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Case closed: Business students take top spot in competition

Northeastern University business students won first place in a highly competitive case competition earlier this month at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, besting 11 other undergraduate teams from institutions in the U.S. and Canada.

The students — Bree Jones, class of 2013, and Jed Baker, Jake Wainwright and Joe Haniak, all class of 2014 — are members of Northeastern University’s Huntington Management Consulting, an undergraduate club focused on management consulting and strategy. The club provides students with real-world experience through intercollegiate competitions and by taking on strategic consulting cases for local firms and nonprofit organizations. The students in the club also receive support from a strong network of alumni, who judge their presentations and provide critical feedback throughout the academic year.

“Although we won, we know we have to keep improving and working even harder,” Jones said, noting the club’s relentless practice schedule. “We can build on this and take it to the next level.”

For the Oct. 12 case competition, the undergraduate teams were tasked with the complex challenge of restructuring a private wealth management company merger and presenting their solution to a panel of judges from the consulting industry. The Northeastern team’s presentation incorporated not only an overall strategic restructuring plan, but also a blueprint for transitioning some employees to new assignments and responsibilities that would make the company stronger and more efficient.

In the final round, Northeastern prevailed over the University of Toronto, the University of Pennsylvania and New York University. Other universities with competing undergraduate teams included Yale University, the University of North Carolina, Duke University, McGill University and Rutgers University.

Boiling down hours and hours of analysis and research into a 15-minute presentation was challenging. But club advisor Raymond Kinnunen, associate professor of international business and strategy in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, said that experience reaps tremendous rewards.

“This is what happens in the real world. A CEO may call you at 8 a.m. and ask you for analysis, recommendation and presentation in two hours,” said Kinnunen, whom the students call “Coach K.” “That’s the type of experience our students are getting.”

He added, “There are so many important skills our students are getting out of this, but the most important is confidence — the confidence to do that analysis, make those presentations and defend your recommendations to the case consultants.”

Wainwright said team members viewed the competition as an opportunity to call upon knowledge gained in the classroom, tackle a large-scale business problem and propose a comprehensive solution.

“The competition made us stop and think, ‘Would a business actually do this?’ Wainwright said. “We needed to provide recommendations to a complex real-world problem and present in a short time period. That type of thinking will definitely help us in our careers.”

With the first live business case competition under their belts, NUHMC members now have their sights set the next one, which will be take place at Northeastern on Nov. 1-3. The competition will be co-sponsored by the Consortium of Undergraduate International Business Education, known as CUIBE.

Kinnunen has been guiding students in business competitions for more than a decade, helping them win 11 of the last 13 B-School Beanpot Case Analysis Competitions held annually until 2009 for undergraduates at Boston-area business schools. Since then, the team has posted strong performances in similar competitions across the country and abroad, including first-place finishes in the 2009 Stockholm School of Economics International Case Competition, at The Marketing Summit held at Wake Forest University in 2011 and at the APICS case competition in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

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