Learning How to Be a Shark

By John Crawford

Neha Saxena and Cliff Worley, both MBA’12

Neha Saxena and Cliff Worley, both MBA’12
Photo: Patrick O’Connor

In Cliff Worley’s childhood, rappers were giants who roamed MTV. Worley, MBA’12, liked their music, and he liked their clothes, particularly the FUBU brand they sported. “That’s who we looked up to,” he says. “We wanted to wear what they wore. It defined who we were.”

Many years after his MTV days, Worley found himself working with the founder of FUBU, Daymond John, as part of a Management Consulting Field Experience team. Throughout the fall semester, the MCFE team served as consultants on businesses in which John had invested. Most of those businesses were featured on Shark Tank, the ABC-TV program about budding entrepreneurs that John co-hosts.

The opportunity to work for John, an entrepreneur in residence at Babson, proved so popular that interviews were needed to slim down the pool of MCFE candidates. Ultimately, 11 graduate students were chosen, including Worley and Neha Saxena, MBA’12. Saxena signed up for the course because it promised to teach students how to be a “shark,” someone who uses connections, know-how, and mettle to grow businesses. “A shark makes smart business decisions,” Saxena says. “I want to be a shark.”

Because many of John’s investments are featured in Shark Tank episodes that have yet to air, students can’t give blow-by-blow specifics about their MCFE work, but they helped with ventures in various industries, from entertainment to consumer products to Web-based initiatives. John met with the team every week either in-person or via Skype, and he assigned the students a wide range of tasks, including performing industry research, cold-calling potential clients, investigating licensing opportunities, lining up celebrity endorsements, and analyzing marketing plans and social media strategies.

Often when John gave the team an assignment, he couldn’t provide elaborate details. Students needed to dig and fill in the blanks themselves, which was a challenge at first. “As students, we’re used to getting specific assignments,” Worley says. “In the real world, you have to operate off of limited information. I think that’s a skill we’ve been developing.”

As the semester went on, students also witnessed the whims of business. One week, John would seem on the verge of making a big deal, but then the next week it would fall through and he would move on to something else. “Nothing goes as planned,” says Saxena. “If you don’t handle that well, you’re not cut out to be an entrepreneur.”

Both Saxena and Worley say they spent easily more than 10 hours a week working on the MCFE, a big commitment considering their other class responsibilities, but they felt the time investment was worth it. “It’s one thing to study in class, but it takes it to another level when you’re studying with someone like Daymond John,” Saxena says. Honest and direct, John freely offered feedback on students’ business ideas. “For someone like him, time is money, but he was patient with our questions,” Saxena says. “I think he’s a great mentor.”