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Kellogg students earned the top prize at the Intersection Case Competition in January. From left: Allana Jackson, Tiffany Urrechaga, Kelly Hsieh and Rebecca Ingis (all '09).

'24 hours of intensity' results in Kellogg victory

Strategy, teamwork lead to student win in 'Intersections' case competition

By Rebecca Lindell

1/28/2008 - Four first-year Kellogg School students hit the ground running at an international case competition in January that gave them less than 24 hours to address a nonprofit organization's most pressing strategic issues.

Tiffany Urrechaga, Kelly Hsieh, Allana Jackson and Rebecca Ingis (all '09) triumphed in the Jan. 18 and 19 event, beating a field that included teams from six other business schools, including Wharton, Georgetown and Emory, among others.

"At Kellogg, we're used to juggling so many different priorities," Urrechaga said. "We do so much teamwork, and it's done on tight deadlines throughout our first semester. We've learned to cut through the fluff and bring things together in a very short time."

The Intersections MBA Case Competition, hosted by the Georgia Tech College of Management in Atlanta, extended invitations to 30 top MBA programs worldwide, ultimately selecting nine elite teams. The contest showcased the students' skills in nonprofit strategy.

Participants were asked to develop a plan to address growth and sustainability for an actual Atlanta-area nonprofit. The identity of the organization was kept secret from the students until their arrival at the competition.

From that point on, it was a race to the finish. Urrechaga described the experience as "24 hours of intensity with about four hours' sleep."

"We got there in the morning, registered and had lunch - and then we had about 10 minutes to read the case," she recalled. "Then, they put us on a bus and took us to the nonprofit facility. We were cramming on the bus, intensely reading the case."

After a tour of the organization's plant, the students were put in a room and told "OK, go!" said Urrechaga, adding that she and her teammates had about seven and a half hours to complete the case and frame their recommendations.

They also had to come together quickly as a team, since the four had never worked together at Kellogg. "That definitely added a degree of complexity," Ingis said. "When you're under a time constraint like that, you have to be really focused to get the job done."

The subject of the case was MedShare International, a Decatur, Ga.-based organization that recycles surplus medical supplies from U.S. hospitals for use by healthcare institutions in developing nations. To date, the nonprofit has shipped more than a quarter-million boxes of medical supplies to 87 countries worldwide.

The teams were asked for their recommendations on the organization's growth strategy and environmental sustainability. "We didn't have much time to come up with a detailed analysis," Urrechaga said. "Our presentation had to be turned in at 11 p.m. on the dot. We were frantically structuring our presentation during the last hour and a half." With five minutes to spare, the team put the finishing touches on their final slide.

That one included an image of the distribution model the team recommended - a last-minute inspiration that the judges would reference several times in their evaluation. The group also dug deep with their research, something apparent in their analysis slides, another element that garnered the judges' praise.

The Kellogg team worked on their presentation until 2:30 a.m., rising four hours later to prepare for the competition's final phase.

The presentations were judged on the quality of the team's analysis, recommendations and presentation. In the end, the Kellogg students earned the top prize: $6,000, as well as a $1,500 donation to the nonprofit of the team's choice.

In a decision Urrechaga described as a "no brainer," the group named MedShare the recipient of their donation. "They are such a great organization, and they had spent a lot of time with us," she said. "It made sense to give the donation to them."