IS THE ULTIMATE FINAL EXAM, but it has the proverbial catch.
To pass this test, graduating business
seniors must learn to combine their own accumulated schooling with
the knowledge amassed by a team of their peers. Each team member
approaches the group from the perspective of his or her chosen business
Suddenly, finance students are forging
relationships with human resources, marketing and technology students
to achieve a common goal — winning the integrated business case
competition in their Business Policy capstone course. For some students,
it is their first realization of what it is like to work with a
diverse business group — not just a traditional class of like-minded
majors. Therein lies the challenge.
"There is a steep learning curve for
students once they form their teams," says Derrick D'Souza, associate
professor of management and one of the coordinators of the competition.
After receiving a business scenario,
approximately 40 groups of students, the academic equivalent of
consulting firms, analyze the case and develop recommendations and
These scenarios, such as maneuvering
the growth of a small-size company to a medium-size company, transforming
a word-of-mouth campaign into a sophisticated marketing presence
or redesigning a country club's business plan, aren't outlined in
textbooks. The cases are real and the companies behind them are
listed in area yellow pages.
"There are relevant cases in the community
from which these students can develop strategy," says D'Souza, and
business representatives benefit from hearing the students' recommendations.
The competition's interactive focus
distinguishes it from similar ventures at other institutions. Rarely
do students get the chance to meet the company behind a book case
"This is a well-thought-out model
for learning," says Joe Brouillette, an executive with Accenture
and an annual judge of the final competition. "It represents real
A live case study adds a sense of
ownership — it goes beyond being homework. After a 20-minute presentation
by a team of students, a company executive has a 10-minute opportunity
to pose questions.
"The question-and-answer session is
especially important," says Grant Miles, assistant professor of
management and another of the competition's coordinators. "It is
not a prepared script like the presentation."
Many students have not had much experience
with public speaking or with defending their recommendations. Interacting
directly with a company executive helps them think on their feet
and sell their analysis, Miles says.
The live case study also allows for
personalization of a team's recommendations.
"We were in tune with the owner's
personality and responded accordingly," says Cheryl Taylor Pruden
('99), a human resources graduate. "We may not have made the same
recommendations to someone in a book."
"Students give frank feedback to
companies," says D'Souza. "But the good part is that they tend to
think outside the box."
Several teams recommended that Dowdy
Anderson & Associates diversify its practices. The small engineering
firm concentrated on single-family development, which can be cyclical.
John Baum, general manager, says his company now is entering municipal
development as well.
"This can be a real eye-opener for
senior executives making important decisions," says Baum.
Joan Hayne, owner of Hayne Corp.,
an air filtration company, agrees.
"Their generation brings excitement,
creativity and technology," she says. "Among other things, they
helped eliminate my doubts about having a web site. I am still feeding
off of their recommendations."
Students and companies both receive
exposure, and this can help trigger recruiting.
"It gets your company name out there
in the college circle," says Tim Koressel, general manager of a
Club Corp. country club. "Everybody needs quality employees, and
there are good employees coming out of North Texas."
to work together
Most importantly, a case study helps
students learn teamwork — a skill for which employers look. The
integrated business case competition broadens students' perspectives
and helps them to see how issues affect every area of a business.
"I tend to look at things strictly
on a financial basis — the bottom line," says accounting graduate
Brenda Killion ('00). "My team members were able to show me the
value of spending money when necessary."
Thus, students learn to rely on each
other's expertise to create workable solutions.
Collin Berg ('99), a real estate graduate,
explains the development of his team's recommendations: "Each of
us with our different majors had more information on certain topics.
It was interesting to hear all the ideas and see how everything
Because the competition simulates
real-world experience, the scenarios are kept secret until the end
of the semester when the two-week competition begins.
"In a business situation, you may
be given a week, a day or a stay-until-it's-done time frame within
which to work," says Miles. "You aren't always given a lot of leeway."
This condensed time frame brings out
the best in students who know what it takes to become successful
business leaders, including knowing when to put in overtime.
"We spent plenty of late hours," says
Bryan Sherman ('00), a finance graduate. "We opened the computer
lab, and we closed the computer lab.
"Basically, our team became like a
small family that semester."
Companies are chosen as case studies
one or two semesters prior to the competition. Faculty members work
with the businesses to develop comprehensive scenarios that cover
"Very few schools offer this type
of class because it is very time intensive," says D'Souza. "It requires
a large amount of collaboration among all faculty."
But the work pays off. The faculty
members who judge the initial rounds of competition receive valuable
feedback during team presentations. They discover firsthand if their
curriculum has been effective.
"They go back and think about how
they're preparing students," says Miles. "This competition has brought
more people together than anything else in the College of Business
In the end, the students benefit the
"Compared to everything else," says
entrepreneurship graduate Scott Jamison ('99), "this competition
was by far the most realistic experience I had in school."
consider real-life criteria such as quality and content of team
presentations and the appropriateness of the team's answers
to follow-up questions.