November 1, 2007

Johnson School Students Win National Competition

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On Oct. 23, a team of six Johnson School MBA students, one with a dual degree in ILR, took first place and the $20,000 prize at the nation’s first MBA-level competition focused on human capital challenges. The contest, dubbed the National MBA Human Capital Case Compe­tition, was held at the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Man­agement Oct 19-20.
The competition event was organized so that each team would have to present a solution to a human capital problem in an actual case. Human capital is a term that generally refers to the knowledge and skills embodied by those in a business. Today, businesses are faced with problems concerning human capital because of a significantly more talented population and a shortage of jobs that could make use of such talent.
“There has been more turnover in our generation than ever before,” said Javed Singah, MBA ’09. “Companies really have to compete to get the best employees.”
According to Prof. Randy Allen, management, who advised Cornell’s winning team, “More people are competing in the knowledge economy which means they will be more critical [of the workplace] than those competing in the industrial economy.”
Cornell’s team was comprised of MBA students Anthony Figliolini, MBA-MILR ’08 who served as the team captain, Pun­eet Bhatia ’08, Rohit Kumar ’08, Tania Ste­wart ’08, Rhoda Yap , all MBA ’08, and Javed Singha. Each team member vol­unteered for his or her position, and the group then elected Allen to be their team advisor.
“The competition was split into three phases,” Figliolini said. First, the team had to apply to be considered for the final competition. After submitting an array of essays and resumes, Cornell’s team was admitted along with nine other finalists including Columbia, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue, UCLA, University of Illinois- Urba­na/Champaign, University of Southern California, Vanderbilt, and Yale.
Second, the team received an outline of what general concepts could be involved in the actual case.
“[It was] a high level problem of what could be included in the case,” said Singha said.
Finally, the team reached the third phase where they the students spent three days in Nashville. After the first day, which was a reception for all of the teams, each team received a different case.
“Ours was a Harvard Business School case,” said Figliolini said. “We had four hours to prepare the presentation.”
According to Allen, the format of this particular competition was unique due to the intense time pressure under which the team had to prepare for the presentation.
“It was particularly hard because once they got the case, which was 32 pages long, they only had four hours to put it together,” Allen said.
The case Cornell’s team received concerned a successful international law firm that was having trouble recruiting and retaining new, talented employees. In order to prepare the case once they received it, Cornell’s team had to analyze it, brainstorm a solution to the problem and create a presentation of that solution to give to the two judges, one from General Electric and the other from Deloitte Consulting. It is certain that the four-hour time restraint did put a lot of pressure on the competition.
“I think the intense time pressure really forced [the team] to do all the prep work [before hand],” said Allen. “It forced them to be very well organized and, as bad as it was, I think that was the reason they won.”
As the group’s advisor, Allen was only permitted to speak with the team for one hour after they received their outline of general topics that could be used in the actual case.
According to Allen, they used that hour to talk about how to make the most use of that the four hours to prepare.
“I think we had three pillars to our strategy,” said Figliolini said. “One: Preparation, which meant we could go the deepest into issues … Two: Teamwork and cohesion … and three: we were business-strategy focused, so that everything [we proposed would be beneficial to the business.]”
Another aspect of Cornell’s team that gave them an edge over the others was the collaboration between the Johnson School and ILR.
“The fact that we have both schools [Johnson and ILR] here gave us a unique advantage because we had students from both and resources from both,” Allen said.