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Loyola Limited gives students hands-on business experience

April 08, 2013|By Erin Vogel @eringejuice | For RedEye

Ryan Cisler, CEO of Loyola University Chicago's student-run business enterprise Loyola Limited, usually gets anywhere from 30 to 50 work e-mails a day.

Without his cell phone, which he says is "literally an extension of his arm," he wouldn't be able to stay in constant communication with the more than 60 employees from the three student-run businesses he supervises: The Flats at Loyola Station, Felice's Roman Style Pizza and Chainlinks.

The job would be a lot for anyone to handle, but Cisler isn't just any CEO. He's also a 22-year-old soon-to-be-graduating Loyola senior, double majoring in marketing and international business, so it's no small feat that he's able to manage both his class schedule and the heavy task of managing a startup.

"Being a CEO is probably the craziest thing I could do to myself in college," said Cisler, who was one of the original 15 members when Loyola Limited first started. "The job never sleeps."

And it doesn't seem like Cisler or any of his other student employee leaders get much sleep, either.

Loyola Limited, the vision of six undergraduate students determined to bring student-run businesses to campus, started in 2010 with The Flats at Loyola Station, a 10-unit boutique guesthouse offering short and long-term leases for guests of both the university and the surrounding community.

Since its inception, Loyola Limited has grown to include two more businesses--Felice's Roman Style Pizza, and Chainlinks, a nonprofit bike rental and repair shop--and become the fastest student-run business organization in the nation. It previously included a property management firm called Loyola Property Management that was managed by students for a year until the business transferred its assets to the university.

Kristen McCormack, a 22-year-old senior majoring in international business and finance and president of The Flats, said most people who know about Loyola Limited think it's a cool idea but don't quite understand that when she says the businesses are completely student-run, she means it.

At the Flats, her team of six students is responsible for everything from managing the finances to fixing up the building. The university, along with an executive board also made up of students, provides guidance and oversight, but all of the day-to-day operations of each Loyola Limited business are managed completely by students.

"I don't think anybody ever really understands that we have our hands over every aspect of the businesses," McCormack said. "They think it's really great, but I don't think they understand how big it is to me because they can't see what I mean when I say we control every little piece."

Chelsea McClellan, brand manager at Felice's Roman Style Pizza, was initially hired to make pizzas at the student-run pizzeria--until she was hired in November to manage the marketing side of the business.

McClellan, a 19-year-old sophomore and marketing major, said one of the reasons she applied to work at Felice's was because she wanted to be a part of the unique culture there.

"I go to work, and whatever mood I'm in, I always leave happy, because [the other employees and I] are so close," she said. "It's really something special. You're never afraid to talk to your boss because your boss is your peer."

That unique community can also be found at Chainlinks, Loyola's student-run bike rental and repair shop, which opened in August 2011. President Haley Keegan, a 21-year-old junior and environmental science major, said at her job, every day is different--some days she might work only on the shop's finances, while other days she might be repairing bikes or helping organize informational workshops on biking that Chainlinks introduced this semester.

She recently also implemented a new service at the shop that allows customers to return bike rentals or drop off their bikes for repairs when the store is closed by locking the bikes outside and dropping the keys in an outside mailbox, just like you might drop off your keys with your car at the auto repair shop. (Each Loyola Limited businesses can apply for funding from the university to finance new ideas and ventures as they come up with them.)

Running Chainlinks, as with the other Loyola Limited businesses, involves a lot of rapid problem-solving and hands-on learning. For example, Keegan said when the shop first opened, she and her team planned a large portion of their business model around the expectation that a lot of customers would be primarily interested in long-term bike rentals. Instead, it turned out that short-term rentals were more popular, so the business had to sell off some of its bikes and restructure to fit that demand.

"The main thing I've learned is that you really have to be open to change," Keegan said. "You have to be able to adapt to what your customers need."

Hands-on learning is exactly what makes Loyola Limited so valuable for students, Cisler said.

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