MSBAPM Students ‘Awash’ in Knowledge After Completing Capstone Project For Henkel

Father and son washing clothes in washing machine

Creating a great laundry detergent is just the first step in conquering the household cleaning market.

That’s one of the concepts that UConn MSBAPM students learned during their capstone-class project last month. Their task? Providing data, customer insight, and e-commerce support to Henkel, which markets a wide range of well-known consumer and industrial brands in North America, including Persil®, Purex®, and all® laundry detergents and Snuggle® fabric softeners.

One capstone project involved creating competitive analysis and effective strategies for omnichannel branding, reviewing data to gain insights and recommend innovative areas to exploit sales. Another project addressed aggregation of data from e-commerce market places to help make business decisions and process efficiency.

“Partnering with UConn to advance the data analytics and tools for our eCommerce team was a great way to tap into local talents, fresh perspectives, and hopefully provide a great learning experience for the students,” said Laura Hyland, vice president of eCommerce for the company’s Laundry and Home Care division. “We are richer for it and look forward to adopting some of the work that the students completed.”

Alumna Yiyao Zhang, ’15 MSBAPM was also enthusiastic about the student contributions.

“The students definitely had innovative ideas that helped us solve some business problems that we were eager to address and offered fast-track solutions. We plan to incorporate their work into our company platform,” said Zhang, Henkel’s platform manager in Data and Analytics.

OPIM professor Jennifer Eigo said the 36 students who participated in the projects were able to apply their skills in ways they hadn’t before, and that the experience will enhance their value to future employers.

“One of the appeals of this project is that everyone does laundry, but they learned about supply chain, innovation, packaging demands and additional complexities of business,” she said. “Our students were able to work with real and complex big data. In class they use smaller data sets with well-defined objectives. This project pushed their skills, not just solving a technical problem but a business problem, and enabled them to come up with actionable recommendations.”

Henkel Project Expanded Wheelhouse For This Student

Stephanie Wallace, who works for a major insurance company, was part of a team investigating e-commerce fees.

“My 10-year career has been within the insurance and financial services industry,” she said. “It was a such a great experience to work on a project that was outside of my expertise. This project afforded me the opportunity to gain an understanding of the e-commerce seller platform, as well as an understanding of supply-chain management.”

She and her team were able to address distribution shortfalls with a combination of simple fixes, as well as recommending carrier options and geographical considerations.

Wallace’s team, like many, had members in different locations and time zones, and had to plan for disruptions during their virtual presentation. When one of Wallace’s teammates lost internet connection, the team implemented its back-up plan, and was able to transition easily to another student’s screen, continuing the presentation with minor interruption. Preparation and quick thinking are two additional skills she will take from the project.

Leveraging the Competition’s Weaknesses

Shashank Hulke and Aanchal Gargi used their data knowledge to help the company assess the strengths of its laundry detergent and its competitors’ weaknesses.

“We learned the intricacies of e-commerce business, like the effect of customer reviews on sales of products, the importance of packaging and handling of the products to ensure customer satisfaction, and the importance of innovation,” Hulke said.

“We understood that Henkel can benefit by not only working on its product portfolio but it can leverage the weaknesses in the competitor’s products to gain market share,” Gargi said. They also recommended better data integration to give marketers stronger insight between sales and reviews. To be able to work with large volumes of real-world data was a highlight of their graduate program, they said.

Students Encouraged To Apply for Jobs at Henkel

In North America, Henkel operates across its three business units: Adhesive Technologies, Beauty Care, and Laundry & Home Care. With sales of around $6 billion in the U.S. in 2019, North America accounts for 26 percent of the company’s global sales. Henkel employs approximately 9,000 people across the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. Henkel’s North American headquarters are in Rocky Hill, Conn.

“We’ve built a strong relationship with the team at Henkel and I hope it will grow,” Eigo said. The UConn students were supported by a team of UConn alumni who work at the company. In addition to Zhang, they included Emilia Ratte ’15, sales analyst in the e-commerce division, and Thore Koch ’20 MBA, manager of e-commerce content and e-innovation.

“Professor Eigo was professional, knowledgeable, prepared the class well and fostered great interaction with our team,” Zhang said. “The students were eager to collaborate with us, they understood business problems well and were easy to work with.”

Zhang said the graduate students were introduced to the Henkel North America organization and encouraged to apply to open positions and future opportunities.