From the Editor: These MBA students are lending a hand on Main Street

2014-08-01T00:00:00Z From the Editor: These MBA students are lending a hand on Main Street The Billings Gazette
August 01, 2014 12:00 am

Last summer, a team of graduate students from Harvard University rolled into White Sulphur Springs to lend a hand to one of the central Montana town’s best known businesses, Red Ants Pants.

Mike Baker, Casey Gerald, Amaris Singer and Hiham Alaoui were the founding members of MBAs Across America. The organization was formed as an opportunity for second-year MBA students to obtain real-world experience working with business owners. Instead of putting in long hours in a corporate cubicle, a typical assignment for many summer interns, these students launched a mission to assist small-business owners while also experiencing a slice of Main Street America.

MBAs Across American was such a success that the organization has launched its second season and the movement is growing. This year 32 fellows from Harvard, Columbia University, the University of California Berkeley, Stanford University, the University of Michigan and other top-tier institutions have spread out across the country to provide assistance to Main Street businesses.

A team of four spent the first week of July with Tiffany Lach, owner of Sola Café and Red Tractor Pizza in Bozeman.

Stefanie Thomas, who is pursuing her MBA at the University of Michigan, said she became interested in MBAs Across America because she was looking for opportunities to make a difference in the business community.

“I was trying to figure out the best way to make an impact,” Thomas said. “I was wondering how I can leverage the skills that I learned through past experiences and apply them in real time to people and communities who need it the most. This program resonated with me, and it gave me a great opportunity to see the country.”

The other members of the team are Kory Vargas Caro, Nydia Cardenas and Saurabh Kumar. They are working to help Lach improve her options for customers to make purchases on her two websites, through social media and at the stores, Thomas said. The team is also assisting businesses in Oregon, Colorado, Michigan, Tennessee and North Carolina.

“Tiffany is very hands-on, and she’s really smart. She knows what she wants and it’s easy to engage with her,” Thomas said.

Gerald, who graduated from Harvard and is now chief executive of MBAs Across America, is encouraged that the movement is gathering steam.

“Last summer, we set on this journey with a simple question: What if we used our careers to make a difference?” Gerald said. He said small-town entrepreneurs like Calhoun are leading the path to a better society.

Red Ants Pants, a manufacturer of rugged, American-made work pants designed specifically for women, is a made-in-Montana success story whose products have achieved a cult following.

Sarah Calhoun, the founder of Red Ants Pants, says the company was spawned from necessity. While doing trail work and other kinds of physical labor, Calhoun could never find work pants that fit the female figure, so she developed her own rugged pants geared toward working women.

Proceeds from the annual Red Ants Pants Music Festival provide grants for women’s leadership projects, working family farms and ranches and rural communities. Calhoun formed the Red Ants Pants Foundation in 2011.

Follow the efforts of MBAs Across America at www.mbaxamerica.com.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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