April 10, 2003

LOS ANGELES — A team representing The Anderson School at UCLA took second place in the 2002 National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA) Student Case Competition. Team members Ross Cheairs ('03), Kamau Coleman ('03), Rosa Earley ('03) and Marcus Moore ('03) were awarded a $9,000 scholarship (which they will share) at the association's annual conference in Nashville, Tenn. They contended with more than 30 top graduate business schools from across the nation, including Wharton, Yale, Kellogg, Michigan State and the Marshall School at USC.

The Anderson School's team spent four weeks analyzing a complex business case study and then presented and defended their recommendations before a panel of corporate executives. Established in 1992, the NBMBAA Student Case Competition gives student attendees at the association's conference the chance to demonstrate their knowledge, problem-solving abilities and analytical proficiency. Participants are judged based on their presentation skills, style, thoroughness and creativity. DaimlerCrysler has sponsored the competition since 1995 and provides an automobile industry case study each year.

In the competition's 10-year history, teams from The Anderson School have won twice: in 2001 and 1998. David Porter, assistant professor at The Anderson School at UCLA, has been advisor to all three teams, and this year was reminded several times of their reputation as a formidable foe. Advisors for other teams voiced their anxiety to him about having to face The Anderson School team in the early rounds and declared their intention to finally beat them "one of these years."

Professor Porter was particularly proud of how well this year's group of students functioned as a team, recognizing each other's strengths and supporting their efforts. As a result, he observed that they were able to engage in very constructive debate on the problems with which they were presented, leading to very successful solutions.

"One of the things that made this team stand out is that they went far beyond what was asked of them," said Dr. Porter. "After answering the core questions in the case, they went on to enumerate additional issues for dramatically improving the company's performance and greatly enhancing its profitability."

Team member Rosa Earley remembers the competition experience as short and intense with many long nights. She and the other students were assisted in their pre-conference preparation by Carla Hayn, associate professor and area chair of accounting, and Olav Sorenson, assistant professor of policy. These Anderson School faculty members reviewed the student's work for any faulty logic, helping to fine tune their arguments.

Earley came to the group with experience from another competition and provided insight into the human resources aspects of the case. Having spent the past summer working in the personnel department of a hospital, Earley's real world experience helped keep the team's goals in this area realistic, and executive board compensation was a key component in their suggestions for the solution of the case.

Last minute health concerns among team members applied additional pressure. Early was the only healthy member of the three presenters just prior to the conference. Kamau Coleman had surgery and was unable to make the trip. Ross Cheairs was injured and on crutches but did make it to the conference. Marcus Moore had participated in the preparation of the case, but was not expecting to be part of the presentation. He was traveling in Europe until just before the competition and arrived at the conference to find the team needed him to step in at the last minute. Moore has a strong background in accounting. Earley considered his contributions to be very valuable, especially when he found a financial error in their work.

The team spent the day polishing their slide presentation to meet the deadline for submission that night. They were discouraged by their prospects at that point, because they knew it was not perfect. To make matters worse, they felt pressure to uphold The Anderson School's record of success. Moore said the team worried it would be a disaster if they didn't do well, and he was so frustrated that he even feared coming in "dead last."

Their practice meeting with Professor Porter lifted the team's sagging spirits. He assured them that minor imperfections would be overlooked and reminded them that what really mattered was how well they laid out their arguments. Expressing confidence in the quality of their analysis, he said he could tell they had done their homework and was sure the judges would see that as well. With his encouragement, they were reenergized and confidently navigated the first round, making it into the finals. Moore was so pleased with their presentation that he was certain they would advance. Earley remembers being even more elated later that night when she realized how many of the top business schools had not made the cut.

The Anderson School team was first to present in the finals, and Earley recalls the realization that they needed to make a lasting impression that would remain through all of the other contestants. Participants were allowed to practice in the actual setting before the preliminary rounds, but for the finals there was an additional stress of unfamiliar surroundings, as well as a much larger audience.

"I think our ability to anticipate the judge's questions, even the more difficult ones in the finals, was what made the difference for us," assessed Earley. "We were prepared with specifics and even had slides ready with full analysis for most of the points they wanted to probe further. We also gave each member of the team a chance to respond to every question, providing different points of view on all the issues."

Initially, most of the team members were happy to have ultimately placed second. However, upon reflection, they were left wondering if a little more effort would have gotten them first place. They were somewhat disappointed, feeling that they didn't live up to the full Anderson School legacy with back-to-back wins.

"At that point I realized just how competitive I really am," remarked Moore. "Ross was the one who brought it all into perspective when he told us he would not listen to anything sad on the subject, since it was still a very significant achievement. Then I let it go and realized what a good experience it had been. The increased confidence it gave me made it well worth the effort."

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