Four Southeast Missouri State University MBA students accomplished an extraordinary feat, taking first place in the inaugural Show-Me MBA Case Competition Feb. 24-25 at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Southeast finished atop a nine-team field – all from AACSB-accredited business programs in Missouri – collecting a $5,000 prize and finishing ahead of second place winner, Washington University in St. Louis, and third place winner, the University of Missouri-Columbia.
“It means so much to me as a student and to us as a team, but I think it means the most to the University,” said Bobbie Dampier of Tunas, Missouri, one of four MBA students who made up the Southeast team. “Being able to be overall more innovative, strategic and to show better teamwork than some of the most prestigious schools in the state is really validating to the hard work we put in at Southeast as students and faculty.”
Dempier’s teammates included fellow MBA students Brett Kazandjian of Annonay, France; Harman Malhi of New Delhi, India; and Kayla Ray of Arnold, Missouri. Dr. Willie Redmond, faculty associate in the Office of the Provost and professor in the Department of Economics and Finance, coached the team.
During the intense competition, sponsored by the University of Missouri-Columbia, students were presented with a business challenge – facing the target company of the competition, “Lockton Companies, LLC.” The students had five hours to formalize a solution.
“Being a team of three accounting majors and one finance, we confidently enjoy analyzing cases based on financial statements, ratios and even enjoy a merger or acquisition scenario,” Dampier said. “This case, however, did not have a single piece of financial information. So for our team, this was the hardest problem of all.”
The challenge called for a marketing/management analysis, which the team grappled with throughout the evening on Friday before submitting their solution at midnight.
Next, they played the role of consultants and presented their solution to a panel of judges, including three executives from the actual company, during a 15-minute presentation and a 10-minute question and answer period.
The competition began with three teams in each of three divisions. Three teams advanced from preliminary divisional rounds, and went head to head in the final round.
In addition to the $5,000 first place prize, Kazandjian won a $250 “Best Presenter” prize, and Malhi won a $250 “Best Q&A” Prize.
“I am not the least bit surprised that our students won this competition,” Redmond said. “I have had the opportunity to work with our Southeast students in a number of different settings, from other business case competitions, to our CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies) Program, on to our international study activities. One thing that I have seen demonstrated, time and again, is that our students can compete with any students … and our students tend to perform well on ‘big stages.’
“These four students are excellent students who can really ‘critically think’ their way through a business solution,” he said. “They certainly reflect on the excellent quality of our MBA Program and our Harrison College of Business as a whole.”
Redmond said he helped the students prepare by working with them on the foundations of how to analyze a business case. Each case is different, he said, “so it really helps if they have a solid background in case analysis. From there the students can apply that background to the different situations that they face. These students were great at that.”
Ray said the students learned about the competition about a month ago. Since then they have practiced every Wednesday and a few weekends, working through different cases to understand the process of case competitions. They also presented to one of Redmond’s MBA classes last week, taking questions for more than an hour in final preparation for the competition.
“The structure of the competition lead us to late night practicing, getting four hours of sleep and early morning rehearsals. We became a single consulting unit over the last three to four weeks,” Dampier said.
The team credits Redmond for much of its success.
“Dr. Redmond was our backbone, and I truly believe without him and his coaching, we wouldn’t have done as well as we did,” Ray said.
“He has a passion to bring out the best in his students,” Malhi added.
Redmond said the case competition is an invaluable experience for students.
“On the one hand, it is great that they get this experience of presenting their work to and receiving feedback from top executives of a multi-national company,” he said. “Even more importantly, they get the experience of thinking though a business problem in a competitive setting as a paid consultant would do. It is always fulfilling to see those moments when students realize that they can effectively apply the knowledge they have gained through their education.”
The students say the competition has changed them, each in significant ways.
Malhi says analzing different business situations and presenting a simple solution to a complex business situation, has enhanced her technical, critical thinking and public speaking skills.
Ray says “the skill of presenting is one that everyone in business should know, but being able to work constructively with others is the biggest takeaway.”
Added Dampier, “I loved working with this team. I have known every member of our team since I transferred to Southeast in January of 2015, but nothing compares to the synergy that comes with a great combination of individuals.”
Kazandjian says the competition was “a great opportunity to learn how to solve real life problems that companies are facing.”
All agree that winning the competition is very fulfilling.
“At SEMO, we have an excellent business school and we are more than capable of competing against schools that are well known and have a certain status about them. Our professors really prepare us for the business world and build not only our hard/technical skills, but our people and presentation skills as well,” Ray said. “I believe the MBA program here is really preparing me for the strategic thinking and strategy that happens in business around the world every day.”
Redmond says the Show-Me MBA Business Case Competition is part of a continuous effort to provide students with experiential, real-world experience and to internationalize Southeast’s business curriculum.
PHOTO CAPTION: From left are Dr. Willie Redmond; Harman Malhi; Brett Kazandjian; Bobbie Dampier; and Kayla Ray.