We’re business professors who share a love of road trips… And we hit the road from time to time in search of stories of small- and medium-sized businesses that we can use to illustrate important ideas taught in leading MBA programs.
Roadside MBA got started way back in 2010. We were on the phone discussing economics-based strategy courses for MBA students, and were lamenting the fact that the typical Harvard Business School case study focuses on Procter and Gamble, or Ford Motor Company, or Microsoft, or Pepsi, or … somebody big with billions or hundreds of millions in annual sales. One of us — we all take credit, but nobody actually recalls whose idea it was — pointed out that owners and managers of small and medium-sized businesses might benefit from a dose of MBA knowledge, but that business schools don’t always serve that market very well. So we decided to hit the road in search of stories that we could use to help translate MBA strategy frameworks for owners of small and medium-sized businesses.
Our first trip was from Memphis to Omaha in August of 2010. We went from Denver to Oklahoma City in Winter 2011, Charlotte to Atlanta in Spring 2011, Missoula to Portland in Summer 2011, Chicago to Cincy in May 2012, and Atlanta to New Orleans in January of 2013. We typically meet in City A, rent a car, stop in Cities B, C, D and E on consecutive days, visit 3-4 businesses per day, and fly to our respective homes out of City F. We have grown to like Holiday Inn Express quite a bit, although to date they have not offered us a sponsorship deal.
(By now you’re probably trying to imagine what it’s like to drive across America in a rental car with economists for the better part of a week. Really, it’s not that bad. Scott mostly drives. Paul mostly navigates, and, yes, we get lost a lot. Mike sits in the back and interjects with humorous commentary on whatever argument Paul and Scott happen to be having. By far the worst part is Mike’s continuing affection for the New York Yankees, and his angst over Alex Rodriguez’s continuing presence — like we care. The winter trips were Paul and Scott’s favorites, for obvious reasons.)
To date, we’ve visited around 100 small and medium-size businesses. We try to set a meeting with the owner or a general manager with significant operational and strategic oversight responsibility, and we usually start by just asking for the story of the business. From there, our visits usually turn in to a conversation in which the three of us ask questions about pricing, positioning, strategy, organization, succession, or other topics, depending on what strikes us as interesting. The people we’ve met are, without fail, creative and energetic, passionate and thoughtful, interesting and driven. It’s been really fun, and we have learned so much.
Our book, Roadside MBA: Backroad Lessons for Entrepreneurs, Executives and Small Business Owners (Business Plus) is available wherever books are sold, and our multimedia project, Roadside MBA: Big Lessons from America’s Small Business, can be viewed here.