Carl H. Lindner College of BusinessCarl H. Lindner College of BusinessUniversity of Cincinnati

Carl H. Lindner College of Business

Students Shine in Front of Business Leaders at UC MBA Case Competition

Submitted: 4/15/2011 11:46:30
  • Teams put their budding MBA tools to the test - and showcase the power of the UC MBA.

Engaging with working professionals early on in an MBA program is key to success after graduation. The Graduate Management Admission Council's (GMAC) Corporate Recruiters Survey 2010 states nearly two in three firms recruit graduate business school students on campus. And employee referrals (76%%), including those from alumni who come back to their alma mater, top the list of strategies companies use to find new talent.

With employers actively recruiting on campus, one way UC graduate business students differentiate themselves from their peers is by participating in the UC MBA Case Competition. Held each spring, the UC MBA Case Competition, now in its twentieth year, provides participants with the opportunity to impress regional business executives with their in-depth business understanding and problem solving know-how.

"The MBA is more than a rigorous slate of courses, but an integrative experience aimed to develop the complete professional," says Bob Dwyer, Joseph Stern Professor of Marketing and academic director of the UC MBA program. To that end, faculty administrators form multi-disciplinary student teams from three MBA classes-Corporate Strategy, Marketing for Managers, and Communications for Managers?to compete. The competition has more than grades at stake-it sparks a spirited rivalry among the teams and taps into a desire to excel in front of business professionals.

"We believe the case competition is a powerful pedagogical tool," says Dwyer. "Students ply the analytical tools we've been adding to their toolbox and they reach a new level of collaboration and trust in their teams. More importantly, the competition's use of external judges places a premium on professionalism?preparation, polish, candor and humility."

Simulating an actual relationship between senior management (judges) and a consulting firm (student team), case competitions challenge participants to apply tools learned in the classroom to a real-world business scenario. This year, the UC MBA Case Competition required participants to evaluate and make recommendations for a major international food retailing chain's expansion into the U.S.

Nine teams, each comprised of five full-time UC MBA students, devised and formulated their cases for the first round presentation in less than three days.

"The time pressure was immense because we realistically only had a day-and-a-half to come up with ideas, leaving the rest of the time to develop and support those ideas?and of course rehearse our presentation," says Ayoola Balogun, a full-time MBA student and member of the FUZE team, one of the nine participating in the competition.

The first round judges, including ten b-school alumni and three faculty members, spent the entire morning of March 14, 2011 listening to all nine team presentations and then deliberating which three teams would advance to the final round.

"[The competition] represents an opportunity to showcase business dexterity developed during the first half of the full-time MBA program," remembers UC MBA alumnus and 2011 first-round judge, Jonathan Olsen, now a retail operations manager with the Kroger Company. "[It's] a chance to measure your growth opposed to that of your peers."

The three finalist teams then have less than 24 hours to refine their solution for the final presentation the next afternoon. Although the pressure is intense for the first round, the stakes are raised for the final round?the panel of judges is comprised entirely of business professionals. Participating teams walk away with more than just the experience of challenging their critical thinking and collaboration skills under time constraints, but also the opportunity to gain valuable feedback from seasoned business professionals.

"Having [teams] present to experienced business executives in a ?simulated' real-world business meeting is great practice for their future career," says final round judge Rad Ewing, an active consultant and retired P&G global marketing director . "Getting experience doing that in school is a lot less risky than doing it for the first time on the job."

The presentations were?judged on their creativity, feasibility and efficacy, demonstrated through solid business reasoning and persuasive data support. "The breadth and depth of thinking, analysis, research and creativity each of the teams demonstrated in their presentations was quite impressive," says Ewing.

Blending their concentrations in operations management, information systems, marketing and finance , Balogun and his FUZE teammates Jason Hodson, Lauren Koch, Payal Saxena and Hongbin "Ryan" Zhu, successfully maximized each other's individual strengths to carry out the teamwork required to win.

"I served in the Marine Corps for four and a half years," shares Hodson. "And, since that time, I have not served with a team that has worked together so effectively to address a problem and, when faced with opposition, presented a unified and unflinching response."

The judges certainly agreed, awarding team FUZE the top honor for presenting a comprehensive and creative solution that was supported analytically and operationally to achieve the company's goals.

"It was rewarding to see that all of our efforts were fruitful and to hear real industry executives commend our ideas and recommendations as sound and impressive," says Balogun. "[The judges' compliments] spoke volumes to the amount of valuable yet practical knowledge we've gained through the MBA program so far."

Years later, former participants still value the learning from the competition, "I look back at [the case competition] as one of the highlights of my time in the MBA program," Olsen says.

Although not a formal networking event, the competition gives teams face-time with those on the frontlines of business today?and sometimes the opportunity to exchange business cards. More importantly however, the UC MBA Case Competition simulates the authentic collaborative business environment all MBA students will face when hitting the job market.

"I'll think of this quarter as one of the milestones in my education," shares Hodson. "And I hope I have the opportunity to partner with my teammates during my professional career."