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 second in a series of guest posts by case competition participants, this one from the Anderson team that placed in Owen Graduate School of Management's annual National MBA Human Capital Case Competition at Vanderbilt University.
By Nathan Gardner (’17)
It was 8:00 a.m. the day of the 10th annual National MBA Human Capital Case Competition. Our team arrived at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, feeling excited to present the business case we’d been preparing for a week. Confident in our preparation, we were shown to our staging room. But we received some unexpected news: “Your client has some new information to share with you.”
We were shuttled into another conference room, where a partner in case competition sponsor Deloitte Consulting’s human capital practice was waiting for us. But she wasn’t a partner, exactly; she was in character as the case client’s “chief of staff.” “Our employees are organizing around employee stock ownership,” she told us, “and we’d like you to incorporate this development into your presentation.”
Alexis Basaldu (’18), Katie Donovan (’18), Jason Finkelstein (’17), Nitya Ramaswami (’18) and I spent seven days preparing the tight presentation we had come there to give, and we now had 45 minutes to react, alter our recommendations, and present to the judges. So we got to work.
The Deloitte National MBA Human Capital Case Competition is a case competition like others — but it tests competitors’ client relationship skills and ability to think on your feet as much as it tests your knowledge of talent strategy. A three-day in-depth recruiting and networking event in early October, the competition is a chance for first-year students to meet with practitioners early, dive deep into a human capital work stream and solve a client problem on a consulting timeline.
For five visitors from Los Angeles, it also offered a satisfying amount of spicy fried chicken, pedal wagons and live music in honky tonks — along with the curve ball we fielded upon arrival.
Having done workshops on Q&A techniques, storyboarding and human capital frameworks, our team was well prepared to pivot with Deloitte’s twist.
While the client’s chief of staff presented “employee organizing” as a crisis situation, our team saw it as an opportunity to better deliver on the company’s mission of creating as many jobs as possible while remaining unapologetically for-profit. This was exactly the sort of purpose-and-profit thinking that UCLA’s Impact@Anderson faculty initiative supports on campus. The client loved our idea, and we were thrilled to be chosen as finalists among the 10 MBA teams at the national competition.
Unlike other competitions, the final round the following day consisted entirely of Q&A with the judges, in an auditorium with 30 Deloitte practitioners and the rest of the competing teams as our audience.
Despite the challenge, this was the most thrilling part of the competition for all of us. As Katie remembers, “Getting up to present in an auditorium was such a rush and an incredible opportunity to share our hard work and gain more practice engaging with clients. There were definitely some nerves, but it will be one of the most memorable parts for me.” Nitya noted, “Thinking on your feet is the most important skill to any client presentation. The format and dialogue may never go as planned; therefore, always have a plan B, C, D….”
Having to keep an analytical mindset amid all the ambiguity thrown at us during the competition highlighted learning opportunities for each of us. Having taken third place, we’ll look forward to showing up stronger and nimbler than ever in Nashville next year.
Nathan Gardner is president of UCLA Anderson’s Net Impact chapter and led Anderson’s team at the National MBA Human Capital Case Competition.