Shark Tank 101: Bill Lacy Brings Finance to Life for MBA Students

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Many people know that Shark Tank is one of the most popular business shows in CNBC’s lineup, its viewers drawn to the drama of entrepreneurs seeking financing from celebrity investors. Some Pfeiffer graduate students are now learning managerial finance through course sessions emulating the reality TV show.

Bill Lacy, an adjunct professor in Pfeiffer University’s Master of Business Administration program, teaches remotely from Haddonfield, N.J., where he’s the CEO of ACHRM, an organization that devises cost-containment strategies in the healthcare industry. Though not an avid fan of Shark Tank, he has come to see its educational potential: He moderates an adaptation of the Shark format as part of MBA 706 Managerial Finance, a required semester-long course he has taught at Pfeiffer since August 2020.

Shark Tank is much easier for students to relate to than a mere explanation of a venture group or an investment committee,” Lacy said. “Students employ their newly learned skills in our Shark Tank sessions. They also learn about critical areas of finance that are not covered in our textbook, which explores 22 concepts and theories.”

Lacy’s Shark Tank sessions are like those of the eponymous show: The students play financial analysts who are trying to persuade a panel of “sharks” to purchase stock in a publicly traded company, drawing on bullet-point summaries of much more data than their television counterparts. The sharks are Lacy-chosen professionals from outside of Pfeiffer with extensive experience in finance and investing. They listen to the students’ pitch, then grill them about it. Click on https://tinyurl.com/pas44caz (Passcode: HVH^9zXW) to view a recent session.

Lacy’s Shark Tank sessions round out his students’ study of finance by acquainting them with everyday skills that financial analysts use to win over prospective investors. These include not only collecting and analyzing data from reams of sources but also building teamwork skills that are necessary to make that happen. In addition, students learn to boil down hundreds of pages of financial reporting into succinct recommendations.

The Shark Tank proceedings at Pfeiffer engage three different student groups, each of which plugs a different publicly traded company over the course of a semester. The last Shark Tank sessions under Lacy’s direction took place this past spring semester. They featured students representing one of three telemedicine firms: Teladoc, AMWELL, and Ontrak.

In each instance, a Shark Tank session is the final “presentation” component of a multifaceted project in which students are graded on their ability to “make a compelling argument for why we should invest in your organization’s publicly traded common stock.” The project includes several milestones and a report with an executive summary.

Along the way, Lacy checks in with students to evaluate and provide feedback on their projects during “Breakfast with Bill” sessions that take place on Saturday mornings. Before preparations for the Shark Tank presentations begin, these sessions feature guest speakers sharing how they’ve applied concepts in the course’s textbook.

La’Shanda Wood ’21, a student participant who represented AMWELL in a recent Shark Tank session, is also a Program Coordinator ll at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. She has liaised frequently with the CDC during the current COVID-19 pandemic. She said that she will benefit from what she’s learned in MBA 706.

“Finance is an important part of everyday life,” she said. “You have to be able to take large amounts of data, break it down and share it with others so that they can make informed decisions.”

So far, the companies in Lacy’s Shark Tank sessions have all been in the healthcare field. This complements concrete cost-containment strategies that come to life in the ACHRM work that Lacy shows the students in MBA 706. This past semester, for example, he showed his students the results of a project that ACHRM did for the City of Chicago, a project that resulted in nine healthcare cost containment strategies with estimated savings.

For this and many other reasons, Wood thinks of Lacy as an innovator who does far more than lecture and have students do homework exercises based on their textbook readings.

“He has a passion for teaching, and it shows,” she said.


Ken Keuffel, who authored this article, has served as Pfeiffer’s Assistant Director of Communications since December 2019. He welcomes story ideas from Pfeiffer’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. The form for submitting story ideas is at www.pfeiffer.edu/newsform.​