OLAB Teaches Students Real Business
by Howard Hewitt
July 16, 2008
UPDATE — New photos have been posted, including these from the tie-dye party! Click here to see team photos.
High School students had to negotiate with some tough Wabash-educated lawyers as part of their Opportunities to Learn About Business (OLAB) experience this week.
OLAB is in its 36th year bringing outstanding high school students from across the nation to Wabash College. This year’s 56 students come from seven states and even one student from Korea. See the photo album from Tuesday night here. See photo albums here and here from Wednesday's Labor Negotiations.
"We selected the most diverse OLAB student body in the 36-year history of the program," Program Director Jim Amidon said. "We have high school seniors here from Korea, Los Angeles, New Jersey, and all points in between, and so far they're working together very well.
"We know that with the Internet, the world is shrinking, just as we know that to operate a successful business in 2008, you must compete in a global market."
The students take part in a fast-paced program that includes lectures on finance, production, marketing, business ethics, group decision making, public speaking, the stock market, and labor negotiations. They participate in a number of exercises to build their skills leading toward "The Game."
The Game, a computer simulation that develops a friendly competition among 11 teams, is the culmination of the week’s activities. The students create a product, negotiate the labor, and develop a marketing plan to bring their product to consumers.
The negotiations with Wabash alumni attorneys is always a highlight and challenge for the high school students. Eric Cavanaugh, John Bridge, Jon Pactor, Bob Wright, David Pippen, and Brad Johnson played the role of labor negotiator during Wednesday’s exercise.
The Wabash grads take it quite seriously.
"I wish I could be nicer to them," Bridge ‘72 said with a laugh. "I plan on telling them I’m actually a pretty nice guy. One of my negotiation tactics in real life is to get the other side to like me. I think you actually get more of what you want by being likable. If I do this again I may actually try that."
Bridge has long been aware of the program and gets a kick from talking with former participants and alumni negotiators.
A lot of high school and college students have not had job experience at this level. This is the first time they’ve gotten to see all the mental exercises you have to go through as part of running a business. Its different than working in a store or working in a factory, you’re actually a manager making executive decisions."
The students have full days starting at 7:45 with breakfast running until 8 p.m. at night. They have opportunities for recreation at the end of their long days.
The long-running program is driven by sponsors who make the program free to the students.
Often sponsor executives or employees visit the program during the week. Pat Hite, who is a Carmel Rotarian, also serves as a school board member for Options Charter School in Carmel. She had a strong interest during her first visit.
"I know Options has a senior project very similar to this," Hite said. "Students participate in a semester Program. But this program, being a week long, would be invaluable to any of the students at Options. It’s amazing what they would learn in critical business skills and then learning to apply that to their central project.
"There is an incredible amount of active participation and learning."
"We pack a lot of learning and a lot of fun into a single week," added Amidon. "What really makes the program special, though, is the interactions the students have with one another and the relationships that develop over the course of the week."
In photos: John Bridge, top right, and Rick Cavanaugh, lower left, negotiate with students.