Winning the Foster Winter Case Competition

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

On a bright and sunny morning early in January, our six-person team found ourselves deep in discussion about how to mitigate REI’s environmental impact without losing any profits.  Each of us had spent the past two hours researching a different aspect of the project, and we were debating vigorously about the best ways to accomplish the goals of the project.  After all, we only had twelve hours to solve all of REI’s climate issues…

A case competition is designed around giving teams a complex problem to solve and limited time to solve it.  Teams can take any number of approaches to solving the problem, but the end goal is to produce and explain the team’s solution to the problem, and hopefully that solution proves to be better than the competition.  These competitions are a test of how well a group of people can mobilize toward a common goal, understand a complex problem, compartmentalize that problem into bite-sized chunks, research quickly, and assimilate all of those chunks into one polished presentation.  For first-year students like us, the process was a little challenging.

This particular competition, put on by the Foster School itself, was the first of its kind for most of our six-person team, although two of our members had had prior experience with case competitions.  We decided to approach the case by using an outcome-oriented approach, focusing on what REI was hoping to get out of the strategic recommendations, like reduced energy use, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and reduced waste generation.  We then critically examined each part of REI’s business, analyzing potential strategies that could create both environmental and financial benefit.  Finally, we took these strategies and attempted to quantify the benefits to the environment and the bottom line as best we could, culminating in the development of a Powerpoint presentation that communicated our solutions.

The format of the competition was to present in a semi-final round, before a group of second-year students, professors and professionals from the larger Seattle community.  Those teams who made it through that first round had the opportunity to present in front of their entire class, as well as professionals from the company that the case was written about.  There were a multitude of learning experiences from this case competition, but for me the most impactful was getting through that first round and presenting in front of our peers.  “Adrenaline rush” is a term thrown around quite a bit when talking about being in front of people, but presenting our solution in front of 100 peers and representatives from industry made that term an understatement.  After we had finished presenting our case, we had the opportunity to see the great work that all of the other teams had done, and I can honestly say that I don’t know how the judges made their decision.  The team-based focus of the Foster School really seemed to shine through, since the work of all four top teams was of excellent quality.

Luckily though, my team prevailed in this competition, and we were incentivized with a nice gift card.  In truth though, even though winning this case competition was a great experience, the experience I gained was significantly more impactful than that.  I’m walking away from this experience with a definite understanding that I’m surrounded by 250 of the most intelligent and driven people I’ve ever been near, 100 of whom I was able to compete against directly in this competition.  The sheer amount of creativity and strategic thinking shown in the final presentations was astounding, and it speaks to the quality of the people here at Foster.  I’m proud of our achievement in claiming victory, but I’m more excited at the future opportunities to work with these smart people over the next year and a half.

~Guest Blogger Robert Schmitt, Full-time Class of 2014

Multiple Bottom Lines: Ethics in Business

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

I think one of the things Foster does very well is keeping us all grounded.  For a long time (long before me or any of my classmates were here) Foster has tried to uphold a reputation as being the MBA program with a heart. MBA curricula are jam-packed with cases that make you think about ROI, value ad, and all sorts of business mumbo-jumbo that increases the bottom line.

But there are human factors that don’t show up on financial statements, and we’re reminded of those everyday at Foster.  And that’s the part of the Foster DNA I think we’re all most proud of.

For several years now, Foster has taken part in the Case Competition for Ethical Leadership hosted by Baylor University, which brings 12 MBA programs from around the country to tackle an issue in business that presents an ethical dilemma.  Like other national case competitions Foster is chosen to take part in, the Foster Administration covered all costs for us to go participate.   I was fortunate enough to take part with my classmates Ed, Alan and Cate  in representing Foster.

This year’s case explored the dynamics of a Maquiladora near the America/Mexico border, and some of the very sensitive issues that are considered in such relationships with American companies.  Like most case competitions, you’re given a five-to-ten page business case simultaneously with the other teams, and each team has 24 hours to come up with a plan and presentation on your findings, which you present to a panel of judges.  It’s a recipe for very little sleep, but they’re 24 of the most memorable hours I’ll take away from my two years at Foster.  (When you’re sitting on the floor of an airport terminal playing rock-paper-scissors for the last McNugget Sauce, you’ve bonded in a way that nothing else quite compares to.)

And on that note, aside from the experience of the process at the competition, what happens in around the process is equally valuable.  We were dreading the 4-hour layover that loomed on our trip back to Seattle at Dallas/Fort-Worth Airport all week, but we ended up spending it inside an airport bar eating Texas BBQ with MBA students from Pepperdine, Iowa and Minnesota (some of which we’ll see at Stanford this Spring for C4C Sports Weekend.)

The bottom line?  When you decide to enroll (and seriously, why haven’t you yet?) make sure you take part in events like these.  They’re moments you won’t want to miss.

~Guest Blogger Brandon Scheller, Full-time Class of 2013

Video: MBA Strategy Fair

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

MBA students apply strategies learned in class to real-world situations during the 2011 Blue Ocean Strategy Fair, a competition held at the UW Foster School of Business and sponsored by Seattle-based Slalom Consulting.

“These kinds of projects really force you to think outside the box,” says MBA student Christian Booth, who enjoyed the event’s hands-on nature. “There’s no right or wrong answer. I think that’s where the learning really comes in. It’s taking the frameworks that we’ve learned in class, the tools that we’ve learned, and this is where the rubber meets the road and we apply them.”

MBA Jackie Logan gained experience directly relevant to her career goals. She says, “Personally, I’m very interested in strategy and that was one of the reasons that I came back to business school was to try to understand the high-level operations of a company and to understand how companies develop a strategic plan.”

Click on the below image to play video.

Who Needs Sleep? Fall Marketing Case Competition

Friday, November 4th, 2011

You know how as kids you play cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians? Well, in b-school you have the opportunity to play consultants. That’s what a case competition is, and as a first year, this was my first opportunity to participate in one.

It might not sound fun, but it is. At least it is to me. I’m weird. I know.

Typically you’re presented with a real life company and real life problem. Your job is to presentation recommendations addressing those issues. In this particular case competition the Foster Marketing Association and the Strategy Club partnered with Callison, an architecture firm based out of Seattle, on a challenge they’re facing in their Dallas office. The prize money was $3,000 to split amongst your team of four.

We had a week to analyze, research and formulate recommendations for the case. Unfortunately, for first year full-time students, this case competition coincided with a mid-term in Statistics and another case deliverable for Marketing – both counting as 20% of our overall grade in the respective classes. When do you sleep? Well, the answer was: “you don’t.”

The sleep deprivation is not as big of a problem when you enjoy working with your team. We came from a diverse background in finance, technology, non-profit and me in sales and marketing. For many of us this is our first encounter with case competition. Although we didn’t win, we received valuable lessons on how to present complicated issues in a simple and actionable manner. These are skills to take forward anywhere we go.

~Guest Blogger, Jason Hsiao, Full-Time Class of 2013

1st Annual Pacific Northwest Case Competition

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

*On April 22 – 23rd, Foster School of Business hosted the 1st annual Pacific Northwest Case Competition. Participating schools included: Gonzaga University, Seattle University, University of British Columbia, University of Washington Bothell, University of Washington Seattle, University of Washington Tacoma.

The UW Seattle Team celebrates being done

Walking across the stone mezzanine in Paccar Hall and passing the numerous team rooms equipped with ceiling-to-floor windows and flat screen TV’s, it is easy to imagine how this building was designed with the intention of hosting case competitions. This April, the Foster School’s Strategy Club brought that goal to fruition with the 1st Annual Pacific Northwest Case Competition. Bolstered by the sponsorship of Starbucks Coffee Company and Adobe System Inc., the Strategy Club and the Foster School of Business welcomed teams from across the Pacific Northwest to our school. These teams competed by building and presenting strategic plans for the future of a struggling CPG company.

Case competitions are excellent opportunities to practice working as a team under tight deadlines and presenting to business professionals. For those of us involved in organizing the event this weekend represented an end to several months of meticulous planning and we were enormously pleased by how well it was received by the participants, judges and sponsors. The competition culminated in an intense final round with the winning team inching out the runners-up for the final prize of $2000. All said, this was a memorable battle of the brains between students from the premier NW business schools and we are all looking forward to doing it again next year.

Team Pikes Place Partners from Seattle University - 1st place!

-Guest Blogger, Anders Zwartjes, Full Time Class of 2012

First-Year Case Competition

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Case competitions are a rite of passage at most business schools and Foster is no exception.  We recently completed our annual spring competition, the topic of which was:  How and where should Costco expand?

My five-person team, along with all of the other 20 first-year teams had 7case comp winners2 hours to research Costco, develop recommendations for the company, and present these recommendations to a panel of professors and local business leaders.  After several long days, my team decided to pitch a more unconventional strategy—a launch in Chile.  We knew that the company was intent to expand in Asia and Europe, but we also saw great potential in South America and found ways to prove it.  To our surprise, this strategy paid off.  My team was one of the four groups selected for the finals and had the opportunity to present our findings to high-level Costco executives.  At a reception following the presentations, Jim Sinegal, the CEO of Costco, awarded us with the grand prize and an over-sized $2,000 check.

What I enjoyed the most about this experience, was the chance to integrate so many of the things I’d learned this year: teamwork, finance, marketing, public speaking, etc.  It was a wonderful learning opportunity and I hope to get involved with more competitions next year.

— Kaia Laursen, FT 2011

Challenge for Charity

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Every year 9 of the top business schools located up and down the West Coast meet up at Stanford to compete on volunteer hours, fundraising and both serious and absurd sporting events in the Challenge for Charity. It’s an organization that “draws on the talents, energy and resources of MBAs to support Special Olympics and Boys & Girls Clubs to develop business leaders with a lifelong commitment to community involvement and social responsibility.” It also tends to be one of the events that truly solidifies the lifelong commitment we have to each other, our Foster community.

Many of us are still recovering from the lack of sleep and some tough athletic losses, yet basking in what was a weekend full of overwhelming school spirit. We’re a small MBA program compared to many of our fellow participants – UCLA, USC, Stanford – but we brought it unlike any of the other schools. It was obvious that we had the most pride in our school and our classmates. Whether it was cheering on first year, Cate, as she competed in the spelling bee or raging with our band as it kicked off the closing event, Battle of the Bands.

As the Challenge for Charity efforts wrap up for this academic year, Foster has raised $102,000 and volunteered nearly 1,800 hours in our community. An amazing feat and a great weekend of celebrating it, and each other.

C4C Sports Weekend

C4C Sports Weekend