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News & Events

Students turn 'long tail' into business solution

Kellogg team among elite in McKinsey tech challenge; experiential opportunity pits student skill against real problems

By Adrienne Murrill

4/27/2007 - As technology continues to transform the business world, Kellogg School students are leveraging their collective strengths to design solutions now for emerging challenges.

One recent example of this collaborative success involves students Tarun Arora, Rajiv Bansal, Abhinav Gattani, Sze-Meng Soon and Bhavan Suri (all '07) in the McKinsey Business Technology Challenge.

McKinsey & Company invited teams of three to five students from Kellogg, Haas, MIT Sloan, the University of Chicago and Wharton to show how a breakthrough technology can improve the productivity and revenue of a top business.

Thirty-two teams from Kellogg alone competed in the first round, held April 13-15. The students had 48 hours to create a plan that would match one of four technologies with a Fortune 100 company and provide analysis of the opportunity, a business case outlining the economic impact and the plan's implementation considerations and risks. Technology categories from which the students could choose were "crowd sourcing," "ubiquitous connectivity," "virtual worlds" and "smart networks."

The Kellogg team selected a challenge related to Comcast, the largest TV cable provider, and recommended that it enable a peer-to-peer (P2P) network for its customers and distribute "Long Tail" content in a P2P fashion. The long tail, or Pareto tail, refers to a statistical distribution where initial high-frequency activity (product sales, for example) is followed by long, low-frequency activity that gradually "tails off." Popularized by Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson, the Long Tail theory contends that products in low demand or having low sales volume, when combined, can equal a market share that meets or exceeds the relatively few current top products if the distribution channel is large enough.

"We agreed that we needed to come up with something that's not only high in innovation but high in practicality to truly differentiate us from the competition," Gattani said.

He said they achieved this goal by challenging each other, "hammering ideas on all sides." Collectively, the students in the winning Kellogg team had backgrounds in technology, consulting and investing, Soon said, which gave the group a well-rounded approach in the competition.

As the winning team from Kellogg, the students earned a prize of $10,000. They competed in the final round against winning teams from the other four schools on April 20 in New York City, where Wharton won. The other teams were not ranked.

"McKinsey's competition was truly the last competitive test for us as second-year students while at Kellogg to merge our experiences with what we have learned at school before we venture into the real world of business," Gattani said.