Graduate students win consulting competition
By Kristin Yu
Published on Monday, March 5, 2012
Graduate students from the Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth Medical School and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, as well as a number of undergraduate students, presented their recommendations to improve the five-year growth of Kiva, a non-profit organization that links lenders and innovators via the Internet, as part of the Oliver Wyman Case Competition on Friday.
The competition — organized by the Thayer Consulting Club, the Dartmouth Society of Investment and Economics and the Graduate Consulting Club — marks the second case competition hosted by the College, according to Thayer Consulting Club member Rezwan Khan Th ’13, who was involved in the event’s organization.
The competition was comprised of three rounds, with 29 teams and a total of 107 students entered in the initial mini-case round. Teams were tasked with presenting suggestions for Outfittr, a start-up outdoor equipment rental company founded by Daniel Philp ’03 Tu ’12. Following the assignment, 16 teams progressed to the second round, and six final teams were then chosen by Tuck and Thayer faculty members judging the competition.
During the final round, the remaining teams presented their growth strategy recommendations for Kiva to judges Philp, Oliver Wyman consultant John Engstrom Th ’10 and Oliver Wyman senior associate Jeremy Sporn Tu ’08.
While judging was based on a variety of criteria, winning teams were selected for conducting the best strategic planning most closely resembling that of an actual consulting firm, Engstrom said.
The winning team, which included Yang Shen Th ’12, Yicai Bao Th ’12, Vedant Rathi Th ’12 and Boyu Zhang Th ’12, won a $2,000 prize and interviews with Oliver Wyman. Saaid Arshad ’14, Jonathan Pedde ’14 and Haider Syed Th ’13 received the second-place title and a $1,000 prize.
The competition was created to bring students together and provide them with necessary skills in the field of consulting, according to Khan. Student participants ranged from undergraduate economic majors to cell and molecular biology majors working toward their doctorates.
“You need not only be the business type to work in consulting,” Axia representative and judge Mat Ackerman ’05 Th ’06 said. “The lack of an actual business major is a major reason why we recruit here at Dartmouth. It makes it more diverse, and that third party perspective is also the reason why companies would hire consultants.”
The resumes of all final round participants were compiled in a book distributed to the judges, who may choose to extend interviews to any of the individuals, according to Khan.
Oliver Wyman and Axia Limited, two management consulting firms that sponsored the first Dartmouth case competition in 2011, agreed to sponsor this year’s competition, donating $3,000 and $1,000, respectively, Khan said. The student organizations each raised $1,000 to cover the costs of the competition.
“We felt that we needed to create a more prestigious kind of competition here at Dartmouth, and one way to do that was by increasing the prize money from last year, especially since we didn’t have enough money to offer a second place prize,” Khan said. “We presented Oliver Wyman and Axia with proposals on why they should be involved. They could work directly with students and liked the idea that we would be partners for months.”
Representatives from Oliver Wyman and Axia expressed interest in sponsoring the event again next year.
“It was great to see Dartmouth students getting involved like this,” Engstrom said. “It’s good to see how it’s evolved and how the reach has grown.”
The student organizations involved began planning the competition two months prior to the event, Thayer Assistant Dean of Academic and Student Affairs Carrie Fraser said. The kickoff meeting featured a representative from Oliver Wyman and the winners of last year’s competition. Workshops were also implemented to teach participants to interpret data and solve and present cases.
“We saw that last year’s students had a lot of good ideas but struggled because they didn’t know what to focus on within the limited time frame of the competition,” Khan said. “This year, we’ve really seen an improvement in the quality of the presentations.”
The competition experience served as a learning process for the participants, according to Rathi. During the final round, for example, participants had to confront Kiva’s lack of a defined market or profit growth rates due to the organization’s status as a non-profit, he said. The winning team evaluated Kiva’s growth in different regions of the world and focused on specific countries to assess the organization’s short-term and long-term growth, he said.
The second-place team prepared by reading practice cases online and researching the companies and industries of interest, Syed said. The team explored many resources in order to compile usable data for its analyses, but became bogged down by details during the first round, according to its members. “Our data was very well-supported, but we learned that it was okay to make assumptions because we had too much detail,” Arshad said.
The competition also allowed participants to consider the possibility of careers in consulting, according to Bao.
“This was the best way to get hands-on experience in the consulting world in a group setting,” Rathi said. “Everyone on our team had different strong points, and we learned to divide the work and brainstorm ideas efficiently.”
Some participants said they wished the workshops and competition had been more guided and specific, and others cited inconsistency in feedback from the judges as a source of frustration.