HBS Wins 4th Annual Rice University Marketing Case Competition:

An HBS team consisting of Chris Pan (OC), Colin Brady (OE), Cara Critzer (NE) and Mike Kernish (ND) was the 1st place winner at the recently held 4th Annual Rice University Marketing Case Competition. This makes it the fourth straight win in marketing case competitions where HBS has entered a team. The previous three wins were at the 3rd Annual Rice University Marketing Case Competition (2003), 12th Annual Babcock Case Competition (2003) and 11th Annual Babcock Case Competition (2002).

The wins by HBS assume even greater significance if one considers the intense nature of the competition and the high quality of the judging panels at these contests. Even in this particular event, the other teams were all from top business schools like the Kellogg School of Management, University of Chicago, GSB, Sloan School of Management (MIT), Michigan Business School and Yale School of Management. In the end, the University of Chicago team won second place and Sloan came third. The four judges were senior marketing executives of multinational corporations and had a combined work experience of more than 80 years.

The winning team from HBS consisted of Chris Pan (OC), Colin Brady (OE), Cara Critzer (NE) and Mike Kernish (ND), all of whom have had significant marketing experience prior to coming to HBS. Chris used to work for Bacardi, Cara for General Mills, Mike for MTV and Colin for Proctor and Gamble.

By all accounts, the team had a very interesting and hectic time at the competition. The nine participating teams were given the case at 9 pm on Friday and had to submit their analysis of the problem and recommendations to the judges by 6 pm on Saturday. On Sunday, each team was given 20 minutes to present their solutions to the judges.

The case, interestingly enough, was written by David Bell, who is an HBS professor. It is a brand new case and has never been taught. It deals with a discount cosmetics chain called Sasa cosmetics, which is based in Hong Kong.

According to Chris Pan, the other teams had, to put it in marketing terms, a “first mover advantage” in the competition. This is because the HBS team arrived a little late at Rice University, missing out on the opening reception but reaching the venue just in time to receive the case as it was being handed out.

Asked what it was that differentiated the HBS team’s solution and presentation from the rest, Chris said that the key factor was that the HBS team spent a lot more time discussing and debating the case. They wanted to be sure that they had covered everything and spent only a couple of hours actually creating the Powerpoint presentation. This, said Chris, was in direct contrast to the approach of the other teams, many of whom spent more of their time creating “more entertaining presentations but with less analysis and recommendations.”

Colin Brady agreed with Chris and cited the example of one team from Michigan State University which claimed to have a Powerpoint projector in their van so that they could practice on the road. “I have to admit,” says Colin, “that was a little intimidating.”
But fortunately the judges also seemed to agree that the HBS team had the greatest substance in their presentation if not the greatest sound effects and rated the HBS team very highly on the parameter of “content per minute of presentation”.

The HBS team was unanimous in attributing their success to the case study method and strong marketing teaching at HBS. This, they said, was what had taught them to discuss and debate as a group, reaching the heart of the problem and then crafting creative marketing solutions. They said , “We had a simple approach. Find out what is wrong and fix it. In hindsight, we realize that this is what we have been trained to do in every class at HBS.”

Chris, who is also the Co-President of the HBS Marketing Club, went on to say that while HBS has not traditionally been known as a “marketing school”, HBS attracts students with significant marketing experience, has excellent marketing professors, and benefits from an active Marketing Club. All in all, he ended, four out of four wins is hardly a coincidence!