Monday, November 5, 2012

Baptism by Fire: My First Kelley Case Competition


By Clark Hays  
First-year MBA, Strategic Finance Academy

My orientation case-comp team


It’s mid-August, and even though it’s the dead of summer, for most MBAs in Bloomington, Indiana it’s a season of change. Students are prepping for the transition from corporate America to academia by settling into new homes, befriending new faces, and becoming acquainted with the beautiful campus and quirky downtown.

Yet, after one has barely gained his or her bearings in this state of flux, that person is immediately thrown into an intense and highly entertaining team-based case competition.  At that time, though each MBA in our new class had virtually no graduate training about how to systematically deconstruct a case, each team was thrust into the gauntlet and pushed to teach and sharpen each other.
Happy with our work!

Meeting my team for the case competition was memorable.  The introductions were both enthralling and nerve-racking – these other four team members would be my peers for the rest of the semester not only for case competitions but for homework, studying and general support.  As is the case with most teams, our fabulous five was incredibly diverse.  Kelley was quite clever in creating a microcosm of the world within our little quintet. As we worked together on the case (how to boost the bottom line for a local winery), we found that each member contributed a unique and essential point of view.   

Being the finance guy in our team, I was fixated on exploiting trends in margins. The marketing guru in our group was obsessed with target markets. We had an officer of a US Navy Submarine who was an incredible leader, an architect with a non-business background who played an artful devil’s advocate, and an IT expert from India with an eye for the minutiae.  
My teammate, brain storming

After 36 hours in the trenches with my new friends – brainstorming, formulating, constructing, polishing – I couldn’t help but marvel as I looked upon our final recommendation.  If I had done this case competition on my own, the recommendation would be nothing, absolutely nothing, like what we had fabricated.  Yet somehow, the torrent of differing thoughts all blended together harmoniously, at least in our (slightly biased) point of view.  We decided to call it a night around 10 PM to be in good spirits for the next day, but some teams were working well into the twilight hours of 2 or 3 AM.

Competition day was electric; a palpable energy pulsated through the hallways as teams paced in anticipation before their presentations.  We decided to structure our presentation with three team members to present and two to take on the Q&A.  After a few sketchy run-throughs – and some very concerned looks from our 2nd-year mentor – we presented to a panel of 4 judges our main point of how emerging varietal sales could galvanize revenue and open up a new market.  I guess the nerves evoked the best from us because it was announced shortly thereafter that we were moving on.  The field of 12 teams in our cohort had been narrowed down to 3.  Joyous as we were from the performance, we were wary of being overly-confident as feedback would not be provided until the end of the competition.

The team!
For the final round, the new venue reflected the higher stakes. This time, instead of simply being evaluated by a panel of judges, we also had the eyes our entire cohort peering at us.  It’s these certain moments, when palms get clammy and knees get shaky, that your team members transition from teammates to friends.  The transition eventually happens with almost everyone you meet at Kelley.  It’s what separates the school from other Top 20 MBA programs: Kelley is one of the friendliest place on Earth.

Bolstered by the comfort of four friends surrounding you with the same mission, we explained our recommendation and defended our plan against the barrage of the panel’s questioning. We walked out of the final round satisfied with our performance, regardless of our ultimate placing.  And as the three cohorts gathered in the atrium to hear the announcement of the victors, our sighs of relief abruptly turned into shouts of exhilaration.  We were ecstatic to be declared the case competition winners.  And more substantially, after reflecting on the whirlwind of a jam-packed week, we felt honored to have completed this unforgettable baptism by fire at the Kelley School of Business.

1 comment: