T-Mobile CMO Mike Katz at Foster's 2022 Business Leadership Celebration.
Year of Magenta
The Foster School of Business and T-Mobile strike up a powerful partnership in support of experiential learning
There are some who would tell you that Husky Purple clashes with T-Mobile Magenta.
Frank Hodge is not one of them.
Over the past academic year, Hodge, the Orin & Janet Smith Dean of the Foster School of Business, witnessed an extraordinary partnership arise with a local company that has grown into a “big three” wireless carrier. And “big” describes everything T-Mobile does, from its bold branding to its nation’s largest and fastest 5G network to its outsize commitment to the community it calls home.
In recent months, T-Mobile went big in its support of the Foster community, committing $100,000 in support of experiential learning in in many forms. The beneficiaries of this partnership included student consulting projects supporting underserved business owners, a case competition connecting Foster students with peers from around the world, and practical research on the future of data analytics.
“Community is about building connections,” says Hodge. “And we couldn’t be prouder of our connection with T-Mobile, a wonderful partner in providing time, talent and resources. Together, we are both striving to build all kinds of inclusive communities and better humanity through business.”
Credit for brokering this partnership goes to Kelvin Westbrook (BA 1977), the president and CEO of KRW Advisors who also happens to serve on the boards of both the Foster School and T-Mobile.
As a director of a public company, Westbrook views his role as leveraging his skills and judgment to help increase firm value—which includes community engagement. As an advisor to a top 20 business school, his role is leveraging his network and resources to advance the mission.
So, introducing parties with mutual purpose and interests made perfect sense. “T-Mobile has always impressed me as the sort of organization that is focused on community engagement and improvement, especially through education,” says Westbrook, chair of the Foster Advisory Board. “And with my association with the Foster board and understanding of what the school is trying to accomplish, I thought the two were a natural fit. I’m glad people took to the idea, and I’m delighted to see the partnership grow. And I hope it continues to flourish.”
Foster’s “year of magenta” began last October, when T-Mobile stepped up as the presenting partner at the school’s Business Leadership Celebration.
The event assembled local dignitaries—keynoters Brad Smith of Microsoft and Fritzky Chair Joanne Harrell (BA 1976, MBA 1979), plus Distinguished Leadership Awardees Betti Fujikado (BA 1977) and Ken Denman (MBA 1986)—to share leadership insights from their own experiences with hundreds of Foster alumni and students in attendance.
T-Mobile led by example, pacing a coalition of corporate and individual partners to raise more than $430,000 in support of experiential learning at Foster. This includes everything from board service to student organizations to case competitions to entrepreneurship contests to consulting projects to international study.
“T-Mobile is very much a values-driven company,” remarked Mike Katz, the company’s chief marketing officer. “And we share a lot of those values—especially diversity and equal opportunity—with the University of Washington and the Foster School of Business.”
He added, “We’re excited to continue to partner with the Foster School, because we know it’s bringing up the next generation of innovators and disruptors. We know the entire community benefits from that.”
Expanding global perspectives
A healthy tranche of T-Mobile’s support went to the Foster School’s Global Business Center and, specifically, its annual Global Business Case Competition (GBCC). Held in person for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, this event brings student teams from a dozen top business schools around the globe for a week of cultural exchange, professional development and networking ahead of an intense real-world competition.
“Study abroad is incredibly powerful as a transformational learning opportunity,” says Kirsten Aoyama, director of the Global Business Center. “But with this flagship event, we bring the world to Foster. And having a marquee firm like T-Mobile among our partners is a huge draw for students everywhere.”
T-Mobile supported GBCC operations and especially its “culture day,” which culminated in all participants sharing the cultures, customs and regalia of their home nations in a spirited gathering at the UW’s wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House.
For the Foster students who served as organizers and ambassadors, this global endeavor was a great opportunity to exercise leadership and growth.
“Seeing my team’s efforts to build meaningful cross-cultural relationships come to fruition instilled a great deal of confidence that choosing international business as my academic path was the right decision,” says Alicia Ing, co-chair of the 2023 GBCC. “It was a true honor to be a small part of the GBCC legacy, and I hope that community and corporate partners like T-Mobile continue to generously support these types of experiential learning for students.”
Advancing customer analytics
T-Mobile’s support extended to more advanced students as well. An infusion of computing and data resources is supporting the efforts of Foster’s Customer Analytics Center to apply academic rigor to real-world data problems facing corporate clients.
This cutting-edge work is conducted by associated Foster faculty and, especially, graduate students. The next generation of data science thought leaders are developing at Foster.
“The grad students working at the center benefit from both additional resources and exposure to real-world analytics problems that executives and managers face,” says Hema Yoganarasimhan, a professor of marketing and founding director of the Customer Analytics Center.
“This can help and encourage our students to develop solutions to the most challenging problems faced by firms, which, in turn, can feed back into firms as solutions, hopefully creating a virtuous cycle of engagement.”
Consulting and Business Development Center
A third major benefactor of T-Mobile support is Foster’s Consulting and Business Development Center (CBDC), which received new or renewed funding for its experiential student consulting and executive and business education programs. This included a significant infusion of resources to further the center’s mission of accelerating the growth of businesses owned by people of color or in underserved communities.
Working with T-Mobile’s supplier diversity program enabled the center to launch a new initiative with national reach that combines business education from Foster School faculty with MBA student projects. The goal is helping companies grow their revenues above $10 million.
Beginning in 2023, T-Mobile also began underwriting the center’s longstanding student consulting program, enabling more than 100 Foster undergrads to apply what they learn in the classroom to help small businesses create or capture new opportunities.
“Since 2019, T-Mobile has partnered with us to accelerate the growth of businesses owned by people of color and other underserved businesses,” says Michael Verchot, director of the CBDC and national lead of the Ascend network. “Through T-Mobile’s support, our students are learning to solve real-world, unstructured challenges while helping companies grow revenues.”
Punctuating a year at Foster
If T-Mobile CMO Mike Katz kicked off Foster’s “year of magenta” in October, President and CEO Mike Sievert brought it home in June with his address to the graduates of Foster’s class of 2023.
Sievert shared experiences from his own career and from the rise of the “Un-Carrier” to the top of a crowded wireless industry.
The atomic center of his advice to students was composed of two simple, guiding questions to ask themselves throughout their lives. “Today, as graduates, you’re at a crossroads,” Sievert said. “For the first time, you have the complete freedom to ask ‘what if?’ and ‘why not?’ every day, to chart your course, and to define what success looks like to you.”
In the past year, Kelvin Westbrook, T-Mobile and the Foster School asked “what if?” and “why not?” And a potent partnership for experiential learning began.