SOM hosts first integrated case competition

SOM

Last Saturday, students from four U.S. business schools participated in the School of Management’s inaugural integrated leadership case competition, in which students attempted to solve a simulated scenario of a problem that could arise in the business world.

In teams of four, competitors from the Wharton School of Business, Penn State Smeal College of Business, New York University Stern School of Business and SOM had to analyze a “raw” case — a type of online, interactive case with several multimedia elements, pioneered by SOM. Unlike traditional cases, which are narrative and ask students clearly defined problems, “raw” cases require students to locate the problems themselves after analyzing various primary sources. SOM students, professors and administrators said the case competition — the first one at SOM to include peer business schools — exemplified SOM’s interdisciplinary approach to the business world and highlighted elements of the school’s core curriculum, which aims to combine academic course work and practical experience.

“[SOM] Dean [Edward] Snyder and I were on board with the project from the beginning, in part because the competition picks up on SOM’s distinctive features,” said Senior Associate Dean for the full-time MBA program Anjani Jain. “Alongside showcasing SOM’s living, breathing raw case, the competition posed a problem that cut across disciplinary boundaries and business sectors to truly expose students to all of the realities of the business world, which is what we do here with the core curriculum.”

In last weekend’s competition, participants were expected to find a creative way to boost recruitment at a fictional bank facing a drop in MBA recruiting while also considering the problem’s ethical implications. The case did not have a “black-or-white” answer in part because the competition emphasized that leadership in the business world should transcend sectors and industries — teams were required to include students from different disciplines and professional backgrounds, said Caitlin Sullivan SOM ’13, who came up with the idea for the competition. Participants were encouraged to think about the problem’s ethical dimensions, she said, adding that competitors were challenged to find ways to spur ethically sound behaviors at all levels of management.

Teams were judged by four members of the SOM community and received feedback from a group of eight SOM students trained to assess the teams according to techniques taught in the school’s leadership development program — which focuses on teaching business students leadership skills through interdisciplinary learning and real-world experience — said Thomas Kolditz, head of the leadership development program. The SOM students evaluated the teams’ leadership skills as they were working, and the feedback participants received about their performances did not factor into the judges’ final decision.

“Participants were observed while doing the types of work they will do in the future — I don’t think that has been done in a case competition anywhere, ever,” Kolditz said. “People usually judge only the teams’ final presentations, not the leadership demonstrated during the teamwork.”

Given the strong connection between the goals of the competition and those of the SOM’s core curriculum, Jain said he thinks SOM professors could use some of the participants’ analyses and conclusions in their courses. He said SOM administrators look forward to including even more students and schools in future competitions.

SOM professor William Goetzmann, one of four judges for the competition, said that the competition emphasized teamwork and the ability to solve problems — two crucial aspects of an SOM education. He added that he thinks students from peer business schools seemed to appreciate the challenges of a raw case.

The Wharton School of Business team won the competition in front of an audience of approximately 40 members of the Yale community.

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