“I really love the idea of knowing, learning, and being amongst the generations that are coming after me,” says Susan Heinzeroth, founder and CEO of SageRiver Consulting. “I want to help students understand the leadership challenges that they’re going to face and influence a way of thinking about addressing those challenges.” Susan Heinzeroth, also a CU Denver Alumni, has come full circle, she provides a unique experience for the next generation of MBA students.

“There are few professors that really, truly, are there to help outside of class or office hours, Susan is one of them,” says Dustin Matsen, MBA alumni.

MBA creates connections and credentials

Susan was among the CU Denver Business School’s first cohort to earn her MBA in 1988 with an emphasis in Management and Finance. “The MBA really solidified and crystallized the business world for me,” Susan shares. Aside from the academic benefits, the MBA illustrated the value of personal and professional network building. At the time, Susan was one of the youngest candidates in the program and one of very few women.

Susan’s MBA created a network of professionals who connected her with opportunities in the Federal Reserve and Price Waterhouse Coopers. “I was actually recruited for Price Waterhouse Coopers based on someone I knew through the Business School, who was working in the consulting division,” says Susan. 

A career in consulting

“My MBA network and connections landed me my first job, which ultimately gave me a window into something I really love,” says Susan. “I’ve gotten to build a career around using one of my strengths, which is connecting the dots and bringing ideas together into a synthesized package that makes sense.” After five years at Price Waterhouse Coopers, and a few more at Cornerstone Consulting Group, she founded SageRiver Consulting in 1997.

“Every project is different, every client is different and I’m always learning,” says Susan. “The coolest thing about consulting is seeing what you recommend come to life inside the organization. It’s just phenomenal.” Consulting is a unique profession. It requires listening, teamwork, and open-mindedness in order to meet client’s needs, find solutions to challenges, and provide applicable recommendations.

“Strategy is a process of connecting the dots in innovative ways”

After ten years of teaching at CU Boulder, Susan transitioned to CU Denver and started teaching Leading Organizational Change and Strategic Management. By this time the seed of experiential learning had taken root and she came up with an approach to engage MBA students with clients in the community. Through her connections, she brought clients to the table that encompassed both the consulting profession and business strategy. “In this course, you learn strategic thinking, strategic planning, and the methodologies and frameworks that can help you analyze and understand where opportunities are in an organization.”

The Business Strategy Lab was established as an experiential learning course for MBA students. Susan finds clients for the class through her professional network and client base at Sage River consulting. Previous clients have included Jackson National Life Insurance and Similasan. This semester’s client, The Arvada Resiliency Taskforce, represents hundreds of businesses in Arvada, Colorado. “The students get real -life experience solving business problems for actual clients,” Susan says. “They learn business theory, put it into practice and deliver tangible results.”

2020 challenge: The Arvada Resiliency Taskforce

The Arvada Resiliency Taskforce (ART) is a consortium of organizations that came together to serve the Arvada business community in the wake of COVID-19.

Susan connected with long-time business partner, Allison Trembly, the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the City of Arvada, to craft a challenge statement for the course. “This is timely, this is relevant, the students will learn about the economic constructs of a community and get to serve one of the big business communities here in Colorado,” said Susan.

The challenge: to formalize the taskforce with clear vision, mission, values, and strategic mission, to provide an economic impact analysis along with a benchmark comparison of other city’s responses to COVID-19 while incorporating storytelling into their deliverables.

A course that could change your career trajectory

The Business Strategy Lab is a dual track course, you get exposure to the consulting profession and experience applying strategy as a ‘game-changing’ function in an organization.

“This course takes your presentation skills to the next level by really honing, refining, and thinking about the audience, your message, and the key concepts that you want to get across,” says Susan, “You learn how to present your ideas both visually and verbally and how to really engage an audience with the content you worked really hard to produce.” Not to mention students improve valuable skills like time management, written and verbal communication, teamwork, strategic thinking, and research analysis.

“Understand that this course will challenge you in ways school never has and will require more effort than your average business class; however, I can guarantee you it will be the most impactful class of your degree,” said Tina Spalten O’Neil, MBA ’15.

There have even been students who have changed their careers paths after taking this course and been offered a job by the client after graduation. “Strategy Lab was an amazing experience! The opportunity to apply academic strategy to challenges real businesses are facing made for a truly rich learning environment,” says Aaron Duncan, MBA ’14, “In fact, my experience was meaningful in such a way that it helped put me on a path to making a significant career change, for which I could not be more thankful.” Aaron went from being an Engineer to owning a successful Financial Advisory firm.

Still not sure if this course is right for you? MBA graduate Dustin Matsen has some advice: “Stop thinking about it and sign up, it will be one of the most valuable and fun courses you take. Is it a lot of work? Yes. Is it daunting? Yes. Is it rewarding? Absolutely.”

To learn how the Business Strategy Lab can fit into your degree plan, make an appointment with graduate advising today.

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