Just before midnight, everything started clicking for M.B.A. students Corey Bowers, Beck Hartmann, and Beth Littlehales, members of the winning team at the tenth annual Hewlett-Packard (HP) Case Competition at the University of Oregon's Lundquist College of Business. They had been crunching numbers for days in preparation for the competition, trying to determine the optimal location (Shanghai or San Diego) and production technology (automated or mechanized) for a hypothetical printer manufacturing facility. But the competing concerns among the company's various departments made the financial picture murky and subjective. Finally, during a last-minute analysis, everything began to make sense. Ultimately, that breakthrough kept the students clear-eyed and energized--despite the lack of sleep--as they presented their recommendation (an automated plant in San Diego) to a panel of judges that included current and former HP finance managers.
The knowledge and insights Bowers, Hartmann, and Littlehales gained from the experience made an immediate and lasting impression on them. "The competition confirmed the financial analysis and presentation skills we've learned, as well as everything else that goes into the core of the M.B.A. program," said Bowers. "That we could give an effective presentation to real business people in an area with which they are intimately familiar really showed us the value of our education." And that sentiment is exemplary of the competition's impact on students for the past ten years.
"If students from ten years ago returned to watch the competition today, I think they would be astonished by the professionalism of the students," said event creator and organizer Professor Megan Partch, explaining that the caliber of presentations has improved in line with the college's increased focus on experiential education. Professor Emeritus George Racette--who served as a judge along with Partch, HP Finance Manager Sue Richmond, and retired HP Financial Operations Manager Bob Johnson--also credited the dedication of HP representatives for advancing the competition. Richmond, for instance, regularly speaks in classes, teaching students to focus on the big picture when presenting financial analyses and to gain consensus among groups with competing interests. In addition, Richmond and Johnson, along with HP Financial Analyst Tim Cadman and Partch, coauthored the case students analyzed this year.
In all, the competition has been a tremendous success. "For the past ten years, our department's collaboration with Hewlett-Packard has added depth to the experience we offer students, and we look forward to continuing our association with HP in the years to come," Partch concluded.