Mendoza School of Business

ND MBA team wins international case competition

Published: November 15, 2017 / Author: Carol Elliott

From left: Zachary Kozak, Christopher Kunnen and Austin Gilbertson

A team of University of Notre Dame MBA students won first place and a cash prize of $5,000 in the 22nd Annual International Case Competition (ICC). Christopher Kunnen (’18), Austin Gilbertson (’19) and Zachary Kozak (’18) bested 10 schools from top universities across the U.S. in the competition hosted by the Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business.

The contest, held Nov. 10-11 in Pittsburgh, is intended to provide participants with experience in synthesizing information under time pressure, organizing and prioritizing issues, applying decision-making skills, working in teams, and developing innovative solutions. ICC also connects leading operations talent with multinational sponsor companies for networking and recruiting opportunities, according to Tepper’s Operations Management Club, which organized the event.

MIT Sloan School of Management took second place, while Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business took third.

Corporate sponsors included Eaton, Amazon and Emerson. Eaton, a global power management corporation, served as lead sponsor and developed the case for the teams. The case focused on operations strategy, supply chains and sustainability, and represented a significant opportunity for students to solve a current operational business challenge.

“Overall, case competitions are a great experiential component to the MBA experience,” said Kozak. “The competitions combine both real-world problem solving and simulating the time-constraint project management challenges that we as professionals will experience in the future.”

The competition takes place in two rounds, with three teams from the original field of 11 advancing to the finals. In the first round, teams give a 20-minute presentation followed by a 10-minute Q&A session. The three finalists then gave a 30-minute presentation to the judges with the non-finalist teams in the audience.  

According to organizers, judges awarded the win to the Notre Dame MBA team because of its ability to identify the key issues in the case and its development of data-driven insights and recommendations that went beyond expectations. The team members also were lauded for their presentation skills and audience engagement.

Kunnen and Kozak, who both worked in consulting and strategic planning during their summer internships, said their strategy relied on emphasizing the importance of defining the case objective and creating a story line around it. Gilbertson, currently pursuing a consulting internship, comes from an engineering and tech startup background and rounded out the team by defining the trends in the industry as a whole and tying them back to the main story line.  

“We employed a key take-away from one of our favorite professors, Dan Connors, who teaches the course Lessons from Turnaround Situations in the fall term,” said Kozak. “Dan, a former Bain consultant, conveyed to us early on to follow the strategy of ‘Listen, Deliver and then Add’ for any business problem. We replicated this approach when analyzing the problem and then building our presentation.”

The Notre Dame MBA enrolls about 300 students annually and is offered in two formats: The Notre Dame MBA One-Year program, a May-to-May program primarily for individuals who seek additional knowledge and skills to further their careers, but aren’t necessarily looking to change careers; and the Notre Dame MBA Two-Year program, which is intended more for “career changers” who want to better prepare themselves for a long-term career in business.

Notre Dame MBA recently added an intense, four-day session to its annual fall orientation for new students called Integral Leadership Development (ILD). Based on a signature integral leadership program developed for the Mendoza College’s executive programs, ILD offers a quantitatively backed self-examination where students participate in individual and group assignments designed to guide them in examining their values, strengths and weaknesses. The aim is to help students immediately begin to understand leadership from a holistic, values-based perspective.

For more information about the Notre Dame MBA, contact the program at (574) 631-8488 or email

Topics: Student Life