Biz Students Compete in ‘NCAA of MBAs’

While Syracuse and Kansas battled for basketball dominance, teams of business students from four other universities were hunkered down in casino hotel rooms here, matching smarts and savvy in an academic exercise dubbed "the NCAAs of MBAs."In the Rutgers-Camden business school’s 20th annual MBA Invitational Case Tournament, business savvy mattered most.

Associated Press Writer The Seattle Times

After being given a business problem and 24 hours to solve it, the aspiring young executives – from the University of South Carolina, University of Maryland, University of Western Ontario and Rutgers-Camden – retreated to their rooms.

In all-night skull sessions, they drew up written reports and organized visual presentations to deliver before a panel of corporate executives serving as judges."It’s intense," said Brian Wallace, 29, a member of the Maryland team. "It’s very similar to real business situations in that we were working with limited information, tight time frames and individuals with strong opinions about what decisions we should make."Meanwhile, you’re sitting in a hotel room, it’s 3 in the morning and you’re running on no sleep, hotel food and jazzed up on caffeine," said Wallace.

This year’s problem: Chart a course for America Online to develop its United Kingdom market and fend off increasing competition from free Internet service providers.

Ignoring the dual temptations of the casino downstairs and the Syracuse-Kansas NCAA basketball championship on television, the teams went to work.

By Tuesday afternoon, Western Ontario’s Lisa Zhao, 31, had put away the T-shirt and blue jeans she’d worked in all night, replacing them with a crisp black two-piece suit and black pumps.

Standing before the judges in a small meeting room, a PowerPoint presentation at the ready, she offered her team’s solution. AOL should maintain its current pricing, partner with a broadband service provider and develop a "mid-tier" offering to help capture a segment of the Internet market the company was missing.

Each of her teammates got a turn as well during the 48-minute presentation, describing different aspects of their solution as they flashed charts and graphs on the screen at the front of the room.

After that team, the others followed suit."It’s a great chance to apply the skills we’ve acquired and to get to know the other business students," said Zhao.

The contest, first held in 1984, was created both to hone the skills of students and draw attention to Rutgers-Camden’s business school. In most years, only universities that had won in regional competitions were invited to participate – except for Rutgers-Camden, which was always included.

This year, the event’s last, invitations were extended to three of the business schools that participated in it most often.

Organizers say the benefit of the contest lies in the way it puts academic theory to the board room test."These kids are the business leaders of the future," said judge Kenneth J. Parker, an executive with electric utility Conectiv. "Sometimes, their angles on these problems are amazing. It’s humbling."After reviewing the teams’ written reports and hearing the presentations, the judges named the University of Western Ontario team the winner.


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