Professor Teaching Business Simulators

An Instructor’s Experience: From MikesBikes Critic to True Fan

Written by Russell E. Holmes, a business and law instructor, at Des Moines Area Community College.

It All Began…

A few years back my business department decided to incorporate a business simulation game into our Introduction to Business course. The college felt our introductory business course would become more acceptable as a transfer course to a larger number of universities if we did this.

I was adamantly opposed to requiring a simulation in the course. I had taught the course for many years, was comfortable with the variety of assignments and activities I had developed over the years and had no interest in having to deal with what I perceived to be an activity that would take a lot of time and, in my opinion, be of minimal value.

What really upset me was when I was told we would be required to take students through chapters that dealt with accounting, financial management, securities and marketing at the beginning of the course so they would be able to understand the simulation better. I was beyond angry as I had always done those chapters at the end of the course. More than that, I felt the tail was wagging the dog – in other words, I felt the simulation was becoming the centerpiece of the course as opposed to being a part of it.

Taking A Stand

In protest to this major change to the course, I choose not to teach it. I had enough other courses I could teach that I did not need to do the Introduction to Business course. I felt bad about this as I had always enjoyed the course but, well, I had no interest in dealing with the business simulation and all the problems I was sure it would bring about. I was fairly confident that in a couple of years MikesBikes would become a thing of the past and the people who had advocated for it would see the error of their ways.

Reluctantly Accepting

About two years after the college began requiring the business simulation in all the Introduction to Business courses, I was forced to teach the course again since I needed a full load. I was upset, to put it mildly, that I would have to deal with the simulation. I was convinced it was a waste of time and greatly over-rated. I had ignored it for two years and had had no interest in learning what it was all about.

Still, I had no choice. I figured if the students were going to have to deal with it, then I would figure out a way to make it somewhat palatable. There had to be some redeeming value to it even if I had no idea what it might be. I knew I would need to be able to explain it and have some working knowledge of it for obvious reasons.

Knowing I had no choice I was forced to dive in and begin to learn what this MikesBikes simulation was all about whether I liked it or not (and I definitely did not). Over a long break I attempted to learn how to do the simulation. I would go in spurts. After struggling with the most basic of concepts in Years 1 and 2 (how in the world am I supposed to determine a selling price or how many units to produce?!) I fought and cursed the simulation every step of the way. I was determined to prove it was a waste of time and could not in any way be remotely realistic.

The Turning Point

However, slowly – ever so slowly – I began to see a glimmer of light here and another glimmer there. No matter how hard I tried to find fault with every aspect of the simulation, I began to see something that was slightly interesting and perhaps even somewhat relevant to this thing we call “business.” I began to see the marketing screen and the production screen actually correlated with each other (can you say “supply and demand”?).

I began to realize those Key Reports – something I had tried to ignore – actually had some really valuable information in them and were appropriately named (imagine that?). I discovered that if I knew the size of my market it was actually helpful in determining how many bicycles my factory should be producing in the upcoming year. Slowly, ever so slowly, I stopped cursing the simulation and began to see how it might have some value.

As the simulation progressed into Year 2 and Year 3 and Year 4 an amazing thing happened – what I had learned in earlier years could be used to build upon in the following year. Before long I was seeing a rather interesting relationship before my eyes involving many pieces to a large puzzle – financing, production, advertising, branding, pricing, dividends and on and on. So many pieces but they all fit together so nicely when you – the owner of your firm – figured out how to put those pieces in place.

From Ugly Duckling to Beautiful Swan

The simulation was no longer an ugly, disjointed, confusing maze of frustration. Rather it had turned into a beautiful kaleidoscope of moving parts and beautiful colors. There was no one right way; there were actually many right ways to obtain a high shareholder value. I was, in a word, astounded at not only the beauty of the simulation but the intricacy of it. Still, it was simple enough for a student in an Introduction to Business class to understand if he or she was willing to give it some time and thought.

Isn’t that what a college course is all about – taking the time to give the subject matter some time and thought so the concepts can be digested? Isn’t actually being actively engaged in an ongoing project – something that requires a person to work on week after week – better than sitting passively reading or listening or even watching a video about some topic?

The Value

I, the old curmudgeon, had learned something even though I had tried so hard to keep my mind closed. The simulation brought some real life into the course and made it better (shocking but true). MikesBikes brought to life a variety of concepts that are discussed in the text and allowed students to work together making decisions for the upcoming year.

Both my online as well as my face-to-face classroom students do the simulation and I could not be more pleased. Sure, some students get so frustrated they want to quit – but I tell them the key is to push forward, stay with it, preserve and never give up. When they see the light it is an amazing sight for me and a feeling of true success for them.

Becoming a Strong Advocate

Today, I would not consider teaching Introduction to Business without the MikesBikes business simulation. I have come full circle from vocal nonbeliever to strong advocate. One of my students this past semester scored #2 in the MikesBikes Introduction Hall of Fame.

If he had only declared a dividend he would have easily been #1! To this day I will never understand why he never declared a dividend for his shareholders!! Oh, what could have been!

More importantly is not what could have been but what is. And what MikesBikes is, is invaluable to my course.


Russell Holmes

Russell E. Holmes teaches Business Law and Introduction to Business. He obtained his law degree from Drake Law School in 1989. He has a Master’s degree from Iowa State; a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa and an Associate of Arts degree from North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City.

After graduating from University, he worked with the Federal Land Bank of St. Paul, Minnesota as a loan officer. In 1977 he started teaching full time for the American Institute of Business in Des Moines and also worked for a consulting firm in Des Moines.

Russell first began at Des Moines Area Community College in 1980 and was with the department until 1986. He left DMACC to attend law school. From 1989 until 2004 he was in private practice in Polk and Story counties. For eight years he was the executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Story County. He returned to DMACC in 2004 and has been teaching there ever since.