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[Review] Roadside MBA

Roadside MBA

What happens when you pack three economists into a car and send them off on a road trip to discover the secrets behind America’s small businesses across the country? Hilarity ensues, of course, when you have three different eggheads with vastly different interests and personalities; however along the way they also encounter the various small businesses, with their individual quirks and peculiarities, that make the United States tick. And the result? The book “Roadside MBA: Back Road Lessons for Entrepreneurs, Executives and Small Business Owners“, by Michael Mazzeo, Paul Oyer, and Scott Schaefer.

All three are distinguished economists: Paul Oyer is the Fred H. Merrill Professor of Economics at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, and author of “Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Economics I Learned from Online Dating“, Michael Mazzeo is an Associate Professor of Management and Strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, while Scott Schaefer holds the Kendall D. Garff Chair in Business Administration and is Professor of Finance at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business. When the three pulled into a shoe store in Maine after a conference in Boston some years back, they noticed that the sales help was unusually and found that the store had deployed a “secret shopper” program, where employees may be penalized for not being sufficiently aggressive when selling. It was then that the three then decided to embark on a massive road trip to visit various small businesses across the country to find out they dealt with business issues such as product differentiation, pricing, brand management, and building a team.

Readers will discover, in the co-authors’ conversations with those business owners, how those small companies dealt with their individual challenges. You read about how Dogma Day Care, a dog daycare center based in Smyrna, Georgia that learned how to charge different prices to different market segments according to how sensitive customers were to prices. Then there’s Johnson City, Tennessee-based Morris-Baker Funeral Home, which conquered a brand challenge by improving brand awareness and promoting word-of-mouth. Businesses cover the gamut of industries and in different situations, so if you’re a business owner yourself there’s almost definitely an example in “Roadside MBA” that you’ll identify with and can learn from.

While Mazzeo, Oyer and Schaefer’s personal and sometimes humorous shenanigans interject some fun between more serious case studies, they aren’t exactly needed – in many cases you’ll wish they’d skip directly into the actual discussions with the business owners that highlight the extremely enlightening – and sometimes unusual – business circumstances they operate in. Certainly, many of the examples in “Roadside MBA” put in real life – or put paid – many of the theories in business books.

Certainly a worthy read.


Daniel Goh is the founder and chief editor of Young | Upstarts, as well as an F&B entrepreneur. Daniel has a background in public relations, and is interested in issues in entrepreneurship, small business, marketing, public relations and the online space. He can be reached at daniel [at] youngupstarts [dot] com.

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