On Nov. 6, 2009, a team of MIT Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) '11s won first place and a prize of $5,000 in the fifth annual MBA Exclusive (MBAE) Case Competition, held in Washington, D.C. It was the first time an LGO/MIT Sloan team has participated in this event.
The LGO team included four students, each pursuing an MBA and an MS in engineering as part of LGO's two-year, dual-degree program:
- Wendy-Kay Logan
- Tabassum Rahman
- Julia Reed
- Noramay Cadena
The LGO team competed against peers from business schools at Howard University, Yale University, the University of North Carolina, Drexel University, University of Pittsburgh and others.
The 2009 MBAE competition was sponsored by MacLean, Virginia-based LMI Government Consulting, which provided a case based on its recent enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation at Amtrak. LMI designed the case to enable teams to practice responding quickly to a practical and pressing challenge while demonstrating and honing their analytic and communications skills.
"The process of receiving the case, understanding the problem, creating a proposal and working on the final deliverable was intense and exciting," Logan said. "It allowed us to experience first-hand what it's like to work on a real-world business strategy assignment and deliver data-driven and actionable recommendations in a high-pressure environment with limited time and resources."
A quick turnaround
It all began in early fall 2009, when Rahman learned about the competition through the MIT Sloan Minority Business Club and enlisted fellow LGO students' participation. "I was involved in a case competition the previous summer and realized it was a great opportunity to apply what we had been learning in class," Rahman said.
Team members were selected to meet the competition's requirement that at least 50 percent of each three-to-four-member team be comprised of individuals from an ethnic minority group.
Competing teams had 1.5 weeks to work on the case prior to the live competition. Each was required to make three recommendations on how Amtrak could improve its services through its ERP implementation.
"Early in the process, we broke down the problem into areas of expertise to better leverage our time and skills," Cadena said. "For example, based on our experience in our LGO Operations Management course, we knew that Julia had a good grasp on inventory management, so she became responsible for recommendations pertaining to inventory reduction and warehouse consolidation.
"Tabassum's previous experience working at Northrop Grumman as a manager dealing with multiple government agencies gave her insight on how to approach the supplier-management portion. Finally, Wendy-Kay's experience as a product marketing manager at National Instruments Corporation made her an excellent presenter with a keen ability to engage an audience, so she concluded the presentation."
Logan added that Cadena's extensive background in working as a line manager in a union environment at Boeing made her the ideal person to respond to questions like how to handle an aging workforce.
Responding to judges' feedback
In the first round, each team made its presentation to a three-person panel comprised of LMI consultants who had worked directly with Amtrak. Three finalist teams were announced at lunch, after which the LGOs convened to give each other feedback and improve the presentation content based on comments received from judges in the first round.
Later that afternoon, the finalists gave their presentations before all competing teams. A short time later, the judges announced that the LGO team had won.
"One of the LGO team's competitive advantages was our extensive and diverse work experience," Cadena said. "This enabled us to integrate soft measures like employee engagement, stakeholder buy-in, phased implementations and cross-group steering teams into our recommendations and to the firm's core values."
Applying what they have learned
Another competitive advantage was the LGOs' slide deck. Earlier in 2009, two team members attended a presentation skills training session sponsored by Bain & Company. That knowledge proved valuable. In addition, all team members reviewed the deck from a case competition that LGO/MIT Sloan students won in 2008 and took away many learnings from that as well.
Their homework paid off. Judges' feedback for their final presentation stated that the team's slides were exceptional and looked professionally made; the speakers were exceptionally well-coordinated; and the presenters' ability to answer questions was outstanding.
"This case competition taught me so much so quickly," Reed said. "I learned how to compile an effective deck, present with confidence and harness teammates' strengths. The skills I learned during this event will be extremely valuable to me in the future."
"The team members successfully combined their experience in prior professional positions with their LGO learnings, and we are very proud of them," noted LGO director Don Rosenfeld.