MBA students get real-world
skills helping orchestra,
By Ralph Ellis
omething seemed off-key at the Cobb Symphony
Orchestra, but it wasn’t the music. Audiences were
getting older. Donations lagged. Many people did not
seem to know about the orchestra and its programs.
About a dozen MBA candidates from Kennesaw State
University’s Coles College of Business stepped in last year,
working as if the orchestra had hired them to find a fix. After
months of research, the students provided suggestions for
modernizing the symphony’s image, improving donations and
broadening the audience.
“One suggestion was to specifically engage a younger
audience through a digital platform,” said student Tiffany
Tooley. To do that, the orchestra needed to develop a user-
friendly website that encouraged ticket purchases through
performance clips and seating charts.
Symphony Board of Trustees Chairman Todd Youngblood
said he knew there was a problem, but he couldn’t put it
into words. “That’s what you want from an outside business
consultant,” he said. “That’s exactly what they did.”
KSU and its business college are always looking for
new, practical ways to connect with the community, said Tim
Blumentritt, director of strategic engagement at Coles. That’s
why he helped pair MBA students with two very different
groups: the orchestra and MUST Ministries, a faith-based
charitable organization based in Marietta. Other business
Coles College of Business MBA student Judy Sidlovic students, mostly undergraduates, have helped the Atlanta Beat
works at MUST Ministries. women’s soccer team and Pinetree Country Club.
“We’re providing resources that drive success in what
I would label vital civic institutions,” Blumentritt said. “Cobb
County would not be the same without the symphony or MUST
Ministries. Kennesaw State is demonstrating its willingness to
The organizations get free advice from enthusiastic,
business-savvy students who know the latest trends. The
students get credit hours and work experience.
“I put more time in this than I did for normal graduate
classes,” said Calder Harris, a student who worked with the
symphony. “I feel like I got 10 times as much out of it.”
Student Judy Sidlovsky even got a full-time job when
MUST hired her as finance director.
“I had always wanted to serve in some way, but I thought
it would be on a volunteer basis,” Sidlovsky said. “But working The Cobb Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Michael Alexander,
here now, this is how I serve. That’s my contribution.” utilizes Coles MBA interns. (Photo credit: Adam Stensland)
MUST had a strategic plan looking two or three years
out but needed a long-range plan to shape growth in the next Tooley, the MBA student, said one of the problems was
decade, said Paul Lopez, a MUST board member and lecturer that four different mission statements were floating around.
at the business school. That sent confusing messages to audiences.
John Moeller Jr., CEO of MUST, said the students “It did feel from a marketing perspective that there were a
were perfect for the first step: researching large amounts of lot of hands in the pot and not a lot of consistency in messaging
information in the public domain, such as census figures, on and how they presented themselves online,” she said.
people served by MUST. Other recommendations included discounting season
“We needed folks who could look through lots of data and tickets, retaining donors through loyalty programs, developing
who had not only the time but the business acumen to make a more robust social media strategy, giving free concerts and
an analysis,” he said. “Not everybody could do that.” partnering with churches. The orchestra also was encouraged
Next, the students worked closely with to work with outside artists for
“I had always
the board, attending meetings and a retreat, “crossover” performances, such as the
to help MUST come up with a plan for the collaboration between the Atlanta Ballet
future. One of the broad recommendations, and Big Boi of the group Outkast.
No MBA students are working
wanted to serve
Lopez said, is that MUST will develop
partnerships and identify needs before building with MUST now, though leaders
infrastructure. foresee that happening again. A
in some way
“Buildings will be a final step,” Lopez said, new group signed on with the Cobb
“not an initial step.” Symphony and will prioritize and
Lopez said a consulting firm would have implement the recommendations of
MBA intern Judy Sidlovsky
charged MUST $100,000 for the work the MBA the previous students. Ty Wood, one
students performed. Moeller estimated the value of the work in of the new students, said he thinks the symphony should start
the high five figures. by integrating social media into the orchestra website and
Like MUST, the orchestra had a built-in KSU connection. launching a formal intern program.
Michael Alexander, the university orchestra director, is music The collaboration worked for everybody, said orchestra
director for the Cobb Symphony. general manager Susan Stensland.
The students started with data collection about audiences “I think it’s one of those win-win situations for everyone,”
and donors, and then broke into groups to work on marketing she said. “They get real world experience and we get
and finances. wonderful insights.”