Foster team wins national PricewaterhouseCoopers xACT Case Competition

National championship. The ultimate two-word phrase for ardent University of Washington Husky fans.

In January, the Foster School of Business delivered. The sport? Accounting. The contest? The PricewaterhouseCoopers xACT Case Competition.

The undergraduate team of Daniel Beasley, Tian Ran Chen, Nabil Manji, Suzanne Scharlock, and Tasha Tieu won this premier national accounting contest at PwC’s headquarters in New York City January 3-4. In claiming the competition’s Montgomery Award, the Foster five topped 494 teams from 46 schools across the USA, among them UC-Berkeley, UCLA, Arizona, Texas, Indiana, Illinois, St. Louis University, Emory and New York University.

Beyond the numbers

PwC offers the xACT (short for “extreme accounting”) Case Competition annually as the ultimate challenge to top accounting students. The firm’s original cases immerse teams in the strategic complexity of high-level accounting policy issues.

This year’s case called teams—role-playing PwC consultants—to provide strategic advice to a fictional family entertainment conglomerate (think Disney) that has recently acquired a theme park company (think Universal Studios) that carries a small, underperforming subsidiary developing a violent video game using an innovative technology.

What to do about the gaming subsidiary? The “client” asked for direction on whether to leave it as is, sell it, or invest further to bring the game to market.

The winning Foster Team picked none of the above.

Instead, they advised scrapping the game but further developing the company’s motion-sensing camera technology for eventual licensing to smart TV manufacturers. They used printed “placemats” over PowerPoint slides in their final presentation, enabling richer engagement with the judges around the table.

“They were always thinking outside of the box,” says Patricia Angell, the Foster lecturer who coached the team. “Nothing they did was typical.”

The judges were convinced, the client well satisfied

The winning recipe

Dan Niles (BA 1984), a partner in Seattle’s PwC office who also helped prepare the Foster team, described its winning edge as triple-bladed: rock-solid analysis and strategy, seamless team collaboration, and outstanding individual presentation skills.

The members brought widely varying experiences. Beasley was on last year’s Foster xACT team that made the national final five for the first time. While in high school, Manji, Scharlock and Tieu competed in DECA, the international management development organization (Scharlock won an entrepreneurship competition at the International Career Development Conference; Manji won several statewide case competitions). Tieu is VP of events for the Undergraduate Business Council, a Foster Ambassador, and a peer coach at the Foster Career Center. And Chen has appeared on television and won awards as a spokesperson for social causes such as domestic violence prevention.​

Their common denominator is Foster.

“The Foster School equipped me with strong understanding of business terminologies and sharpened the critical thinking skills necessary to analyze the case effectively and come up with creative solutions,” says Chen. “The stress on group assignments prepared me to work well as a team member.”

As for the high-stakes competition pressure… “Foster had already pushed me outside my comfort zone so many times,” says Tieu, “that presenting to PwC senior partners was no different.”

By the time they hit that NYC boardroom, the team’s relentless preparation set it apart, according to Niles, a 1984 Foster accounting grad who took considerably more than a professional interest in the team’s success.

“When the winner was announced, I had this incredible urge to shout out ‘Bow Down to Washington,’” he admits. “It was a very proud moment.”