From MBA candidate to consultant: Interview with Rich Schwartz

Program Name: MBA
Year of Graduation: 2016
Program Schedule: Full Time

What sparked your interest in consulting?

Rich Schwartz
Principal at Alder Street Consulting

I fell into consulting accidentally. After graduation I was volunteering with the procurement group at Oregon Food Bank part time and looking for my next opportunity. Given my new MBA degree and interest in sustainable food systems, a friend recommended me to Ecotrust to write business plans for two agricultural producers that had received USDA Value Added Producer grants. After working on those projects, I realized that I was a consultant, and I started looking for other clients and projects to work on.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve encountered starting your own business?

Finding clients has been the biggest challenge. I don’t especially enjoy marketing myself, and I have been fortunate that most clients have found me via word of mouth.  I have been in Portland since the mid-90s, so I have a fairly extensive local network of friends and associates that I’ve been able to leverage in building my business. But the work has been inconsistent. I am fortunate that I have part-time work as a computer programmer (my former career), so the inconsistency has not been a financial burden. Having tech work that covers my expenses means I can be very discerning in taking on consulting projects, even to the point of doing pro-bono work on projects that interest me. Without my network or my part-time tech job, I’m not sure I would have been able to make consulting work.

What skills and experiences gained at PSU have you found most valuable in launching your business?

During my second year at PSU, I co-founded the B Impact program, which pairs teams of PSU graduate students with local businesses going through the B Corp certification process. Portland State graduate students had been working with aspiring B Corp businesses for a few years, but these were one-off engagements and there was little support for their efforts. The Net Impact leadership team brainstormed the structure for a more formal program in the summer of 2015, and fellow classmate Emma Ingebretsen and I launched B Impact PSU as a pilot program in the fall of 2015. 

Like any startup, we experienced our share of false starts and setbacks during our first year of operation. Some of our initial ideas didn’t pan out and we were forced to make changes along the way. Yet by all accounts the program was a big success. We found our initial clients through our contacts in the B Corp community and our student consultants through our Net Impact chapter and personal outreach. More than twenty students worked with over a dozen businesses that first year, a few of which achieved their B Corp certification. Students appreciated the chance to learn about the B Corp certification process, apply skills they were learning in school, and make a contribution to a company whose values were aligned with their own. The companies were thrilled to have support and technical assistance for the challenging and time-consuming process of taking the B Corp assessment. And the Business School recognized the program as a boon to the recruitment efforts for its newly rebranded MBA program.

All involved with B Impact wanted to see it continue and improve beyond the graduation of the founders. To support that effort, Net Impact advisor Jacen Greene solicited funding from the law firm Miller, Nash, Graham and Dunn, and in the summer of 2016 I was offered a three month post-graduate fellowship. During that time I processed the feedback we had received from the first year’s participants, suggested changes to the program structure (e.g. running two longer cohorts instead of three shorter ones), trained the Fall cohort of student consultants, and compiled a How-To manual for the second year’s student leaders. Partially as a result of those efforts, PSU now has one of the most robust B Corp student consulting programs in the country.

The skills and confidence I developed in launching and executing B Impact PSU, and then in refining and formalizing it post-graduation through my fellowship position, carry over into my consulting work. My involvement in the program greatly increased my professional networks and directly led to some of my consulting jobs. My efforts at starting the program, combined with a summer internship at a startup food manufacturing business, allowed me to see first-hand the challenges and creative problem solving associated with launching a business. I also find that the planning of B Impact plus the accounting skills I learned in the MBA program are especially helpful when writing business plans for my clients.

 



Categories: alumni

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