For the past 15 years, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides have been the tools of a life-changing annual competition at FIU’s Chapman Graduate School of Business.
Dozens of the school’s most ambitious graduate students take on the case competition, recently branded as the Chapman Cup Challenge. Students organize into teams of consultants, learning business analysis and presentation skills from FIU faculty, staff and external experts.
Then, with weeks of preparation behind them, consulting teams compete for the right to represent FIU at the Florida Intercollegiate Graduate Case Competition at the University of South Florida in Tampa. There, they face a daunting challenge: receive a case and, a mere 24 hours later, present detailed, documented recommendations to executives of the actual company.
“Going to Tampa” has represented the ultimate opportunity for FIU students to match wits against some of the top graduate business students in the state. Preparing for the challenge alone lifts students’ analysis and presentation skills—and the competition is real and tough. Chapman faculty, industry coaches and staff strive to provide top-notch training and duplicate the rigorous conditions students will face in the demanding Florida finals.
For its 2016 competition, those presentation tools took a giant step forward.
After years of using a combination of past cases from Tampa competitions and other case studies culled from a variety of sources by faculty advisors, for the first time, FIU welcomed the participation of two sponsoring companies. Each presented the student consulting teams with their own business challenges to study, analyze and present to executives.
“This was a remarkable new opportunity that energized everyone involved in the Chapman Cup—our faculty, our staff, and especially our students,” said Walfried Lassar, associate dean at the Chapman Graduate School.
BoxyCharm, a subscription cosmetics company based in Doral, stepped up to provide materials for the preliminary round, held online. CEO Yosef Martin and Marketing Manager Lily Oliveros, both FIU Business alumni, presented a business growth challenge, read each team’s case analysis and recommendations and selected four teams to move on to the final round.
On October 21, 2016, the teams received their final case company: PoolCorp, the nation’s largest wholesaler of pool and pool-related items, a $2.36 billion company led by FIU Business alumnus Manuel Perez de la Mesa, its chairman and CEO. The company was looking for recommendations on how the industry-leading publicly traded company could grow its business, including specific steps that could be implemented “next Monday.”
A week later, on October 28, the four Chapman Cup consulting teams, each clad in business attire, stepped into a tiered classroom at the College of Business Complex at the Modesto A. Maidique Campus. Sitting before them was Perez de la Mesa himself and three top PoolCorp executives: Rick Postoll, vice president and general manager; Donna Williams, chief marketing officer; and Tim Babco, chief information officer. Joining them as judges were FIU Business faculty member Flavio Carrillo and external consultant Florence Evina-Ze.
For the next two hours, teams took turns delivering a professional presentation within a strict 20-minute time period, and then stood before the judges for a 15-minute question and answer session.
The judging panel didn’t hold back, challenging the consultants’ assumptions, asking for additional details and requesting more thorough background on each team’s recommendations, which participants had to deliver on the spot.
When the presentations were done, students entered a reception and judges came back with a winner: INsights Institute, comprised of Evan Lozada of the Masters of Human Resource Management program, and Arno Boehnert, Albaneliz Ortiz, Harshavardhana Pradeep Tikare and Shahzaib Khan of the International MBA program. The team represented backgrounds from five different nations.
“The opportunity to work with a live company on a live case was amazing,” said INsights Institute team member Khan. They were inspired to work on the case into the wee hours, even bringing their own projector to campus one night in case FIU shut down its system.
“This team always said that we wanted to go to Tampa, and now we’re going to do it,” he said. The 2017 competition is scheduled to take place February 23-25, 2017.
Chapman School Associate Director Maria Sierra, who took on coordinating the teams this year, admired their determination. “This is the kind of ‘out of the box, go for the goal, be prepared for anything’ thinking that give successful teams competing in Tampa the edge,” she said.
For Ellie Browner, who organized FIU’s participation for 15 years and shared duties this year with incoming coordinator Sierra, the new dimension of company participation energized the experience.
“The camaraderie among the teams this year was unprecedented,” she said, noting that at the reception, two competitors offered to help INsights Institute “in any way they can” to prepare and compete at the Intercollegiate Case Competition in Tampa. “In the almost 15 years I have been involved with this competition, I have never observed this kind of inspiring Panther pride.”
Lessons from the Chapman Cup continued when BoxyCharm invited all participating Chapman Cup students to its Doral headquarters, where they toured the showroom, learned more about the company and had the opportunity to discuss their insights with CEO Yosef Martin, who personally hosted the visit and tour.
All in all, the Chapman Cup yielded benefits beyond students’ expectations.
“Our alumni tell us that the case competition has been a highlight of their graduate experience at FIU,” Sierra said. “I feel fortunate to play a part developing our students’ “real-world” experience. These are invaluable opportunities and I look forward to growing the Chapman Cup initiative at FIU.”
Associate Dean Lassar sees company participation yielding benefits for both students and sponsors. “We were so gratified to see two very different organizations step up to engage with our students and play a vital role in the education of the next generation of global business leaders,” he said. “Thanks to the help of our sponsoring companies, faculty members, coordinators and coaching team, we are confident that Team FIU is well-prepared for facing off against top students in Florida at the upcoming case competition in Tampa.”