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Eight Teams Compete in the First Girard School Graduate Case Competition

March 13, 2013
“The competition was a real-world competitive business situation”

            Your company has stumbled this year, after several years of strong growth. Top management has asked your team to make recommendations for a turnaround. You’re allotted 30 minutes to make your case, 15 minutes to present it and 15 minutes to answer questions.

            What do those top managers expect?

            “I was looking for an analysis of the data involved in the situation, not just a restatement of the facts. I wanted to see if the teams could study the problem and produce a real-world solution that was also cost-effective and original,” said Thomas M. Carroll, president of ReMax of Andover/North Andover.

            Carroll is one of three business leaders closely connected to Merrimack College who judged the performances of Girard School master’s students in a Marketing Analysis and Decision-Making class. The students worked on a case study – “HTC Corp. in 2012,” published by the Harvard Business School.

            Eight teams – of three or four students each – presented their recommendations for HTC’s next steps to a first-round panel of two Girard faculty over two days. Those judges winnowed the field to three finalists, who presented to the three external executives on a Sunday afternoon.

            Carroll – a Merrimack trustee – was joined by two Girard graduates: Wayne Bishop ’92, marketing manager of Omicron in Waltham, and Chris Riley ’93, district manager at RSA, the security division of EMC Corp.

            “The winning team accomplished just what I was looking for and presented their solution in a coherent way that made financial sense. They studied the data and applied original thinking to the situation, not just repeating back the data. They also considered the cost of their solution and used excellent presentation and communication skills in the process,” said Carroll, a 1982 accounting graduate of Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

            The students learned the fundamentals of a business presentation, which – Riley said –   “gets to the point and discusses customer impact, cost, resources required, planned benefit and competition.”

            “A business school presentation and a business presentation are very different,” said Joanna Petrucci ’12, a graduate student. “In business school, especially undergrad, you add a lot of fluff.”

            “A business presentation needs to be strong and well presented, telling your audience what points you want to make throughout the presentation, when you are about to make those points, when you are making those points and referencing back to the points you made,” explained Petrucci, who works as a talent acquisition coordinator at Talent Retriever in North Andover.

            The students spent two months reviewing the 25-page case study of HTC, Asia’s second-largest handset manufacturer. After several years of growth, by 2012, the company had run into a patent infringement dispute with Apple. Its two main operating system suppliers, Google and Microsoft, had formed partnerships with its competitors, and it was struggling to enter the tablet market against the iPad.

            The case study concluded with the questions confronting HTC: How could it differentiate itself from its competitors? Should it license another OS or develop its own? Should a top smartphone manufacturer also aim for prominence in tablets? And what should its intellectual property strategy be?

            The teams submitted a three-page case analysis and a presentation plan with PowerPoint slides to their professor, Associate Dean Julie Fitzmaurice, for her review before first-round judging. William Paul ’69, a strategy consultant who also teaches marketing courses at Merrimack, joined Dean Mark Cordano as first-round judges.

            “The competition was a real-world competitive business situation, which I think for many of the participants, was new and a completely different situation with real consequences different from a pure classroom problem,” said Paul, who currently is teaching Retail Management.

            The teams that advanced “correctly identified the key issues and recommended courses of action that were correct, logical and supported with the appropriate interpretation of the facts present in the case,” Paul said. “They did the best job of selling their analysis and recommendations.”

            Cordano met with the three final teams, coaching them on how to structure and deliver a professional business presentation.

            For Sean Peterson, “It was humbling when Dean Cordano suggested to virtually edit and re-order our entire presentation, the same presentation that propelled my group into the final round.”

            But, Peterson said, “the finished product from this critique brought our presentation to another level.”

            “The dean made it very clear that the three business professionals were not looking to see an academic presentation; rather, they wanted a business proposal,” said Alyssa Wertz ’12, a graduate student.

            “The winning team did an outstanding job of communicating their recommendations and making the best use of their PowerPoint slides,” said Bishop, who studied business administration at Girard. “They conveyed their message in a concise way and gave a very convincing argument why their recommendations were the best way to move the corporation forward.”

            Time is of the essence in the business world. “We learned that business professionals want you to get straight to the point you are trying to make,” said Jordan Jean ’12, a graduate student.

            Kelsey Mason’s team prepared 15 slides for its PowerPoint presentation, “the same way we would have if we were presenting in front of a classroom full of students and a professor.” After meeting with Cordano, the team cut the presentation to eight slides “without getting rid of any important information and, overall, I think that meeting made our presentation much better,” said Mason ’12, a graduate student.

            “Having an idea and executing is almost always better than the status quo,” said Riley, who majored in finance and minored in economics at Girard. He and the other judges questioned the three finalist teams closely on the financing of their plans.

            “The ability to cost justify your idea in the presentation is extremely important to all businesses, and I believe the students learned that very well,” said Carroll.

            “The judges asked questions as if they were looking to invest in our ideas,” said Mason. In its meetings, her team hadn’t considered all of those points, “which made answering on the spot difficult, but allowed us to show our knowledge of the case outside of the information we presented,” she said.

            Ashley Varano’s team was stumped when asked how its short-term recommendation would help in the long term.

            “We all took a minute and scrambled to come up with a sophisticated answer, until my teammate, Ethan Weaver, frankly said, ‘It doesn’t.’ The judges all smiled and said, ‘Good answer,’ ” said Varano ’08, social media manager at Esquire Solutions in Boston.

            Carroll calls a case study analysis “thinking in the workplace,” the key lesson he hopes the students take from the case competition:

            “Most employers know they can teach employees their business and they’ll be successful, but the employees that think on their own, and apply it to the work, add significantly to the process and become more valuable to the company,” he said. “These are the people that grow quickly through the ranks to executive positions.”

            Bishop is confident these students are on that path: “Today’s Merrimack students take their school work very seriously, put in long hours to make sure that they are prepared and are always looking at ways in which they can enrich their learning experience.”

 

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