As an industry-wide strike loomed on the horizon at the 45th annual Opportunities to learn About Business program, union labor negotiators and program sponsors descended on the Wabash College campus in an attempt to keep the OLAB train on its track.
Over the course of a three-hour period, the 34 high school seniors managing eight consumer electronics companies had to hammer out a new labor contract with hard-driving lawyers seeking all new wages and benefits for OLAB’s fictional employees. Failure to strike a deal over wages, productivity, and benefits like health care, paid vacation, and fitness centers would be disastrous to the fledging companies.
Student negotiators had to dig deep to find common ground with the lawyers, most of whom are Wabash alumni and OLAB negotiation veterans.
The strike deadline imposed on the students was 12:30. Seven of eight competing teams had made deals with the union – some of them not very good for the companies. It wasn’t until nearly 1:00 p.m. – with workers on the verge of a walkout – that the final deal was in place. See photos of the teams here.
“We’ve had the students for three days, and hit them with lots of lectures about production, accounting, and marketing, and they have been playing the computer simulated business game for about a day, and then we change everything,” said OLAB director Jim Amidon.
“Until the lawyers show up, all of the companies are pretty similar; they are paying their employees the same wage and it’s just a matter of making a few key decisions here and there, and making sure the accounting work is strong. Then the negotiators come to campus, and everything changes. The companies are all different now, and they are fiercely competing for the Shaheen Management Award, which comes at the end of the week to the best managed firm.
Union lawyers who participated in 2017 were coordinated by long-time OLAB volunteer Jon Pactor ’71, and included Scott Benedict ’98 and Tim Craft ’00, who have worked together for a decade, along with Tom Gunderman ’89 and Tyler Hardcastle ’15. An newcomer to the fun was Matt Kelley, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins.
“I am so grateful each and every year that the Wabash alumni from the Indianapolis Association of Wabash men take time from their busy schedules to negotiate with the students,” added Amidon.
The labor talks come just minutes after the students had learned about the history of labor in American business in a fast-moving lecture given by long-time OLAB professor Humberto Barreto.
While the primary focus of the union was earning higher wages for employees, the alumni lawyers pushed hard for healthcare, paid breaks and vacation days, and even profit sharing.
OLAB also welcomed the program’s primary sponsors on Wednesday: Old National Wealth Management, which manages the Goodrich Trust; the Scientech Club; and the Carmel Rotary Club. Suzanne Kadinger and Matt Henry represented the Goodrich Trust; Victor Wenning represented the Scientech Club Foundation; and Joe Kiley, a long-time OLAB supporter, came from the Carmel Rotary Club.
“This program is unique in that it is both the longest-running summer business program for high school students, and it is entirely free for them to attend,” Amidon said. “Many of these students could not afford an expensive summer program, so the gifts we receive from the Goodrich Trust, Scientech Club, and Carmel Rotary Club allow students – regardless of their financial situation – to attend this life-changing program. We are so grateful for the support.”
OLAB advertising campaigns take center stage on Thursday and Friday. On Friday afternoon, OLAB companies will present reports to stockholders, which are judged by Rhetoric Professor Todd McDorman.
Commencement for the 45th OLAB program is Saturday at 2 p.m. in Salter Hall of the Fine Arts Center.