UCLA Anderson MBA students compete in case competitions locally, nationally and internationally, often bringing home first prize and always returning with valuable experience facing real-world business challenges in a competitive environment. Today, the UCLA Anderson blog presents the first in a series of guest posts by case competition participants. In October, two Anderson teams traveled to Dallas for the 2016 Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) Case Competition, which offers MBA and graduate students the opportunity to formulate strategic recommendations to solve a business problem and win up to $5,000 in the process.
By Andrew Jancaric (’18) with contributions from all of the UCLA Anderson ROMBA participants
Going into the Reaching Out MBA Case Competition, we all knew expectations were high. Last year, two teams from UCLA Anderson had earned second and third place among 20 teams representing some of the best business schools in the country. With a dominant position like that, our 2016 teams — the first consisting of Bianca Giusto (’17) and Ali Bhamani (FEMBA ’18) and the second David Poli (’18), Geoff Sokolowski (’18) and me — knew that we had some work to do.
Let’s rewind about three weeks prior, when we all received our case prompt. It was the final week of orientation for the first-year MBAs and the week before classes started for the second-years. Upon reading the prompt, we knew that this was going to be an interesting competition. Our task was to come up with strategic recommendations for long-term financial stability at Fitbit. We would have three weeks to leverage our resources and create a polished recommendation to present to a panel of senior consultants at the ROMBA conference.
Competing at ROMBA is different than many other case competitions because the judges come from a mix of all of the best consulting firms in the nation. There are very few opportunities to be able to perform in front of a representative from each of the major firms in one shot, so we knew that the stakes were high.
Once our teams were finalized, we had to find time to work on the case. Fall quarter at Anderson had just started and we were all busy with classes, recruiting and club events. We agreed to block out time on our calendars we would dedicate to working on the ROMBA case. The meeting rooms in Anderson’s brand new Venture Accelerator provided a quiet workspace with massive whiteboards, making them a perfect place to work as a team.
Our teams’ diversity and dynamics played a huge role in our success. Each member brought a different perspective and skill set to the project. We divided up the work according to our strengths and interests, which kept the workload manageable. But perhaps more important than our skills was our attitude. Everyone was grateful for the opportunity to participate in this competition and that positivity made every team meeting a place we wanted to be.
After brainstorming approaches to Fitbit’s growth, we settled on our strategies and began the hard work of both primary and secondary research. We knew that to stand out it would be important to show we weren’t just relying on widely available market research. We conducted a survey among our peers to gain insight into the validity of our ideas to transform the company. The research component was illuminating and demonstrated the challenges mid-sized technology companies face from both small startup competitors as well as the world’s largest technology corporations.
Demonstrating financial growth was the key objective for Fitbit — and forecasting financials can be notoriously complicated. After reviewing Fitbit’s 10-K and financial statements in detail, we identified the metrics we sought to improve and modeled initiatives that could help Fitbit maintain relevance in the increasingly competitive space. Teamwork was critical to ensuring a cohesive story, and we all provided valuable input on the strengths and weaknesses of our ideas to make sure our story was compelling in slide form.
After our recommendations were solidified and our presentation was built, we spent the days leading up to the conference practicing our individual parts and preparing for whatever questions the judges might toss our way. At the conference itself, we made final changes to our presentations to ensure they flowed naturally and within time limits.
The morning of the competition was tense, but our preparation paid off; the two teams from Anderson were chosen among four finalists! We were whisked into a tiny, jam-packed room for the finals, and after all four teams gave their presentations one last time over a quick 40 minutes, the competition ended. At lunch not long afterward, the results were announced: Bianca and Ali placed second and David, Geoff and I had come in third — upholding the previous year’s high rankings.
We are all proud to have contributed to our school’s winning reputation, and we look forward to seeing what we can accomplish at ROMBA next year.