Introducing high school students to the world of business, one M&A at a time

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Ted Birkhahn.

anew nesshaLast month, I was asked to judge a high school business competition for an organization called Youth About Business (YAB), on which I serve as an advisory board member. YAB is a non-profit that runs business camps around the country for underserved high school students. But it’s not like any business camp. It provides a fast track, deep dive into the world of mergers and acquisition by giving students access to investment bankers, deal lawyers, marketing experts and CEOs of global businesses as they compete in a weeklong M&A competition.

The competition I judged involved several teams playing the management teams roles of Amazon, Facebook and Zynga. The case involved the Facebook and Amazon teams bidding to buy Zynga. The team that won – Amazon — actually decided not to buy Zynga and floored the judges with their detailed reasoning as to why it wasn’t a good deal for Amazon’s investors. One of my co-judges expressed what everyone was thinking: “Are these really high school students?”

Yes, they are. The power of YAB and its M&A competition is its ability to unlock the potential of underserved youth who have no previous exposure to the world of business and enable them to soak up knowledge and gain confidence through an experiential learning model that rapidly progresses their understanding of business.

Below is a blog post from Aneesha Natarajan, (pictured above, second from right) one of YAB’s students, about her experience at summer business camp. I had the privilege of watching Aneesha as she presented her team’s case to a room full of bankers, lawyers and CEOs. Thanks Aneesha for inspiring me and setting an example for America’s youth.

Aneesha’s post:
It was a privilege to be able to participate in the Youth About Business (YAB) Basic Camp, and to be selected to come back for the Championship Camp. I entered the camp with limited knowledge of the business world, and even less knowledge on the subject of mergers and acquisitions; but I left the Championship Camp with valuable knowledge and insights that I can apply during my future studies in business, as well as in my professional career.

YAB is a truly unique program as it gives students the opportunity to get a look inside the world of business, and allows them to apply the skills they learn to their own mergers and acquisitions case. I got a chance to understand all the various aspects that go into such a transaction, regarding legal matters, finances, valuations, and negotiations. In addition to learning the basics of these matters, I got great exposure to the professional world by being able to spend time with senior executives from various companies, including rating agencies, auditing firms, and corporate law firms, who helped us on our cases. One of the most valuable parts of the program was being able to talk to these professionals first hand. Not only did I learn a lot about the specifics of mergers and acquisitions from them, but I also gained tremendous insight into their professions and the inner workings of the business world. While I went in with some idea about what they did based on their titles, it was really enlightening to talk to them about what they do on a day-to-day basis and the path they took to get where they are now. This experience was unlike anything I learned in school, and it really got me thinking about my future and what profession I want to pursue.

Furthermore, the program challenged me and all of my teammates to work together. We quickly realized that putting together a report and a presentation was too large a task for any one of us to accomplish on our own, and that the only way to go about it was to work together as a team. This also gave us a chance to realize our own strengths and weaknesses – we each focused our efforts on our individual task and trusted that our teammates would take care of their part. This collaborative effort allowed us to put together a report that we were truly proud of and ultimately helped us win the presentation portion of the competition. While it was nerve-wracking at the time, presenting in front of a panel of executives gave me greater confidence in myself and I felt a great sense of accomplishment knowing that all of our hard work had paid off.

Youth About Business was a wonderful experience that introduced me to the world of business and gave me invaluable skills that I know I will continue to use. It got me excited about my own future, and I look forward to keeping in touch with Youth About Business and attending Advanced Camp next summer.

16 thoughts on “Introducing high school students to the world of business, one M&A at a time

  1. I applaud the author, Aneesha, and the YAB alum who posted their own replies, for shedding light on such an outstanding organization that does a particularly good job at doing what all great businesses do: connecting supply (interested high school students who probably otherwise wouldn’t have exposure to the corporate finance world at such a young age) to demand (interested business executives — both on Wall Street and in the camp’s respective cities throughout the country) through a rather stimulating transaction. I had the distinct privilege of being part of the Basic Camp, Advanced Camp, and Chicago’s student advisory team. While I walked away with many hard and soft skills, as well as an interest in corporate finance (which resulted in two internships at bulge bracket firms in college, one being Morgan Stanley in New York), the biggest treasure was the investment of time, expertise and financial backing YAB lavished on me and my peers. The program sought to give me an unparalleled experience in the corporate finance world, and at a ridiculously subsidized price. My fellow attendees and I were, and continue to be, all greatly blessed by the tireless efforts of Capt. Kirk, Mrs. Kirk, and his staff for this exposure to this world — the concepts that drive it, the skills needed to succeed, and those professionals who live it — long after high school graduation. I couldn’t recommend this program highly enough!

  2. I can definitely relate to Aneesha’s experience as a participant of the Youth About Business Summer Camp from 5 years ago. As an intern and counselor of this past summer, I couldn’t be more happy to hear the positive feedback from Aneesha’s reflection. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes at Youth About Business to ensure an increasingly meaningful experience each summer. I remember Aneesha, along with many other eager students, constantly asking questions about the competition case and business in general. I am glad to see that Youth About Business continues to inspire talented students year after year.

  3. It’s phenomenal to see the tremendous impact Youth About Business continues to have on its student participants. As a previous participant, I’m now able to understand more than the ever the skills I developed from YAB. Aneesha, I’m positive as you enter college you’ll further notice your development from the program and how the preparation from YAB will greatly assist with your academic success. Moving forward into your career, you’ll notice an even greater impact and the skills you possess are incomparable to your peers. Continue to give your all to YAB, taking advantage of all opportunities as you’ll definitely benefit in the long run, just as I have and many others.

  4. Aneesha’s words ring true for me as well! I credit the Youth About Business program for being a cornerstone in my professional development and career progression. Now as a current MBA student 13 years later, I still find myself reflecting on the exposure and opportunities that YAB provided me early on and thus I am forever indebted for such an impactful life altering experience.

  5. It’s really wonderful to see the growth that Youth About Business has experienced in the past few years! I was a participant in the first YAB summer camp at Columbia University in 2005, and I can personally attest to the tremendous impact that this organization is making.

    Prior to participating, like any other high school student, business concepts and financial jargon were something I steered clear of. Attending the YAB camp was a true watershed moment for me. The first few days were kind of like being dropped in a foreign country, but after a few late-night espresso-driven meetings to strategize for our mock merger, everything suddenly “clicked.” I suddenly had a completely new understanding of how the world operates, and a new calling. I am now working to take Fluidware, a tech company which I started as a result of my experiences at YAB, to the next level. After 5 years we’ve developed 3 products and have grown to more than 50 people.

    Aneesha, I’m glad to see you had such a great experience as well. Your enthusiasm is most definitely well-placed. You have a bright future ahead of you!

  6. As a former participant and intern and now alum and volunteer of Youth About Business, I can truthfully say that working with and learning from YAB was the most amazing experience I have ever had. When I entered college, I was definitely miles ahead of my peers in terms of business experience, networking, and professionalism. I would recommend this program for all high school students because you learn valuable things about yourself both socially and professionally. I made some of my best friends from all around the country through YAB. I have been involved with YAB since 2007 and I plan on staying involved for years to come!

  7. As a former intern, and now Alumni of Youth About Business this post resonated with me so well. YAB is a stellar program that truly gives its participants a different and unique experience. My many years in YAB gave me skills I never could have imagined gaining. Participating in the program in High School, opened my eyes to the business world and all it had to offer. Meeting so many different types of people and having exposure to different careers gave me great insight on what the future held for me. I will always hold YAB near and dear to my heart, as it has given me not only a great education on the world but also life-long friends.

    Aneesha, I am truly glad you enjoyed your experience at a First-Year student, I do have to let you know it only gets more challenging, but its a challenge like no other. Welcome to the YAB Family and I wish you much continued success with your endeavors.

  8. As an alum, I am so pleased to see Youth About Business continues to flourish and positively impact the lives of young people. It equips youth to make an informed decision concerning their futures in business and as an individual. The work ethic to succeed in this program sets the standard for success. It’s been over 20 years of continual growth and innovation. I can’t wait to see the day that my children are old enough to participate in this phenomenal program. ….If only YAB was in 1993 what is today. 🙂

  9. Youth About Business is one of the most unique programs for young people in that it teaches them great business skills and help them to utilize their creative thinking which is critical in business. The program has grown tremendously since its inception and continues to attract young people whom want to be future business leaders.

  10. I can certainly identify with Aneesha’s post. I participated in Youth About Business and Summer Business Camp. The knowledge and skills I gained helped me in college, my first job after graduation, and graduate school. More importantly, these programs emphasized work ethic, strategic thinking and resource utilization. These three concepts have helped me tremendously throughout my career.

  11. Aneesha, you are a great writer! Writing well along with your business sense will take you far. And, I admire your ability to convey the Business Camp experience vividly.

    I too am a beneficiary of Youth About Business program, I attended the camp many years ago. Now, I work as an energy analyst reviewing mergers between electricity companies. I credit YAB with giving me an early interest in mergers.

  12. I am glad to have been able to introduce this program through Mr.Kirk and Tasha Brimmer-Taylor to students within the Lawrenceville area (Archer High School). These students attended the Atlanta basedcamp at Emory and went o to place 2nd in New York. What an amazing feat for 1st timers. Soon, the whole school system (Gwinnett) will see the relevance of this camp for workers of the 21st century.

    • Valerie, thanks for the comment. Not enough people know about this program yet it has a such a dramatic impact on the students and corporate partners who participate. We need to spread the word so we can demystify the world of business and finance for high school students through this very unique and powerful experiential learning model.

  13. Great story. It sounds like a wonderful organization and if Aneesha is an example of the success students can achieve, the future is in good hands. Congratulations to all involved.