The three sharp-dressed consultants clearly knew their stuff -- the organization's background, financials and trajectory. Their multimedia presentation focused on the critical need to win millennials over to the brand, and their research on that up-and-coming consumer demographic was persuasive.
Then, they unveiled three ready-to-implement proposals: the retailer should restructure its shopper rewards program to increase engagement; it should launch a cutting-edge mobile phone app to ensure its messages are reaching young adults; and it should launch new boutique stores with trendy brands to woo key influencers.
To conclude, they revealed that the outfits they were wearing came from one of the retailer's stores and they explained how their shopping experiences informed their proposals. In the end, they won the day and the "contract."
It was a scene that could have played out in a Wall Street or Silicon Valley boardroom. But these consultants were college seniors, and the setting was a classroom at the Middle Tennessee State University's Jones College of Business. Their audience was a group of representatives from Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee.
As the winners of MTSU's second Strategic Management Case Competition, accounting majors Emily Benavides of Franklin, Tennessee, Lindsey Ryner of Spring Hill, Tennessee, and Lucas Tidwell of Nolensville, Tennessee, and took home $1,800 in prize money and an eye-catching entry for their resumes.
A total of 205 students participated in the eight-week competition, but only 35 students comprising nine class-champion teams made it to the Dec. 5 final round. There, Goodwill judged them on the quality of their research, recommendations and presentations.
Other teams' proposals ranged from revamping Goodwill's online auction site to expanding its social media presence to creating college campus "closets" where free business attire is available to students who need it.
"The business strategy case competition provides an opportunity to do real world work with business professionals," said Jill Austin, who chairs the Department of Management in the Jones College of Business, in a Goodwill news release. "The experience helps students develop their critical thinking skills and teamwork skills, and they gain confidence in their abilities to be successful in their careers."
Murat Arik, director of MTSU's Business and Economic Research Center, which assisted the Department of Management in organizing the competition, agreed.
"To be successful in this competition, students must tackle a real world business challenge, understand the dynamics of teamwork and produce results under the strict deadlines," he said in the release. Arik joined fellow faculty members Joshua Aaron, Richard Mpoyi, Don Lester and John Mullane in overseeing the competition.
Ryner said her team's research into Goodwill not only gave her insight into the challenges facing nonprofits, it also gave her a holistic perspective she might have otherwise missed.
"It gave me an overall view of the business," she said. "I'm so used to doing accounting and the numbers side of it. Being able to see all aspects combined to create an organization was most helpful to me."
Karl Houston, Goodwill's senior director of marketing and one of the judges for the competition, said he was extremely impressed with the students' efforts and insights.
"It was really exciting to hear presentations from these sharp young minds and future business leaders," he said. "Many of their recommendations deserve and will receive Goodwill's serious consideration."
Need more details?
For more information about Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee, visit http://giveit2goodwill.org.
For more information about the Department of Management at MTSU, visit www.mtsu.edu/management/.