Wharton: Where Entrepreneurs Learn the Business of Business
Max Baumann's company Just Chill started with an idea for a beverage that could help people stay cool and calm. “Stress is the number one health epidemic in the U.S. There were plenty of drinks that provide energy, but none that help you stay calm. I didn’t act on the idea right away, though,” he recalls. “After a year of thinking about it and doing research, I incorporated and brought a few people on board who had experience and connections to capital. In 2011 we moved to Los Angeles and got a breakthrough account: Whole Foods. We realized we had a brand people desired. The next year we partnered with LA libations, a top-notch beverage incubation company that has helped us grow our revenue by over 300%. We were also chosen to be one of eight ‘Taste of Tomorrow’ beverages in the Kroger grocery store chain.”
But with growth came challenges. “My experience with Wharton really started with a quest for knowledge that could impact my business. Just Chill took off quickly, and I needed to grow with it. I started inhaling business books, but realized I needed something more formal.
“I chose Wharton for many reasons, but the primary one is the focus on knowledge for action. I didn’t want theories. I wanted to use what I learn. When I heard about the Certificate for Professional Development [CPD] I knew it was what I was looking for. I could choose four programs in different areas, taking one or two a year, to help me build the knowledge and skills I need.”
Baumann started his CPD with Strategic Persuasion Workshop: The Art and Science of Selling Ideas. “I have to persuade internally to get the best out of my team, and I have to persuade externally to convince buyers, distributors, and store managers to choose our product and market it effectively. The program showed me that you can blend persuasion techniques with your personal style to become a more influential leader. You can use it to significantly impact the outcome of every meeting — and when you are meeting with a company like Safeway, that can make or break your business, it is worth every penny.”
The CEO of one of the fastest-growing functional beverage companies says he never considered an MBA. “It’s too time-consuming. I can’t afford to spend that much time away from my business. Each executive education program takes a week or less, which is the perfect amount of time to get away from the day-to-day, do some self-reflection and networking, and gain tools I can implement as soon as I get back to work.”
Advancing Business Acumen was the second program Baumann attended. “It is an amazing week for entrepreneurs,” he says. “The program covers the five main components of business [marketing, finance, strategy, negotiations, and leadership]. It’s incredibly valuable to get this breadth of understanding. There were at least two key learnings from each discipline that I was able to apply immediately.” He further strengthened his leadership skills through The Leadership Edge: Strategies for the New Leader. “A critical takeaway was about communication styles. You might think you’re getting your message across when you’re not. You need to pay attention to the other person and judge whether you are being heard. It doesn’t matter how good your message is if it’s ignored or misunderstood.”
Baumann plans to complete his CPD in 2014 with Strategic Marketing Essentials. “The next set of tools and frameworks I need as we grow our brand are in the field of marketing. My goal is to create a solid foundation for the business through brand and distribution. In 25 years, I want to look back and still be a privately held company. It seems like no matter the challenge, Wharton has the right programs at the right time for me and my business.”