For the four-member team from the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business, it was a win just to make it on time to the University of Denver for the 14th annual Daniels College of Business Race & Case competition.
Then, for good measure, the Warrington team decided to win both the case competition and ski race portions of the event.
“We actually had a really rough trip and didn’t think we’d even make it out there,” says Kim Zwerner, a second-year MBA at Warrington. After preparing for 200 hours over three weeks for the case portion of the competition, the team’s flight from Orlando to Denver was cancelled or delayed three times — significant because the 14 competing teams were to choose the order of presenting for the case competition the next day. “We walked into the welcome dinner right as they were choosing the order,” Zwerner, 27, says.
No matter. The team won case portion of the competition, which focused on Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill’s recent PR nightmare and financial fallout after multiple cases of food contamination.
3 WEEKS TO HELP CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL MOVE ON FROM ITS PR NIGHTMARE
The case was sent to the 14 teams on February 1. Teams had three weeks to prep before presenting on February 23. The competition “is a great opportunity for graduate business students to apply the knowledge they gain in the classroom in a practical and meaningful way and gain helpful feedback from business leaders in the industry,” Daniels Dean E. LaBrent Chrite said in a release from the school. “Unlike other case competitions, we also give it a Colorado flair with the race element, making it a fun and unique experience for participants.”
Once the Florida team received the case, they set up Google documents and began storyboarding sessions with advisers at their school. According to Paul Seaborn, an assistant professor in the Department of Management at the Daniels College who wrote the case, every participating team spent time at Chipotle restaurants getting a feel for the company. “It seemed like this particular case allowed students to be creative and get some face-to-face time with the company,” Seaborn says, noting the even the London Business School spent time at U.K.-based Chipotles.
Compared to other case competitions, Zwerner says, she liked the extended time period to research and prepare. “We liked that it was a three-week case competition so we could take time to work on it,” she says.
Seaborn says the top three teams — Florida, the University of Alabama, and Vanderbilt University — all made “broad recommendations” with specific numbers. “Those teams made a strong tie to bottom-line financial performance and were able to quantify what their recommendations would mean to the organization, and that seemed to be important for the judges,” he says.
THE RINGER FROM FLORIDA
The case competition results made up 90% of the final scoring. The other 10% came from the downhill ski race. After presentations wrapped up on a Friday, the teams were bussed about 90 miles — and 5,000 feet in elevation — to the mountain town of Breckenridge, Colorado, where on Saturday team members strapped skis to their feet and competed in a timed slalom-style race.
Competing against schools much more geographically proximate to mountains and skiing like the University of Denver, the University of Utah, the Florida team wasn’t sure how they’d stack up. They had one team member, Kevin Potts, who had spent about half a year in Vail, Colorado, but he came into the race with a broken wrist.
“I don’t think anybody would have ever predicted a member from the University of Florida team would have won the ski portion of the competition,” Seaborn laughs when asked if MBAs were good skiers or not.
Despite the bum wrist, Potts indeed won the male portion of the ski competition, which was enough to secure the team’s first-place finish in the overall competition. “We knew he was good, but we didn’t know how he’d stand up against people from Utah and Denver. We didn’t think he was going to win,” Zwerner, who is originally from Hilton Head, South Carolina, admits.
SKIING PORTION OF THE COMPETITION FORGES CROSS-SCHOOL CONNECTIONS
Skiing has been a big part of the Race & Case competition for all of its 14 years. “The ski part is really what makes this a community and makes connections between teams that probably wouldn’t happen solely through the case competition,” Seaborn says.
The skiing opens everyone up, he explains. “Even when they arrive on campus, they are presenting in different rooms by themselves and kind of keeping things close to the vest,” he says. “But when we get to the ski portion, teams get to interact and see each other going down the ski slopes as successfully — or unsuccessfully — as they can.”
And some were definitely more successful than others. Thankfully, no MBAs were injured in the competition, but one racer took off her skis halfway through the race and walked the rest of the course, making sure she rounded each gate and crossed the finish line. “Instead of giving up, she actually walked the course around each gate and crossed the finish line on foot,” Seaborn says, still sounding awed.
‘WE’RE HOPING TO BUILD A DYNASTY OVER THE NEXT FEW YEARS’
Even though the teams come from different regions around the U.S. and even outside of the U.S., having the same set of judges and skiing the same course levels out the competition, Seaborn says.
“The teams take lots of different paths to get there, but in the end they are competing in front of the same set of judges and on the same race course, so it really evens the playing field,” he says.
Members of the Florida team that competed for the first time in the Race & Case competition hope this is the beginning of a trend. “We put a lot of work into this and were so excited to win because we knew how much work we put into it,” Zwerner says, noting that the University of Utah had won the previous four years. “We’re hoping to build a dynasty over the next few years.”