AMR Team 66

January 14, 2010

By Diana Greenwood

A typical MBA student acquires certain knowledge by examining case studies and mastering core competencies. But it is the opportunity to put this knowledge into practice, while still a student, that can afford new skills, attitudes and ways of thinking - and sometimes even an unforeseen bonus. For the full time UCLA Anderson student, the Applied Management Research (AMR) program is the stage for this indispensible experiential learning opportunity.

Connecting second-year students with executives from organizations around the world, AMR is a challenging two-quarter in-depth strategic field study project. Working in teams, and with a faculty mentor, students examine a specific company, industry, and what strategic opportunity might be identified for exploration. The project culminates with the teams' written strategic implementation recommendation, which they also present to company executives.

For recent '09 UCLA Anderson graduates Tina Lee, Richard Ho, Leo Huang, Stanley Huang, and Alexander Rosten - their AMR project not only imparted real meaning from direct experience, but involved an unusual occurrence, as well.

The five partnered with T&T Supermarket Inc., a Canadian supermarket chain, specializing in Asian food products, with 18 stores across Canada. A household name among many ethnic Canadians, the retailer was interested in developing an effective customer loyalty program. Luckily for T&T Supermarket Inc., the daughter of their CEO also just happened to be UCLA Anderson student Tina Lee. And it was Lee, currently the director, strategy & operations for T&T Supermarket Inc., who convinced her mother to participate in the AMR project.

After taking his Global Supply Chain class, Lee asked Professor Chris Tang if he would join the team as faculty mentor. Possessing strong interest and experience in retailing, Tang was excited to be a part of the venture. "I worked very closely with the team," said Tang, "scoping the project, and providing feedback on the project plan." Tang also remained close to the team as they progressed, reviewing survey forms, research findings, their written reports and various incarnations of their final presentation.

But Professor Tang went even further. After the team discovered something interesting in their survey analysis, Tang suggested they "extract the essence of their project" into a research paper, and encouraged Lee to obtain approval from T&T Supermarket Inc.

"What we discovered was that in today's global marketplace, customer loyalty can't be approached from a 'one-size-fits-all' perspective," said team member Rosten. "Professor Tang was particularly excited about the work we had done and challenged us to take an even more comprehensive approach."

Professor Tang did not imagine that the research findings would be published, as publication depends on many factors including timeliness, relevance, and client reputation, as well as the creativity and novelty of the research methodologies and results, the implications of the results, and the creative writing.

"It wasn't until we completed our initial conclusions that publication seemed possible," added Rosten. "And a few weeks before completing our project, Professor Tang made it clear that he thought publication was a real possibility."

"Since we were under a real time crunch, and the students did not have a lot of extra time, I took the lead in writing the paper," said Tang, "by extracting elements from their 80 page AMR report into a 20 page article." But Tang emphasized that the entire team was involved in providing feedback and comment during each iteration of the paper to ensure that it captured all the important aspects of the project.

"It is always about team work," concluded Tang. "That's why AMR is a relevant and rewarding experience for the UCLA Anderson student. As for faculty, working with AMR teams is a way for us to strengthen our relationships with our students and alumni for years to come."

The paper, which highlights the common pitfalls of various customer loyalty programs and shows how a firm can design an effective program, was recently published in the international journal Managing Service Quality.

"Professor Tang was a model advisor," said Rosten. "He did not hesitate to challenge our assumptions and recommend alternative approaches if needed. In my opinion, his guidance elevated our work to a level of comprehensiveness atypical of most field studies."

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