Thursday, February 17, 2011

We Won!

It's feels good to say it - we took first place!

When I was a kid, I never won anything. All those random drawings in elementary school raffles, my first and only lottery ticket when I turned 18, my one and only time in a Fantasy Baseball league.....

but last weekend, we won the Purdue Supply Chain Case Competition. Let me give you a little background before I get to the juicy victory.

Due to a friend of mine and me surprising our class by performing a silly skit one morning, I got invited by a couple of second years to join their case competition team. I had done two before internally as part of this two year MBA program, and enjoyed the process of cracking a problem and presenting a solution. So I said "sure." The three of us teamed up with another second year, and sent our registration in.

In late January, we received our case to crack from Purdue with 22 other competitors. In a nutshell, our case focused on the fictional country of Gombala, which was rife with disease and healthcare was fully funded by very, very picky international donors. Within the country, individual hospitals were able to order medication whenever they needed, communication was poor, and death rates were high. Our mission: free up funding and get the hospitals to pool their resources.

We had a week to work on the problem, and were relatively relaxed and paced in doing so, compared to the Core experience. We delivered a thorough, great deck to Purdue; and within a week, we had heard back that we were one of the final six teams. We had already beaten out schools like Vanderbilt, MIT and Michigan!

We spent the next week refining and perfecting our deck; but it was all in vain, because as we'd get to Purdue, they'd certainly surprise us. The four of us road-tripped up to West Lafayette last Thursday, listening to tunes and visiting one teammate's undergrad experience at Depauw. Once at Purdue, we signed in and went through the regular pomp and circumstance of an opening event - Purdue was full of very kind hosts.

They handed us our case update and we were given a break-out room from 6-11 p.m. In summary, the president of Gombala was going to announce free healthcare for pregnant women and children under five, and we had to figure out how to handle the massive increase in demand for medication the following day. We worked hard and tirelessly, but with plenty of laughter and graciousness. When we were booted out of the room at 11, we continued to work until 3 a.m. back in the hotel.

We were chosen to present fifth, and thus had until 4 p.m. on Friday to either attend a Supply Chain conference or practice. We chose practice, and spent the entire day in various alcoves of the school and hotel practicing and refining our presentation, often whispering so passers-by couldn't hear our solution.

When it came time to present, we spoke in front of a panel of 12ish industry judges and four of the finalist teams - Kellogg, Purdue, South Carolina and Southern California. It went without a hitch, we finished in time and the question and answer section went smooth as butter.

Fast-forward 45 minutes, and they're announcing the top three winners. My heart raced as our name was not called in the first two, thinking we either won or got completely destroyed. But when we were called, I felt like we were on the Price is Right, but had to compose myself and walk professionally to the stage.

People keep asking me what was our secret - how did we win? My answer is two fold:

First: I think we just had a perfect synergy of talent on the team. I have a not-for-profit background and one teammate has a strong supply chain background, while the other two have strong consulting backgrounds - so it was a perfect interest synergy for the case. Also, we just really got along and were very relaxed during the whole process.

Second: I think the Kelley case method is golden. One of the things things you get out of the MBA management degree and the entrepreneur MBA program is the benefit of being able to tell a story. The ability to draw the crowd in through a captivating problem, immediately assuring them with your solution, then logically and clearly walking them through how to solve that problem, and finally wrapping up with the results of your projected solution are essential. In our feedback, this was one reoccurring theme that set us apart from other top ranked MBA colleges. Maybe it was still worth it to originally go to college for theater.....

So, it was a blast, I feel humbled and honored, and I'd do it again. But first, I've got to talk someone about getting our certificate in the trophy case and a new case victory banner on the wall.....

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