Harbert College team takes second at National Black MBA Association case competition

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Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, maker of the Jeep Wrangler, needs a strategy to source headlamps. But do headlamp designs and performance features influence vehicle sales? Are these suppliers financially stable and what are the risks? Would consumers pay more for a premium headlamp design? Regardless of price, which headlamp technology – Halogen, Xenon or LED – is best and why?

A team of Harbert College of Business MBA students recommended Fiat-Chrysler, or FCA, use minority-owned supplier LED headlamps because of their quality, style, technology, safety and enhanced vision capabilities. The team presented substantial consumer and market research, detailed financial analysis and a compelling marketing strategy that would allow them to expand consumer reach and increase FCA's minority consumer base.

For their efforts, the Auburn team of Beatrice Onadeko, Akira Powell, Peyton Alsobrook and Chantel Tremitiere took second place out of 34 schools at the National Black MBA Association Graduate Case Competition last month in Orlando, Florida, winning $15,000. Georgia State won the competition, while Massachusetts Institute of Technology took third.

"There were a lot of aspects which made our team successful," said Tremitiere, a Williamsport, Pennsylvania, native and former professional basketball star, who was named her round's "Best Presenter." "I think the one thing that made it work is that we all got along. We were a mixture of personalities that meshed very well."

Alsobrook, from Opelika, earned "Best Q&A" recognition during the first round and said the team's diversity worked in its favor.

"Our team was comprised of four members with different ages, races, backgrounds and experiences, but instead of allowing those differences to be an obstacle, we celebrated them, which allowed us to challenge one another's thought process and arrive at well-supported, unique solutions," he said.

Frank Oprandy, the college's director of Graduate Career Services for the Harbert College of Business, had the opportunity to travel with the team and serve in an advisory role.

"The team had great chemistry," he said. "Each team member took care of their individual pieces, and they trusted one another in that. They knew Chantel would nail the marketing. They knew Peyton would nail the finances. They knew Akira would nail the market research. And they knew Beatrice would nail the background research. And in knowing that the others would do their parts well, it allowed each to focus completely on their content and on nailing the overall presentation."

Each team received the case – with detailed information about the company and potential headlamp suppliers – a month before the competition. Oprandy noted the team drew from the faculty expertise of Keven Yost, the Synovus Fellowship Associate Professor in Finance; Danny Butler, the Thomas Walter Center Professor in Marketing; Gary Page, instructor and Executive in Residence; Stan Harris, associate dean for Graduate and International Programs; and Brian Gibson, the Wilson Family Professor in Supply Chain Management.

"Their feedback and suggestions helped the team tremendously and we really appreciated them taking time out of their hectic schedules to make sure we were well prepared to represent Auburn in the best way possible," Onadeko, from Dothan, said.

Why the minority-supplier LED headlamps?

"Although their headlamps were the most expensive and they were less financially stable, we felt that their best-in-class style, technology, and engineering capabilities coupled with their ability to help Jeep diversify their customer base made them the best option," Alsobrook explained. "We ended our presentation by emphasizing the importance of giving opportunities. As Viola Davis said in her Emmy speech just last week, 'The only difference between African-American women and everyone else is opportunity.'"

Speaking of Viola Davis …

"I knew that all of the other teams would approach the case with their heads (charts, graphs and financials)," said Tremitiere of her presentation. "We definitely did that, but I thought we needed to stand out, being our first time competing, so I thought we should add an approach that they follow their hearts. Peyton texted me the night of the Emmy's and asked if I saw Viola Davis' speech. I did. He suggested I try to incorporate it into the presentation since this case had everything to do with giving an opportunity to a minority. I quoted her speech and told the judges that the minority supplier they were considering could be 'their Viola Davis.'"

Oprandy said Tremitiere's presentation was "a home run" and "captured the judges' hearts."

"This case reinforced the importance of holistic thinking," added Powell, from Vienna, Virginia. "Even though organizations are departmentalized by areas like finance and marketing, it is vital to ensure that there is a structure in place to facilitate communication and collaboration amongst these departments in order to make a more thorough and accurate conclusion. Our suggestion was to choose the supplier who had the most "checks." This supplier is able to provide innovative technology that the consumers want, has solid financial measures and should aid in expanding the company's market share to include additional demographics since it's a minority-owned supplier."

Case competitions, either as semester projects in Lowder Hall classrooms or in national and regional showcases, continues to expose Harbert College students to real-life business issues and provide problem-solving experience they can carry into the business world.

"The Harbert College of Business prepares its students as well as any college in the country," Alsobrook added. "We were up against a number of business schools that were ranked ahead of us including MIT, Cornell, the University of Florida and Ohio State University and yet FCA found our recommendations to be better. This should send a strong message to prospective and current Auburn students that rankings and the name are not always indicative of the quality of education you can receive here at Auburn."

Onadeko added, "Our win was a win for Auburn, the Harbert College of Business and our respective programs. It reminded me why you should always strive to be the best and do your best because your success isn't always just for you."

"Auburn has some of the brightest and most talented MBA students, and the success of this team in a competition of this magnitude is confirmation," said Jim Parrish, director of MBA Admissions and Operations for the Harbert College.

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