Marshall students win Deloitte case competition

(Left to right) Brian Han, George Wu, Sonali Vasu and Stephanie Tandean, graduate students at the Marshall School of Business, receiving their prize. Photo courtesy of the USC Marshall MBA team.

Four master’s students from the Marshall School of Business brought home $10,000 as part of USC’s second consecutive victory at a weeklong case competition co-sponsored by Deloitte Consulting in October.

The Deloitte National MBA Human Capital Case Competition is open to teams from the nation’s top MBA university programs, and the USC team received the top prize of $10,000.

Brian Han, Stephanie Tandean, Sonali Vasa and George Wu are all graduate students pursuing master’s degrees in business administration who represented USC this year. They competed against teams from 11 other business schools in a case challenge that required them to utilize human resources techniques to tackle company scenarios on hiring, staffing and performance challenges.

“We pretty much worked around 10 to 12 hours each day by setting end-day goals to accomplish so that we were always on track,” Wu said in an email to the Daily Trojan.

The case was focused on the corporate growth of BrightStar Care, a national company that provides home care for the elderly, and challenged the teams to pitch solutions in a resourceful and timely manner.

The USC team approached the case with a strategy to create a visual narrative on its business recommendation, which will hypothetically be presented to the client interested in BrightStar Care.

“People tend to visualize a response, so painting that picture from the perspective of the CEO or the employees was [our team’s] main priority when coming up with a recommendation,” Wu said.

According to Tandean, what distinguished the USC team from others was the members’ ability to convey a story, one that allowed the case judges to easily follow.

“Delivery matters,” Tandean said in an email to the Daily Trojan. “A story also worked really well because it appeals to emotions. Other groups lacked this emotional appeal because they were only facts-spitting [sic] during their presentation.”

The biggest challenges the team faced were time pressure and unexpected twists of the presented case.

“The biggest challenge was the fact that we had to make the whole presentation not just fact-based but rather flow really well as a story,” Tandean said. “It is important because with all the time we put into researching the case, we definitely found and came up with a lot of facts that can be presented.”

Wu also formerly competed in last year’s Deloitte case competition and took part in this year’s participant selection, helping build chemistry among team members.

“It is during those twists where most teams would start arguing and falling apart,” Wu said on his case experience.

Yet, since students were allowed to be an integral part of the participant selection process, the team’s relationship helped them mount those challenges.

“Gaining input and having someone play devil’s advocate is crucial because you need to understand all the angles before you create your story, otherwise you will have holes and the image you were trying to create will definitely fall apart,” Wu said.

The team attributed its success to the Marshall Business Competition Program, which devotes resources and training opportunities for business students to encourage participation in national case competitions.

Introduced in 2012, the program was intended to implement case competitions into master’s students’ academic experiences.

“By creating this program we’re saying that as a school we recognize the strong value add of case competition preparation and experience,” said Tonisha Jester, associate director of USC MBA student programs. “It’s not enough to be competent — you have to show mastery.”

Students partake in a series of eight intensive workshops, meticulously parsing through the elements of a case competition through coaching by faculty, senior students and even alumni members, according to the Marshall Business Competition Program website.

“By connecting our competition teams to alumni, professors and functional and industry experts in the student clubs, we create a culture of collaboration and shared success,” said the program’s head coach Michael Kohl. “These early results prove that by fully leveraging the power of the Trojan Family, our case competition teams can deliver superior results.”

Marshall students have completed seven events as of Nov. 1, and the Deloitte competition was the most recent.

Although the team was required to go through rigorous training and put under constant pressure, the members said they were proud of what they have learned from participating in case competitions like this one.

“The biggest takeaway [from the competition] is understanding your team and … [working] together to really keep the team excited and motivated while working toward our goal,” Wu said.