Hot java and wintry slopes: MBA's win Daniels Race and case competition

Author: Becky Wiese

How’s this for an extracurricular challenge: Navigate the ethical and financial impact of the global coffee crisis on one particular business, then go out and navigate the gates of a downhill ski race.

Six Mendoza MBA students were equal to the unique challenge, winning this year’s Daniels College of Business Race and Case Competition Feb. 10–12 in Colorado. Sponsored by the University of Denver, the event required teams to present an ethics case study on campus, then hit the slopes for a Nastar race at Copper Mountain Resort.

The Notre Dame team of Sybil Carrade, John Eklund, Rob George, Frank Germann, and Kevin Parker (all MBA ‘05) and Julia Kropp (MBA ‘06) was assisted by Georges Enderle, Arthur and Mary O’Neil Professor of International Business Ethics. They bested a strong field of nine teams representing the universities of Pittsburgh and Virginia, as well as Brigham Young, Carnegie Mellon, George Washington, Penn State, and Yale universities.

In the case competition, teams were asked to analyze the ethical and business challenges presented by the global coffee crisis and a local political initiative for Peet’s Coffee & Tea, a purveyor of specialty coffees and teas based in Emeryville, Calif. Teams outlined Peet’s response to Measure O, a 2002 Berkeley ballot initiative that would have required local cafes and restaurants to serve only “sustainable” coffee—made from beans that were either certified fair trade, organic, or shade grown.

The Notre Dame team recommended that Peet’s focus on local action that could address global issues. Though opposed to Measure O, the team recommended various methods of improving economic, social, and environmental conditions for the company’s growing partners. One suggested initiative would send agriculture students from schools like the University of California at Davis to train growers in better farming and business practices. These projects would be bolstered by in-store efforts such as premium-priced coffees of the month and educational kiosks.

Kevin Parker explains, “Oftentimes what you hear is there’s an incongruence between ethical standards or socially sustainable business and financial goals. And I think that we proved that that’s not, in fact, the case. There is a congruence. If you work on both ends, you can touch on both needs.”

When it came time to race, the competition could not have expected much from the team of flatlanders. George and Parker’s preparation involved practice trips to Swiss Valley in Jones, Mich. and a lot of “sitting on the couch and watching Warren Miller ski videos,” explains George. But Notre Dame had some ringers in the bunch. Carrade, a competitive ski racer throughout high school and college, was the women’s individual winner and one of the fastest racers overall. Germann, originally from a town near the Alps, was the highest men’s finisher for the Irish. As a team, Notre Dame finished second on the hill, only to the home squad, Denver, securing the overall victory.

George insists that the win is a testament to total team effort. “You can look at any single person and show a point where they literally carried the team. There were no egos,” he says. The group also gives much credit to Enderle, who, in addition to working many late nights and weekends, is also “an excellent skier.”