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 Amazon.com 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