4/25/2008 - Four first-year Kellogg School students recently took home the first-place prize at Cisco's MBA Case Competition, providing another indication that they will be ready to face real-life business challenges upon graduation.
The team of Geoffrey Brooks, Reena Shah, Candice Wilmuth and Kimberly Whinna entered a preliminary competition for Kellogg students in January and were eventually chosen by a panel of Kellogg professors and a Cisco marketing representative to represent the school in the finals. On March 7, the students flew to San Jose, Calif., to compete against teams from the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Michigan, the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Chicago.
Each spring Cisco Systems Inc., a leading developer of Internet-based networking technologies, hosts a case competition for MBA students to design a go-to-market product strategy. This year’s contest focused on Eos, an operating system representing Cisco’s first foray into content management and social networking.
The Kellogg team presented their plan to a panel of the Cisco executives. In making their winning recommendation, the team was widely praised by the company’s leadership for the ability to identify central challenges underlying the new technology. “The company was wrestling with the same issues as us,” said Wilmuth. “They were struggling with the market segmentation issue, which ended up being the key to solving the problem in the case.”
Getting to the heart of the problem proved invaluable during a tough Q&A session with Cisco executives that followed the formal presentation. As the questions grew tougher, so too did the group’s confidence; they found themselves with ready responses in part because they had thought through the implications of their recommended strategy. “We had one solid point that we really drilled into and developed depth around,” said Shah. “We used a number of strategic frameworks to guide the process.”
Applying classroom concepts to a real-life business dilemma also gave the Kellogg team an opportunity to reflect on value of their MBA, particularly given the competitive environment. Shah pointed out that “refining and defending your ideas” is an assumed part of the school’s marketing curriculum, given the comprehensive nature of Kellogg courses, but that integration learning from across the disciplines also came naturally.
In true Kellogg form, the team was quick to emphasize that collaboration was central to their victory. Beyond bringing their own diverse backgrounds to the case, the group members reached out to classmates and professors. Students with professional technology experiences provided briefings, while Professor Mohan Sawhney
provided feedback on improving the assumptions behind the financial projections.
Commenting on the team’s work, Sawhney said: “The students on this team, although still in their first year, presented a very insightful analysis and creative recommendations. It was obvious that they greatly benefited from working as a team, and this is what Kellogg is all about.”