Kelley School team returns to campus as winners of national competition

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For the second straight year, a team of students at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business has returned from the National Black MBA Association’s national conference as victors of its undergraduate case competition.

No other business school has won the contest, which this year involved teams from 15 business schools around the country.

The benefits for the Kelley students go far beyond the $15,000 cash prize, which they plan to use to fund upcoming study abroad trips to Costa Rica, Hong Kong and Germany.

“This experience has made me more confident in working with a team, creating a presentation and speaking in front of an audience,” said Siphiwe Muze, one of four members of Kelley’s winning team and a sophomore from Mishawaka, Ind. “These abilities will make me a competitive classmate and future employee.”

Kevin Brown, a teammate and a junior from Hermitage, Tenn., added, “As I am nearing the end of my college, this experience allowed me to realize that I am able to apply the concepts I have learned in my classes. This has given me confidence and eased my nerves regarding whether I am actually prepared to intern next summer and graduate soon thereafter.”

Brown and Muze were joined on the winning team by Jade Haynes, a sophomore from Naperville, Ill.; and Landon Davidson, a senior from South Bend, Ind.

The 38th annual National Black MBA Association conference, which took place in New Orleans last weekend, is the largest diversity career expo in the country and one of the largest professional development and job recruitment events overall. It attracted more than 7,000 people, including black business leaders from well-known companies including Bank of America Corp., Starbucks Coffee Co. and FedEx Corp.

The association created the case competition for undergraduate business students last year to help prepare them for career success by providing them with an experience that has helped many graduate business students of color.

The Kelley students came out on top over finalists from North Carolina A&T University and South Carolina State University, which placed second and third. More than 15 corporate recruiters judged the competition, providing real world feedback and career opportunities for the participants.

“The students also had the unique opportunity to network with hundreds of MBA professionals from around the country and peers who also compete in the competition,” said Taryn Thomas, assistant director of diversity initiatives and an academic advisor at Kelley. “So much of business is about networking and making connections. This was an opportunity to do exactly that.”

The case was based on a successful marketing campaign launched by sports apparel maker Under Armour in 2014, “I Will What I Want,” which targeted women. From the perspective of a team working on the project prior to its launch, students were asked to develop strategies with two goals in mind — to make the company the market leader and to reach $10 billion in sales by 2020.

“The case was presented in a way which required us to put ourselves back in this time, which meant that anything that Under Armour has developed since then or data released after 2014 would not be fair game,” Brown said. “We also had to do quite a bit of our own research and find data independently, which was time consuming and also meant we had to be very careful and very diligent. A general challenge customary of any case was finding a way to balance classes and other extracurricular activities with this case.”

The students said that they drew upon lessons learned in Kelley classes, including those in business communications and business presentations, and produced a powerful PowerPoint presentation and other research to back up their positions.

“My Kelley classes have prepared me well to work with a team,” Haynes said. “Many of my classes involve small case competitions in a sense, so I was definitely prepared to tackle this case.”

“Kelley has taught us how to think critically about a business problem, break it down to its component parts and address each issue separately,” Davidson said. “Kelley taught us to not only look at characteristics of a target market, but also deeper in terms of the morals and values of my customer.

“My main takeaway was the collaborative effort and leadership of the team,” he added. “Kelley stresses the importance of not only cooperation but collaboration; this experience was the most collaborative I’ve been with a team, and I see the effects of it. Moving forward I will share my experience in all the teams I am with for the rest of my time here and post-graduation.”

The students acknowledged that handling pressure is a key component of the competition and that continuing to come in first may add to the challenge for next year’s team.

“Kelley placing first for two consecutive years is a great accomplishment. The results speak volumes about the Kelley curriculum and the efforts put forth by the professors to provide as relevant experience as possible,” Davidson said. “My team used the pressure as a motivator, but we never let it get the best of us. We never spoke about it once, but I am sure individually we thought about it. Life is about challenging yourself and chasing your dreams towards happiness. If you keep that in mind, all else will fall into place.”