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After a cancelled flight from Chicago, three calls to exceptionally patient customer service agents, a hasty rebooking, a diversion to New York and a train ride through New Jersey, KJ Plank, Dan Metzel and I finally reached Wharton’s Huntsman Hall. It was less than an hour before the scheduled start of the second annual Wharton People Analytics Case Competition, where we would present to a panel of 15 judges from our client organization, academia and industry.

Luckily, we’d arrived with just enough time to take a few deep breaths.

The three of us traveled to Philadelphia because we were inspired by the mission of YearUp, the client organization for the competition. YearUp is a non-profit that bridges the opportunity divide for urban young adults through job skills training and higher education.

YearUp generously provided millions of real-world data points—sanitized for anonymity—on how they assess and mentor their students, and how their graduates performed after leaving the program. More than 20 teams from top MBA and data-science programs accepted the challenge to draw meaningful insights from this panoply of human interaction, summarized in rows on a half-dozen spreadsheets.

Competition representatives invited six of those 20 teams to present; three of the final six were teams from Kellogg.

After the final presentations, the tension in the waiting room gave way to congenial conversation. We were able to swap stories of common friends and shared employers with the teams from Harvard, Cornell and MIT. We talked about the data—where we focused, how we made tradeoffs in the analysis and which facts we chose to highlight for the client.

Later that night, we were notified we earned third place in the competition.

Beyond the excitement of working with YearUp, the second draw of the event was the chance to attend Wharton’s People Analytics Conference as a guest of the school. The conference drew speakers from LinkedIn, Goldman Sachs and McKinsey.

Google’s Lazslo Bock and Credit Suisse’s Michael Mauboussin each shared insights from their recent best-selling books.

Former NBA basketball player Shane Battier gave a keynote address.

Wharton’s Angela Duckworth presented her findings on the importance of grit.

Yale Professor Amy Wrzesniewski shared findings from a study (of which I had unknowingly been a part!) of West Point graduates that used performance data to emphasize the importance of finding meaning in one’s work.

Overall, the People Analytics Case Competition was an incredibly opportunity. We were able to connect with people-focused academics and analytics professionals to learn about the leading ideas and trends in the field.

We had the chance to provide robust, actionable insights for an innovative nonprofit organization in YearUp.

Most importantly, we had the chance to draw inspiration from our experience for our long-term goal of being data-driven leaders who build strong teams that create lasting value.

Zac Seidel ’16 is a first-year student in Kellogg’s Full-Time Two-Year MBA program. Before Kellogg, Zac graduated from the United States Military Academy and served as an Army infantry officer; his primary career interest is managerial analytics.