Fisher MBA Internal Case Competition

Every winter, The Fisher College of Business holds an Internal Case Competition for the 1st Year MBAs. It is a typical case competition for the most part. Students form teams of four (typically between half and three-quarters of a graduating class participates, or between 60 and 100 students). Students arrive on campus early Friday morning and are given a case, or a 10 to 20 page document describing a business, its current industry conditions and a decision faced by management. Cases can either be traditional (a past business situation that has since been resolved) or live (a business situation the company is facing today). Teams have approximately 24 hours to formulate recommendations and prepare a presentation to be delivered to a panel of judges the following morning.  Judges tend to be alumni or professionals selected because they hold some expertise and/or knowledge of the case industry and its challenges. The Fisher Internal Competition is sponsored every year by Ernst & Young so many of the judges are consultants. The teams deliver a 25 minute presentation during which they are challenged by the judges with critical questions. The judging panel then decides upon a best presentation, best presenter and best Q&A award.

Last week I had the chance to be involved with the Fisher MBA Internal Case competition for the 2nd time, this year as one of the competition time keepers, which was quite a learning experience. Having competed in 3 case competitions last year (including the Internal), I wish I would have had the opportunity to be a timer before competing in any of them. Timing a room allowed me to listen to the deliberations the judging panel had after each presentation, as well as the final discussion when they selected the award winners. Many points arising in these discussions took me by surprise…

First was the discrepancy between what students believe to be important to win Case Competitions and what the judges emphasize in their evaluations. For example, in my experience during competitions, I remember being fairly worried about finishing all of our presentation within the time limit. While timing this year, only one of the four teams was able to complete their presentation, a result of the judges interrupting their progress with questions (and this team was not the final room winner). During the evaluation period, I was surprised that the judges placed little emphasis on whether or not a team finished. In fact, in one instance, they blamed themselves for a team’s inability to finish their presentation admitting that “they asked too many questions.”

Additionally, students tend to think that having four strong presenters is necessary to win a competition. However, it was evident during the presentations in my room, and during the judge’s deliberations, that the teams that worked collaboratively gave stronger presentations. And the teams that appeared to work the best had complimentary skill sets. There might be one or two very strong presenters on these teams, but there was also at least one team member who had very strong quantitative and analytical skills. That team member may not have even had a specific role in the presentation but might have stepped up to answer some of the more technical or numerically oriented questions.

Lastly, I was very intrigued when observing the judges deliberate over who would be the overall room winner. A handful of judges gravitated immediately to the team with the strongest presenters, or those members with the most poise, clarity, eye contact, etc.  However after 10 minutes of discussion, the judges shifted their focus to the specific recommendations or strategy presented by each group. They discussed the feasibility of each presentation and which strategy they agreed with. At one point, one of the judges said “if I were the CEO of this company, which of these teams would I want to hire to address this decision?” This question eventually swayed the other judges to vote for a team that did not deliver the best presentation, but had the soundest strategy.

In conclusion, if I were to compete in another case competition, I would have spent more time researching the backgrounds of the judges to better predict what they would emphasize in their evaluations!

Time to Sprint …

While the job search certainly starts on day one of the MBA program (or even before that), the process was somewhat of a light jog until I came back to campus following my internship.

My target companies have been consulting firms throughout the program, so my core activities in the first year included practicing case interviews, attending on campus information sessions, and conducting informational interviews through networking. Those activities were targeted toward an internship until I accepted one, and then their focus immediately shifted to full time opportunities. Keeping up with networking and practice cases during my internship was challenging as my number one priority quickly became work and networking within the firm with which I interned. Fully experiencing Rio de Janeiro (my home for the summer) was also, admittedly, a higher priority.  🙂

Then second year starts …

I stepped off the plane from Brazil on Sunday with classes starting Wednesday. And while I was prepared for an important 2 – 4 months of more practicing and networking, I was not prepared for the intensity of the 2nd year recruiting process. Campus is immediately flooded with employers conducting information sessions for the 2nd year MBA students (a testament to Fisher’s career services center) which occupy plenty of lunches and evenings. They were all helpful and necessary, if for no other reason than to confirm my lack of interest in certain roles/industries, but they certainly take time. Throw 1 or 2 job conventions in (I went to the NSHMBA, or National Society of Hispanic MBAs, conference in Orlando) and you’re doubling or tripling this time commitment.

There are also just a lot of decisions to make, not the least of which being which companies to apply for! I think I only ended up applying for 10 or so, but typing up a thoughtful cover letter (which, to be good, required a decent amount of prior networking), reviewing my resume (I don’t think I submitted the same resume twice), filling out the online application and sometimes typing up an extra requirement (a few applications asked for an essay, writing sample, or online test or assessment) took me a great deal of time per application. I made a poor decision at one point and burnt an evening applying to a company with which I had done ZERO networking and was outside of my target industry (an investment bank, not a consulting firm). I was certainly not surprised when I didn’t get an interview…

And then there are the interviews themselves … one of my biggest challenges was outlining my “stories,” or office situations that illustrate my strengths and experiences. I had to know them well enough to stretch them out to 30 minute conversations (for 1 story!) or condense them down to a 2 minute answer to a rapid fire “tell me about a time when” question. This was especially difficult to formulate stories about my internship as those experiences were still marinating, so to speak. Toss the warm up practice cases, traveling and follow up emails in and … you get the picture.

I am happy and feel lucky to say it was all worth it. All of the activity helped me perform well in interviews with my top target firm and I landed a position in my top target market … Chicago!

Dungeons and Dragons for MBAs

OK, so I’ve never actually played Dungeons and Dragons, just the simplified version for children BUT I perceive the game to be very similar to what has been one of my favorite classes in the MBA program: INTOPIA. According to Wikipedia, D&D players “form a party that interacts with the setting’s inhabitants (and each other). Together they solve dilemmas, engage in battles and gather treasure and knowledge. In the process the characters earn experience points to become increasingly powerful over a series of sessions.”

Similarly, INTOPIA players form companies (about 13 in the class this fall) that enter into a global market for both PC and Chips. The overarching dilemma is to make money, or have positive Net Income, pretty simple right? Apparently not. The game is conducted in rounds, or “quarters,” and last quarter, less than half of the companies made money! Players assume roles like “CEO”, “Chief Negotiator” or “CFO” and spend a great deal of time together reviewing financial results and market research data from prior quarters to arrive at productive (ideally) decisions to submit for each upcoming quarter (Build plants, set production and prices, etc.). Analysis utilizes concepts from a variety of other courses such us accounting, economics and marketing.

The battles are negotiations with other teams to buy product (PCs or Chips), assets (like plants or sales offices) or intellectual capital (like patents for product upgrades). I know my Negotiations Professor, Prof. Lount, would cringe at the characterization of a negotiation as a battle so to clarify, I’m drawing the metaphor from the amount of stress and emotion the players exhibit when constructing deals as agreements can be complex, confusing and extremely impactful on a team’s profitability. Companies have to trust each other on multiple levels (integrity, competence and commitment to a common direction) so it is also interesting to watch the environment for deal making (or battles). Some companies prefer to deal with 1 or 2 other companies and others deal with as many as possible.

While there are no formal experience points, it is already becoming apparent after 4 quarters that most teams will end up specializing in a region, a product or a stage in the value chain (R&D to win better patents, production or wholesaling). INTOPIA is first and foremost a strategy class, and committing to a direction for the company, while challenging because a company feels they are giving up on a number of other opportunities, seems to be important to make money (but what do I know, we are only in Q4!)

Lastly, any D&D game has to have a Dungeon Master. Wikipedia defines this as “the game’s referee and storyteller, who also maintains the setting in which the adventures occur and plays the role of the inhabitants.” In this case, his name is Arthur DeBig. DeBig, or Professor Jay Dial, not only runs the mechanics of the game (processes decisions, delivers outputs, etc.) but he also provides a number of legal, banking, market research and consulting services (or helps us translate financial statements, interpret market research and outline deals). The Dungeon Master also has the power to introduce “Monsters,” or in DeBig’s case, events that negatively affect business like natural disasters or political events.

More to come in later blog posts! Check out these links for reference:

Premiere already? Time flies!

I can’t believe it was only a year ago that I began my MBA journey.  I am a first year full time MBA and have only been in classes for less than two months, but so much has happened since I attended Fisher Season Premiere a year ago. Make no mistake, the MBA journey definitely begins this weekend at the class of 2014’s Fisher Season Premiere!

The most exciting part for me is that I get to experience this year’s Premiere on the other side of the table as an MBA Ambassador.  In this role, I get to appreciate the extensive work that the Graduate Programs Office puts forth to welcome Fisher’s future students.  Looking back, the exposure we had to the leaders of the business school, the multitude of resources/groups/programs offered, and the brief taste of a high energy MBA class was invaluable in preparing mentally for what will be an exhilarating two years of my life.  More importantly though, and something I didn’t realize until later, Premiere did an excellent job of outlining the culture at Fisher.  We have been taught early by one of our professors in the program, Dr. Inks, that the culture of an organization can be difficult to describe and sometimes the best way to define it is through first hand experiences.

So this Saturday, I look forward to watching the class of ’14 go through the same experience that was so important for me in deciding to come to Fisher.  I get to witness life-long friendships begin, how cool is that!  It may sound dramatic but the quality of people that I am surrounded by now that I am here is impressive.  I have enjoyed every second of getting to know my classmates and Premiere afforded me the opportunity to get a head start in developing relationships with them.  Fortunately, this weekend is not the last opportunity for curious prospective students to experience Fisher (the next event being held on December 10th) because those opportunities were an important part of my journey thus far… Let the fun begin!