October 16, 2006

Student Agencies Fosters Management Experience

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America’s oldest independent student-run corporation, Student Agencies Inc., might be hard to notice, but still affects many on campus, from renting apartments in Collegetown to publishing “The Ithaca Gorge” dining guide.

SAI’s stated goal is “to provide Cornell undergraduates with an opportunity to gain practical experience at starting and running businesses, while providing valuable products and services to the markets we serve.”

Located on the second floor of 409 College Avenue, SAI is a corporation composed of seven business lines — Big Red Shipping and Storage, Hired Hands Moving Company, Campus Promotions, The Cornellian Yearbook, New Business Development Group, CHC Hospitality Consultants and SAI Properties Manager.
These seven businesses form the core of SAI’s operations and the seven student general managers in charge form the management team.

“As the manager of a business, you are responsible for every aspect of that business’ operations. From writing the annual budget and business plan to handling customer service and operations, the responsibilities of an SAI manager are both holistic and diverse,” Nathaniel Weiss ’09, the Big Red Shipping and Storage general manager, said.

The management team reports directly to the student officers — the president, vice president, and chief financial officer — and the full-time CEO, Dan Kathan. Besides offering guidance and support, the officers and CEO are ultimately responsible for the successful operations and financial performances of the businesses. However, support for student managers does not end there.

“SAI also offers a one-year fellowship for two first year MBA students each year, and these fellows are a tremendous resource for managers because of the practical advice they can provide based on their past work experience,” Weiss said.

Expert mentoring and hard work have resulted in some significant accomplishments this year by several of the businesses, including Big Red Shipping and Storage and the New Business Development Group.
Big Red Shipping and Storage is Cornell’s preferred storage and shipping provider. This status comes with certain perks, namely having access to residence halls and the ability to set up service counters in service centers around campus during peak times.

Last spring, Cornell approached the organization and asked them to figure out a way to make move-in day less hectic, because in previous years, the service centers were always overloaded with arriving packages and everything was chaotic.
Capitalizing on their advantage, the two managers created a brand new service that proved to be quite successful — Freshman Pre-Arrival Drop-Off.

“This was a service developed in partnership with Cornell Campus Life and United Parcel Service designed to make freshman move-in day run more efficiently. Essentially we set up a system that allowed incoming freshmen from across the country to ship us their belongings, and after we received them, we delivered them to that student’s dorm room — before move-in day,” said Weiss.

New Business Development Group also had an exceptional year under the leadership of Nate Pollock ’07, with successes in setting up a pilot wash and fold laundry service, assisting the Cornellian in business management, and bringing Cornell Hospitality Consulting under SAI. When asked about any future business in development, Pollock said, “Numerous opportunities have come to us from Cornell students and we are constantly evaluating them.”

In the last few years, SAI has focused more on improving the effectiveness of its existing businesses and the quality of the manager learning experience. However, this is about to change as SAI shifts its focus to growth, with the goal of providing the experience to more students.

“With that goal in mind we will be putting increased emphasis on entrepreneurship. We are currently giving careful consideration to starting an incubator specifically intended to help undergraduate entrepreneurs gain traction with compelling business ideas,” said Kathan.