Notre Dame MBA students take second

Author: Carol Newswriting

 A team of seven MBA students from the University of Notre Dame took second-place honors in the 19th Annual Wake Forest MBA Marketing Case Competition held Feb. 5-7 at the university in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Team members from the Mendoza College of Business included Adam Anderson, Niall Fagan, Colin Kresse, Rohit Jacob, Shawn Pulscher, Christina (Chrissy) Vaughn and Margot Woolley. Their challenge was to solve a real-world marketing case presented by PepsiCo, the 2009 competition sponsor.

Ninety-six teams from across the country applied to participate in the event. Eight teams from some of the nation’s top MBA programs were selected to compete in the intense competition, which is part of the Wake Forest’s annual MBA marketing summit. The University of Virginia took first place, while the University of California-Berkeley finished in third place. Other MBA programs participating included: Harvard University, the University of Chicago, Wake Forest, the University of Washington and Ohio State University.

For the case competition, the teams were asked to examine PepsiCo’s new TrueNorth line of snack products to look for ways to increase market share over the next 12 months. The MBA students had a total of 36 hours to analyze the case, develop recommendations and prepare for a 20-minute final presentation in front of a panel of 15 PepsiCo executives, who served as judges.

“We wanted to be innovative and creative, but at the same time, we wanted to respect the fact that Pepsi was looking for short-term recommendations that they could put in place and witness a large jump in market share,” said Margot Woolley (MBA ‘09). To gain an edge in the tight time slot allotted for final presentations, the team brought along props to demonstrate their ideas. “One of our recommendations involved how they could adjust their marketing strategy inside grocery stores,” Woolley said. “So Colin and Niall built a wooden ‘grocery shelf,’ and Chrissy designed all the creative banners and signs that we wanted displayed in the stores. So we had a full-on display that we wheeled out for our presentation. I have to imagine that helped us.”

After the presentation, the team members faced the judges. “The Q&A session was pretty intense,” said Shawn Pulscher (MBA ’09).  “The first executive to speak asked us if our plan was ‘game-changing’ enough to truly make a difference.  Another executive asked us what we’d do if our plan didn’t make a significant impact by the end of the year.  A third executive asked us why retail partners would be interested in such a plan.  At the time, we weren’t sure if we’d turned them off with our recommendations or if they were just asking questions to test how much research and analysis we’d done.”

The judges provided feedback to the MBA students afterward, pointing out how “tightly woven” the presentation was, said Woolley. “That was great to hear, as it is very easy to get lost in a presentation when you are giving so many ideas and recommendations, and you are trying to get the judges to see the link between everything.  That was one of our huge goals,” she added.

Top prize was $50,000; Notre Dame took home $3,000 for its second-place finish. Case competitions also expose students to realistic career challenges and provide employers with an opportunity to gauge the students' marketing skills under pressure. The team members’ resumes will be published in a book that will be distributed to the sponsor, panelists, judges and distinguished executives attending the summit, including Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo chairman and CEO. 

Play video of the Wake Forest Case Competion