Everything became very real for Kate Morales, a first-year MBA student, when she first arrived in Houston.
She had traveled with her two teammates in tow, Rabia Usmani and Bria Booker, for the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA) Conference, Career Fair and Case Competition to represent Fisher College of Business and The Ohio State University.
In fact, more than 50 graduate and undergraduate Ohio State students were attending the same conference. This included several who also took part in an undergraduate case competition as part of the event.
“It wasn’t until I walked in the room with the 35 other case teams from other universities that I realized how big this was and how everyone else had been working just as hard as our team to prepare,” she said. “I wouldn’t say it was imposter syndrome because I know what we did was really great, but I had no idea what the other teams had put together for their presentations.”
The MBA case centered on a car subscription service for Fiat Chrysler, where customers pay a monthly fee and are able to swap out vehicles, Usmani said. The challenge was launching this model and targeting African-American millennials, along with their friends and family.
Usmani, a second-year MBA and the team’s captain, said the three dressed up as a flight attendants for their presentation.
“It’s a very ‘Fisher’ thing to do,” she said. “We entered with a flight of glasses and said car subscriptions, like a flight of wine, allow you to have it all without choosing just one option. It made us more memorable to the judges.”
She described the presentation as “seamless,” recalling that instead of handing off topics formally, the whole thing was very conversational in tone. This helped create a stronger team dynamic. In fact, Booker won the best overall presenter from round one of the competition. Usmani credited their coach, Marc Ankerman, senior lecturer in the Department of Management and Human Resources, for playing a significant role in their success.
After learning they had earned their way into the final round, they each had their own way of handling the excitement and stress of what was to come.
“For me, that was a having a dance party in the hotel room after we had practiced our presentation a couple more times,” Morales said. “For Bria, that was channeling her inner competitor from her athlete days. For Rabia, she had a ritual of walking up and down the hall before we went into the presentation room. We all had our own different ways of processing that stress, but going into the room I remember feeling really excited to tell them about our idea.”
The event culminated with a banquet, where the winners were revealed.
“We felt like we had won even if we didn’t get first place,” Morales said. “We were just all holding hands and waiting for them to announce the winning team.”
When “The Ohio State University” was announced as the winner of the MBA case competition, the group found itself entangled in hugs and high-fives. The team was awarded $25,000 for achieving first place.
Usmani said she appreciated how three diverse women were able to overcome biases as a team.
“As women, we felt an extra desire to prove ourselves through strong content and research, fully aware of the stereotypes that currently exist about gender within the car industry.” she said. “We were proud to have learned more about the industry and to have successfully executed the case solution.”
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion Student Services and Corporate and Community Outreach (ODISSCCO) covered the entire cost of travel, lodging and registration for the teams.
During the same awards presentation, the women were ecstatic to see Fisher had finished second out of 20 teams in the undergraduate case competition. Students Ken Braggs, David Malloy, Ogochukwu Obiagwu and Jaden Woodard were coached by Renard Green (MBA ’06) at the event.
The undergraduate case challenged participants to increase Walmart’s e-commerce presence. Fisher’s team created a subscription called the Wally Box, which would contain the same items a customer routinely bought every week — delivered right to their door.
Braggs, the team’s captain, was seeking redemption after attending last year and being handed a defeat.
“There was no way I was taking ‘no’ for an answer,” he said. “We had to figure out a way we could appeal to the judges based off what I learned last year.”
As the only returning member from last year, his experience placed him in a leadership role.
“I knew the ropes; I knew the commitment it takes,” he said.
Obiagwu said her time on the national stage strengthened her personal brand.
“Being able to speak to my lessons learned from the case prep will also serve as another applicable example to related job interview questions,” she said “I also had the opportunity to represent Fisher’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which sponsored our attendance,” she said.
Getting second place stung a bit for Braggs.
“It was a mixed bag,” he said. “I was upset at first because I really wanted to win, but it was the first time Ohio State had made it that far. And that was an awesome accomplishment.”
That accomplishment resulted in the team winning $10,000. But the rewards didn’t stop at the money. For Braggs, his time at the high-profile event will benefit him as he works toward a career in consulting.
“I’m used to being financially-based; this gave me the creative marketing side that I’ll apply to future projects in my career,” he said.
Malloy said this experience will help him in his eventual career search.
“It looks great on your resume, and it’s a great talking point in interviews and great practice for the real world,” he said. “I hope other students go out and find opportunities to help them too.”
Morales hopes other students will take their own risks.
“Bria and I had never done a case competition before, and we were able to come into this unfamiliar space and win,” she said. “I hope people would hear our story and not be afraid to try new things that are difficult but exciting for them.”