Written by Katie Skaar, Willamette MBA Team Member
The presentation was prepared and practiced, details of the schedule ahead were slowly leeching out, and the team from Willamette University: first-year students, Joe Garrison, Christal Lee, Casey Morgan, and Katie Skaar alongside their alumni teammate, Bradford McKeown, were anxiously excited that the weekend of February 24th had finally arrived. The team was warmly welcomed to Hult’s International Business School campus in San Francisco on Thursday where we encountered our first look at the competition. There was buzz all around- social media consultants eager to get “the stories” out, large banners, promos, and enthusiasm everywhere to be seen. Our team was competing to provide a solution for a European NGO, Solar Aid in the Energy Track alongside the following schools: California College of the Arts, University of Calgary, Northwestern University, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Rollins College, Schulich School of Business, The Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Davis, UCLA, University of Chicago Booth School of Business, University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Oregon, and the University of Utah.
Friday, February 24th kicked off the competition weekend with a reception, a presentation by the representative NGO, and a chance to participate in a question and answer session with Gerrard Graf, Financial Manager for Solar Aid. The Willamette team was confident that the solution in which they were proposing, was strong, but realized that some rearrangement of emphasis would be advantageous in order to respond to the information given by Mr. Graf. Additionally, we felt that we were much more prepared than some of the other groups who didn’t come with a presentation in hand. We credit our PACE approach for our confidence and preparedness.
The day of the competition included an opening ceremony kicked off by the Hult’s San Francisco Executive Director, followed by a 5-hour “case cracking” time. Originally we had been informed that new information was going to be included for this portion of the competition, but it turned out that the only “new” information that was received was from the Q&A the night before. The Willamette Team used this time to hone their presentation, create effective backup slides, and research the possible judges.
Our time was 2:30. Our room was a long corner space with a large flat screen TV. Our judges included the CEO from Blue Planet Network, CTO from IBM’s SOA Center of Excellence, a Manager of Business Architecture from Cicso, and a professor at Stanford University and expert on Climate Change. We presented for 9 and half minutes and received three questions from the judges. And then we waited. We felt our confidence increase as the smiles from the judges seemed to indicate a level of satisfaction and understanding. We knew we were competitors.
In the end, we did not qualify to move on to the finals in New York City to present in front of Bill Clinton and Muhammad Yunus. The winners, who will now compete against the track winners from the four other Hult Campuses, were Hult, Presidio Graduate School, and UC Davis for the Energy Track. We feel that we learned a lot, came home with some valuable lessons to employ for next years’ challenge, and proud that we were able to represent Willamette University. Additionally, after comparing notes with many of the other competing schools and judges, we realized that we brought one of the highest levels of competition to the challenge. AGSM had given us the tools to hang with some of the larger names, without a doubt.
Our biggest lesson learned is that for this particular competition, really challenge the case and do not feel confined by its particular assumptions and goals – challenge the clouds and offer up something BIG. This was a crowd-sourcing event that was looking for the new, not the absolutely possible. Our thought process was challenged and the energy supporting this style was infectious, next year we will know just how to frame it and will be the ones presenting to the leaders of global change.