you will be required to submit two new choices. When choosing firms, it can be helpful to think first in terms of industry sectors that you find most interesting (and perhaps may be pursuing a career in) and then identify major players.

The first assignment for students pursuing Strategy capstones is to read your firm’s most recent annual report, concentrating on the written essay generally found at the beginning of the report, and skimming the rest of the report to identify financial and other information included. You will submit a written reflection of the information found in the annual report, identifying at least ten significant things you learned. For instance, you may learn who the firm considers to be its major competitors, or what market opportunities are thought to be most promising for the future.

The Strategy capstone is not a defense of the firm. Students researching a firm sometimes make the mistake of thinking they are an advocate for the firm. This is not an appropriate perspective. Your role is to be an independent, objective source of information for senior management and/or investors. If you see problems, it is your duty to point them out. In fact, in the world beyond college, courage in calling out underperforming companies is a valuable and sought-after quality in business analysts. More broadly, moral courage, which includes the willingness to point out difficult truths and rely on your own honest judgment, is one of the College’s and Department’s core values.

The intended audience for the Strategy capstone is the audience for any similar analysis of a firm and its industry: potential investors, either individuals or institutional investors. What do potential investors want to know, and what do they need to know, to make an informed investment decision about the firm? Similarly, if making recommendations for senior management, think in terms of what they need to know in order to improve the performance of the firm. Keep your intended audience in mind as you write your capstone.

The Strategy capstone draws primarily on research and analytic techniques students have learned over the course of the major. It draws on material in the core BUS courses: BUS 112 (reading financial statements), BUS 202 (marketing analysis), BUS 109 (or MAT 109) (managerial statistics), BUS 209 (analyzing financial data), BUS 210 (management information systems), BUS 302 (organizational dynamics and leadership), BUS 303 (legal environment of business), and BUS 401 (strategic management). In addition, good capstones should draw on knowledge gained from meeting the Global Learning requirement to view all of the above through an international perspective.

The Strategy capstone consists of four chapters, plus an abstract, references, and optional additional material.

STRATEGY CAPSTONE

ABSTRACT

The abstract comes first but gets written last. It is a summary of what you did and what you found: your argument in a nutshell, in 150 to 250 words. The abstract is the only part of your capstone that most people will read if you choose BUS SCE Revised 2/2/17 8

 

to have the library archive your work, so write it with care.

STRATEGY CAPSTONE

CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION

Chapter 1 tells the reader what you’re studying and provides useful information on how you did your research. Since

it provides an overview, you will write it when you’ve written the rest of the capstone.

Topic. What you studied. A Strategy capstone typically studies the past five years of a company’s operations within

its industry setting.

Assessment. How you define the firm’s strategic success. To gauge the effectiveness of your company’s generic and corporate strategies, you need a clear measure of assessment to apply against your company’s performance. Hard numbers like net profit, earnings per share, and market share tend to be the best bottom-line assessments, especially when put in comparative perspective. If you wish to use an alternative metric or technique, for instance, a balanced scorecard, please explain.

Methods. How you conducted research. What sources did you use? (SEC.gov, S&P, Hoover’s, business periodicals, etc.). Did you employ any unusual methods, like interviews or attending trade shows?

Industry Benchmark. The industry benchmark is the quantitative heart of your strategic analysis. It provides key data for measuring and evaluating the performance of the industry, and how your firm compares to its competitors. The point is that numbers without a basis for comparison don’t tell much, whereas a sensible comparison with relevant firms and a good benchmark provide lots of insight into a firm’s strategic success.

The benchmark consists of a weighted average (weighted by sales) of key firms in the industry (weights adjusted for each year of data). In particular, the benchmark will include the three or four competitor firms, as well as your chosen firm. The benchmark should be calculated over a four- or five-year period (four years is the minimum amount of data you need: to compute a three-year Compound Annual Growth Rate [CAGR], for instance, you need four years of data). Later on, when you compile these and other numbers, you probably won’t wish to display more than one, or sometimes two, decimal places. Your detailed financial ratio analysis, which draws on the benchmark, will occur in chapter 3. You should complete your benchmark data gathering by the fall deadline; this will give you more time in the spring to analyze your data.

Here, in this initial section in the first chapter, your job is simply to tell the reader how you constructed the benchmark. That means identifying the firms you chose. For each firm, you should include a short (20 to 50 words) snapshot that provides key business information, and helps make clear why you chose the firm. In addition, you should briefly describe the process of constructing the benchmark, drawing on and perhaps expanding the explanation above.

If you excluded any major competitors from the benchmark (for instance because it is a privately held company or its stock is not traded in the United States), explain why you did so.

Key Findings. A summary of your key findings and recommendations. A good plan is to provide a paragraph summary for each chapter, or you may make use of bullet points, if convenient.

STRATEGY CAPSTONE

CHAPTER 2. ANALYZING THE INDUSTRY

As you learn in BUS 401, there are two fundamental levels of strategic analysis: industry-level analysis and company-level analysis. In other words, business strategists and observers study a firm and its competitive environment. Chapter 2 explores the competitive environment in detail. This includes more than the industry itself—it covers everything in the firm’s environment that affects its operations, from the economy and politics to the physical environment, technology, and demographics. But the focus is the industry, and you are expected to develop a good understanding of the industry your firm is in.

Industry Background (SIC, NAICS, or GICS data; industry definition; history; current snapshot; recent changes or highlights) BUS SCE Revised 2/2/17 9

 

It is recommended that you include one or more snapshot or trend charts here to help make sense of the industry. These charts can quickly provide an understanding of key metrics like overall industry size, revenues, key competitors, and trends. There is no required chart, but it is likely that well-designed visual presentation of quantitative data will help you get your story off to a strong start with your reader.

Ethics and Current Events

A summary or selection of popular-press coverage over the past three to five years, with special attention to ethical issues. Choose topics that pertain to your key insights about the industry, rather than just a grab-bag. In strong capstones, the topics covered in this section relate to the key points about the industry and are woven into a narrative that organizes and clarifies the key points.

Stock Summary

One significant source of finance for publicly traded firms is the issuance of stock. Your research should include answers to the following questions for your firm and its benchmark competitors for the most recent year common to all firms for which data is available:

 What is each company’s stock trading symbol?

 Where is the stock listed?

 How many shares of common stock are outstanding?

 What is the market value of common equity?

 What’s the beta coefficient of the company stock?

 Did the company pay a dividend in the past year? If yes, what are the dividend yield and payout ratio?

 

Since this section on stock financials includes lots of numbers and not a lot of text, you may find it convenient to present this section as a table rather than as a written narrative.

Sales and Market Share Growth Rates

You’ll use benchmark data to construct sales and market share growth rates. For most firms, the most recent available data will follow this 3-year CAGR formula for sales:

(2016 revenue ÷ 2013 revenue)⅓ -1

PESTEL (or similar framework)

The PESTEL analytic framework encourages a strategic overview of external environment characteristics. It covers six analytic areas:

 Political analysis

 Economic analysis

 Sociocultural analysis

 Technological analysis

 Environmental analysis

 Legal analysis

 

You don’t have to follow this exact PESTEL format. As long as you cover these broad areas, you may organize this material as you wish. It’s common, for instance, to combine political and legal analysis.

Porter’s Five-Forces Model

Prof. Michael Porter’s famous five-forces model helps identify the forces that determine the basic competitive structure of an industry:

 Rivalry

 Threat of entry and exit barriers

 Supplier power

 Buyer power

 Threat of substitutes

 

Strategic Group Map

The Strategic Group Map is an optional element of the strategy capstone. It is a two-by-two graphical representation of industry competition, including your firm and key competitor firms. There is no one right way

to do a strategic group map. It is important to choose metrics for the x-axis and y-axis that help convey important competitive information about competition among these key firms. BUS SCE Revised 2/2/17 10

 

It is especially important to avoid choosing metrics for both axes that measure, directly or by proxy, size. If you do so for both axes, you’ll end up with a strategic group map or graph that slopes neatly at 45 degrees; this will most likely tell us nothing interesting about the industry or the firm. (Suggestion: For firms in an industry with global competition, one useful metric for the x-axis is often percent of sales outside of the United States.)

Summary

You should end up with a few key points about the company’s external environment. Since you should be repeating, for emphasis, points you’ve made earlier in the chapter, you don’t need to cite them as if they were

new information. We recommend that you organize your summary in terms of key opportunities and threats or

challenges facing companies in the industry. These will set the stage for the SWOT analysis you’ll present in

Chapter 4.

STRATEGY CAPSTONE

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CHAPTER 3. ANALYZING THE FIRM

Chapter 3 focuses on the firm itself. This includes the firm’s history, leadership, structure, and operations. (Style note: remember that a firm is singular, not plural. Don’t use “they” or “their” when talking about your company; use “it” and “its.”)

Company Background (history, vision and mission, highlights, snapshot of current operations, and key recent events). The background provides a quick, concise overview of the company’s history, key moments in its life, a snapshot of current operations (here’s a good place for a table that summarizes key numbers like sales, units sold, key markets, etc.), and key recent events, like a concise mention of a leadership change. The vision and mission are included here to capture the firm’s statement about what it does and how it does it; you will refer back to them in your analysis in subsequent sections of this chapter. This is really an introduction to chapter 3,

so your main job is to set up the rest of the discussion. It is likely that you’ll come back and rewrite this opening bit after you’ve written the rest of chapter 3.

Ethics and Current Events

A summary or selection of popular-press coverage over the past three to five years, with special attention to key

ethical issues. The topics you choose to cover should relate to your key points about the firm (you’ve already covered ethics and current events for the industry in general). In a good capstone, this should not be a random list of articles, but rather, a well-informed narrative. That means that you should read extensively, and pull out a few key issues, rather than listing many minor stories or events.

Now we get into the analytical heart of chapter 3. You’ll recognize that the following sections draw on topics and learning from previous classes in the major:

Organizational Analysis

This section provides information on the company’s organizational structure, leadership, and organizational culture.

Structure. What kind of organizational structure does the firm possess (functional, divisional, matrix, or something else)? How does the firm explain the logic of its organizational structure? Include a formal organizational chart showing the firm’s formal organizational structure.

Overall, is the firm’s structure typical of its industry? Has it recently reorganized or announced a reorganization? Is so, why? What was or is the strategic intention of the change?

What is the firm’s corporate governance structure (Board of Directors)? Provide an overall assessment of the board—its size, stability, and effectiveness. How does it compare to industry norms? Is its board viewed as effective by industry observers?

Have outsourcing, alliances, joint ventures, or informal partnerships with other firms, suppliers, or customers been strategically significant for the firm? If so, concisely describe them.

Leadership. How stable has senior leadership been in the years covered by your research? Who are the key executives? Provide snapshots of CEO, COO, CIO, and any other key senior executives who you determine play a significant role in guiding the company’s strategic operations. If the firm is facing a likely leadership change in the BUS SCE Revised 2/2/17 11

 

CEO position soon (within three years), what succession planning, if any, is being done?

Culture. Along with structure and leadership, culture helps hold organizations together. What kind of culture does this firm possess? Some firms may have extensive press coverage that sheds light on their culture, but for many firms there will not be very much news coverage of their culture. In such cases, useful sources of information within the firm are likely to be departments of Human Resources and Investor Relations. In addition, speeches by the CEO or other senior leaders may be good sources of information about the firm’s culture. Websites like Glassdoor.com provide rich if unverified sources of information on company cultures from an employee perspectives; as long as these are treated cautiously, they can shed a lot of light on what a company’s culture ‘really’ feels like to workers.

Here are key questions about your company’s culture you should consider: What are the firm’s core values as articulated by its vision or mission statement? How stable has the culture been? Is the organization’s culture similar to industry norms, or distinctive? Have there been recent changes or tensions about culture (especially likely in cases of merger and acquisition)? Keep in mind that what a firm claims as its formal, “espoused” values may not be exactly the same as what employees within the firm perceive as the daily reality. Ideally, your job as an analyst is to try to look beyond the “espoused” surface and see more deeply into the heart of the organization you are studying. Summing up this analysis, do you think its culture is a distinctive strength, or a weakness?

Marketing Analysis

Use the four P’s of marketing (product, place, price, and promotion) to assess the company’s marketing performance. Note: If the firm you are studying is a conglomerate with products in different markets (as will be the case for many firms studied in strategy capstones), with different approaches to marketing for different products and product lines, it is suggested that you pick one product area and focus on it. If you do so, please

note this so your reader understands what you’re doing.

A purely narrative discussion is not acceptable: select useful quantitative measures to buttress your analysis of these specific points:

 Has the company segmented the market? If so, how? Why? Multiple segments? Are the segments growing? Contracting? Stable?

Product: What is the product, really? Who buys it? Does the product possess brand equity?

Place: What are the distribution channels? Direct to consumer? Opportunity for new channels by your company? By a competitor? Multiple channels? Who has the channel power? Retailer? Manufacturer?

Price: Skimming? Penetration? Value? Low? High? Differential?

Promotion: What is the unique selling proposition (USP)? Brand promise? Channels?

 

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Management Information Systems Analysis

This section provides an understanding of information systems key to the firm’s success. Management information systems is defined as the ethical use of information systems to help organizations achieve their goals and objectives.

Which corporate goals and objectives are supported by the firm’s use of information systems? Does the use of information technology reflect the firm’s vision, culture and ethics? How does the firm distribute power among stakeholders through the use of information systems?

What are the key business processes within the firm? For these key business processes, what transactional systems (such as ERP) does the firm employ? Does the firm compete on analytics as well as on operations? How does the firm use analytics as a competitive tool?

Since information systems are internal to the corporation, it may be difficult to obtain this information. One way to peer into the inner workings of the firm is to look at job postings for information systems positions on sites such as Monster.com; many times these postings, will reveal which systems the firm uses, giving you a starting point for your research. High-profile firms may also be used as case studies by information systems firms promoting their technology products and services.

Financial Analysis

The section on financial analysis is one of the most challenging—and important—parts of the strategy capstone.

First, you must gather extensive amounts of financial information and derive pertinent ratios that help tell the story of BUS SCE Revised 2/2/17 12

 

your company. Second, you must think about how best to present that information to help your reader gain insight. Third, you must analyze and reflect on this extensive amount of information to draw key lessons about your firm’s successes and challenges, as compared to its industry benchmark. Your analysis should include graphs and charts as appropriate, showing how the firm’s financial performance compares to the benchmark (your designated proxy for the industry average); a company’s financials by themselves, without the context of competitive comparison, don’t carry much meaning.

In some instances, your analysis may be complicated by anomalies or data gaps, where a corporate merger or privatization or other one-time event makes gathering data complicated or even impossible. There are no easy rules about how to deal with these complications: expect to consult with your faculty advisor on how to handle problematic cases.

Financial Ratios: Using your weighted benchmark, compare company performance to benchmark ratios over a four- or five-year period. Ratio analysis should include these elements, where pertinent:

  1. Liquidity Ratios: These ratios measure the firm’s ability to pay off its short-term debt.

 Current Ratio = Current assets/Current liabilities

 Quick (Acid-Test) Ratio = (Current assets – Inventory)/Current liabilities

 

  1. Activity Ratios: These ratios measure the firm’s ability to use its assets to generate sales.

 Total Asset Turnover = Sales/Average total assets

 Inventory Turnover = Cost of goods sold/Average inventory

 

  1. Debt Ratios: These ratios measure the firm’s ability to raise and pay off long-term debts.

 Debt Ratio = Total debts/Total assets

 Equity Multiplier = Total assets/Total equity

 TIE (Times interest earned) Ratio=EBIT (Earnings before interest and taxes)/Interest

 

  1. Profitability Ratios: These ratios measure the firm’s ability to generate profits.

 Net Profit Margin = Net income/Sales

 ROE = Net income/Total equity

 For firms that produce and/or sell a tangible product, it’s also useful to compare gross profit margin, operating margin, and net profit margin.

 

  1. DuPont Identity: The DuPont Identity analyzes ROE as a product of three other ratios identified above: operating efficiency (Net Profit Margin), asset use efficiency (Total Asset Turnover), and financial leverage (Equity Multiplier). The DuPont Identity is expressed like this:

ROE = Net Profit Margin × Total Asset Turnover × Equity Multiplier

Use the DuPont Identity to analyze how the ROE of your company has been affected by its three components over the past three to five years.

Critical Reflection: Along with presenting your ratio data in the form of tables and/or charts, you are expected to analyze and reflect on what story or stories the ratios tell, to shed light on the financial and strategic situation of your particular firm. After presenting and discussing your ratios one by one, you should step back to consider three big questions at the close of this section on financial ratios:

 Has the company’s financial performance been good or bad?

 Is its financial position sufficient to fulfill its mission and goals?

 How does its financial position compare with industry benchmarks?

 

Concisely justify your answers to these questions.

Business (Generic) Strategy

Identify the firm’s chief business (sometimes called generic) strategy for its lead products. How stable has this strategy been? Compare the company’s generic strategy with industry norms, and assess its effectiveness. Note: you should tie this effectiveness of the firm’s generic strategy to the success measure presented in chapter 1. This helps tie your analysis together. In practice, since you’ll write chapter 1 after you’ve worked up the analysis here, that means that BUS SCE Revised 2/2/17 13

 

your analysis of the generic strategy here will help you select an appropriate success measure in chapter 1.

Corporate Strategy

Corporate strategy is often misunderstood, and a good capstone will distinguish itself by getting corporate strategy right. Corporate strategy is different from business strategy, which centers on how to do one thing really well. Firms that only do one thing (for example, Living Essentials, which makes and markets the 5-Hour Energy brand) don’t face the challenges of diversification, and thus of corporate level strategy. But most publicly traded firms studied in strategy capstones have become complex and diversified enough that they do face the challenge of corporate strategy.

A firm’s corporate strategy refers to how to do many things in an optimal fashion. As successful firms grow, they tend to diversify—entering new markets, taking on new activities, and facing new choices about how to allocate resources. Corporate strategy refers to this juggling act, the challenge of making decisions about what portfolio of assets to hold.

If this is relevant to your firm, identify its corporate strategy or strategies. How does its approach compare to industry norms? How stable and effective has its corporate strategy been? What kinds of acquisitions has it made, and have they been effective? What is likely to lie ahead?

Summary

You should end up with a few key points about the company’s operations. Since you should be repeating, for emphasis, points you’ve made earlier in the chapter, you don’t need to cite them as if they were new information. We recommend that you organize your summary in terms of the firm’s key strengths and weaknesses. These will set the stage for the SWOT analysis you’ll present in Chapter 4.

STRATEGY CAPSTONE

CHAPTER 4. RECOMMENDATIONS

Chapter 4 begins by summarizing your research in a SWOT analysis, then looks to the future.

SWOT Analysis

SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) is a powerful clarifying tool for strategic analysis. And the good news is that you’ve already done the analysis! At the end of Chapter 2 you presented key opportunities and threats in the company’s external environment. At the end of Chapter 3 you presented the firm’s key strengths and weaknesses. All you have to do now is put them together in a simple two-by-two matrix, like this: Positive Negative
Internal Strengths Weaknesses
External Opportunities Threats

 

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