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MAY 2017

Students find self-confidence, problem-solving and job offers are byproducts of rigorous training for case competitions

Case Competition 2017

Throughout the school year, Florida State University students from around campus go head to head with counterparts from across the nation and the globe to develop viable business solutions to problems presented by real companies. Competing in these case competitions takes hours of rigorous preparation, and for Christopher “C.J.” Wagner, Gabriel Woodruff and Caroline Kinney, the long hours of preparation paid off.

All three say they gained self-awareness and self-confidence, learned teamwork and developed essential public speaking and analytical skills. On top of that, Wagner and Kinney recently received job offers from accounting firms. Woodruff is in the midst of job interviews with a venture capital firm.

“I’ve been able to network with industry executives and students from other leading business schools around the world –  and learn more about important and relevant topics like supply chain, corporate social responsibility and logistics from professionals,” said Wagner, a senior majoring in economics with a minor in business analytics and president of the 80-member FSU Case Competition Club. He heads to Washington, D.C., in July to begin a position as a business analyst with Deloitte Consulting.

Case competitions allow students to apply skills and concepts they learn in classes to solve a real-world challenge presented to them by a company. The teams first analyze internal and external factors affecting the situation, then create solutions and present them to a team of judges, who typically are business professionals and consultants. The company providing the case gains valuable ideas developed by the student teams, and students benefit from the judges’ feedback on how to improve their critical thinking, analytical and presentation skills. Typically, FSU students have an opportunity to travel to at least six competitions a year.

FSU teams have vied for top spots in global competitions against students representing such powerhouse programs as the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok, Thailand), the University of Melbourne (Australia ) and the University of Alberta (Canada). Competition sponsors have included worldwide companies like The Boeing Company, Costco Wholesale, Starbucks Coffee International and Wells Fargo.

Last month, Woodruff, who graduates in August with a degree in economics and a business analytics minor, competed at the annual Global Business Case Competition at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle. The five-day event is one of the most prestigious competitions in the world, and this year Woodruff’s four-member team vied against peers from 11 other universities representing nine countries.

The teams were asked to play the roles of Fitbit managers. The CEO of the company with a big share of the wrist-worn wearables market wanted them to recommend how to protect data from Fitbit devices. They were also asked to develop a strategy for Fitbit’s new data protection efforts in global markets. They had to present solutions within 44 hours.

“I learned something from every student I interacted with,” Woodruff said. “Every student was intellectual, professional and at the top of his or her game. These are the business leaders with whom I may be interacting with professionally in the future. The whole event inspired me to think more about what direction I want to go academically and professionally.”

Just prior to the Fitbit case, all the participants at the UW event were required to take part in a warmup case presented by PitchBook, a financial information technology provider. As a direct result of that case, the company’s managing director for strategic initiatives asked Woodruff to interview for positions in Seattle or New York City.

Like Wagner and Woodruff, Kinney, who earned her bachelor’s in accounting last May and graduates in August with her master’s in accounting and is preparing for the CPA exam, stayed active in the Case Competition Club, serving as a vice president during her senior year. She also can point to her experience as a case competitor for landing an internship in Raleigh, N.C., and a full-time position in Tampa with EY’s Advisory Practice.

“Case competitions forced me out of my comfort zone,” Kinney said. “We had to present to audiences of 100 people and hear criticisms from judges, who are CEOs of major companies. Preparing and presenting were a lot of work and very stressful. But working on a team and on deadline made me know I could do it, and that has given me a lot of confidence for the future.” 

Photo (from left to right): Gabriel Woodruff, Sydney Solis (University ambassador from University of Washington), Caroline Kinney, Kelsey Rodgers, and Preston Wilson.

By Barbara Ash

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