“Good morning, teams. This is your mission: You have two hours to provide solutions to increase growth in Germany’s E.ON Energy Corporation by identifying new markets, diversifying products, and proposing long-term energy alternatives to provide a sustainable future for the company.
“Should any members of your team be caught without a valid strategic plan or waylaid by an opponent’s better logic, financials or presentation, your case will self-destruct after the first round of competition.
Such was the challenge that faced 2010 BSM graduates Felix Lukose, Preston Holb, and Eric Vong, and 2010 MBA graduate Derek Mauk at Rubicon, a premier international case competition held in March at BiTS University in Iserlohn, Germany. Purdue was one of only 24 universities worldwide selected to compete in this battle of business schools. The Krannert team, dubbed, “The Business Makers,” dove into the challenge.
Together they researched and brainstormed ideas to reduce E.ON’s carbon emissions and increase its profits and market share. They proposed innovative ways to deliver natural gas to India’s emerging market by acquiring smaller companies in the country and investing in geothermal energy for the long term.
The teamwork was evident as the Krannert undergraduates advanced to the final round and won second place with their presentation to a jury of professionals and academics. “Our team brought different qualities and strengths to the table,” says Lukose. “We had a lot of trust in each other.”
A staple of experiential learning at many business schools, case competitions require teams to analyze a complex business scenario under strict time constraints, identify the company’s challenge, and present their recommendations to an often unforgiving panel of industry and academic experts.
What motivates business students to put themselves through such an exhausting process?
“Participating in a case competition helps you practice operating under pressure and hones your thought processes,” says Lukose. “Those are the same kind of situations you often find in job interviews.”
The experience of working together as a team is another benefit to participation, adds Holb. “You develop people skills by relating to each other and by making the presentation to the jury,” he says. Although the team functions as a unit, each member’s strengths rise to the surface to be utilized in different areas of expertise, be it strategy, operations, marketing or finance.
Case competitions weren’t always as prevalent at Krannert. When Sara Stein Koch, director of undergraduate programs and the Undergraduate Management Communications Center, came on board in 2005, there were only about 20 students participating in two cases each year. In 2010, more than 100 undergraduates participated in
22 competitions, including several hosted by Purdue.
“Involvement in case competitions puts a student’s business knowledge to the test,” say Stein Koch. “Competitions require excellent public speaking skills, the ability to think on your feet, and creative and innovative risk-taking. These skills make students marketable and cement what they’re learning in the classroom.”
Case competitions also are great learning experiences for Krannert graduate students. Master’s program alumnus Sanjeev Vaid (MBA ’09) says that networking and potential employment opportunities are key benefits to participating. Interacting with fellow business students from across the country creates connections that can be useful in future business collaborations.
Just as importantly, companies that sponsor case competitions are looking to hire talent from participating teams. They have the opportunity to see pre-screened candidates in action, and can make well-informed decisions about their employment potential based on personal observation. In today’s competitive job market, case competitions give students an excellent forum to sell themselves to future employers.
“Case competitions provide the platform to enhance some of the most critical skills of an MBA,” says Vaid, including strategic and analytical thinking, cross-functional thinking, teamwork, and communication. “The cases are real-life problems facing today’s corporate world, and sponsors are eager to listen to the proposed solutions and implementation plans,” he says.
Following victories in several smaller competitions during 2009–10, Krannert’s team of first-year MBA students Saketh Chinni, Matthew Black, Daniel Schwartz and D.J. Crandall capped off the academic year in April with Purdue’s victory in the annual Big Ten MBA Case Competition at Ohio State University. In addition, Chinni was recognized as the competition’s best individual presenter, while Crandall earned honors for the best individual Q&A.
Chinni says his most rewarding experience was the opportunity to interact with senior industry leaders in a boardroom setting and not only to present solutions, but also to experience the grilling that one can expect from project stakeholders.
“Winning the last few case competitions has shown everyone that Krannert is a force to be reckoned with,” he says. “Seeing our school’s name at the top of the leader board has helped further the sense of pride we feel in being Krannert students.”
Teresa Taylor Sekine, a longtime supporter of case competitions and area coordinator for managerial communication at Krannert, served as the team’s coach and accompanied the students to the event.
“One of the reasons Krannert won was our team’s ability to jump from one support point to the next to answer judges’ questions,” she says. “It takes real team skills to understand that one may have to yield his or her time to another team member in order to defend the team’s recommendation. Plus, the team has to really ‘own’ the proposed solution; confidence in the recommendation must clearly be delineated.
“The students did a top-notch job in each stage of the competition,” says Sekine. “It was a joy to watch them, and they truly helped Krannert’s image go up a notch.”
— Jane McLaughlin Anderson