Ready, Set, Compete

Business students are entering real-life business competitions to test their knowledge of their fields. Often, they end up on top.

Buy AptarGroup. That stock tip, recommending that investors purchase shares of the Illinois-based company, catapulted Marquette to victory over five other teams in the regional final of the CFA Institute Research Challenge in February. “Actually it was not that simple. We probably put in 150 hours each to arrive at that answer,” says team member Stephen Arcuri, Bus Ad ’18, a finance and accounting major. They also had to produce a 10-page, in-depth, full equity research report and present their findings in front of a panel of judges.

The CFA Challenge, which began 11 years ago, is an annual global competition that provides students with mentoring and intensive training in financial analysis as they work to analyze a publicly traded company, often meeting face-to-face with the company’s management before making their final buy, sell or hold recommendation. Marquette has competed in the past 10 challenges and has advanced from the local level to the regional level in eight of those years. As a member of Marquette’s winning Blue team that moved on to the national finals in Boston, Arcuri says a direct factor in the squad’s success is the experiential learning he and teammates receive in the Applied Investment Management (AIM) program. Twice each semester, the students are tasked with researching a company, writing up a report and presenting their findings in class. “Then we are aggressively grilled by our classmates. It all gives our team a competitive advantage. We are more comfortable with the delivery, we understand the analysis that’s required, and we are used to being judged,” he says.

Today, much like student-athletes on the basketball or soccer teams, business students are competing in the school’s name and holding the Marquette banner high.

A forum for showcasing these skills and more, the challenge is also a fine networking opportunity, judged by professionals from firms such as Baird, Northwestern Mutual or Wells Capital Investors. In order to accommodate all of the students who wanted to compete this year, Dr. David Krause, director of the Applied Investment Management program and team adviser, was obliged to create two teams. “It made for some interesting situations as each team tried to keep their analysis secret. They hardly talked to each other and were careful not to discuss it in front of anyone. For me, it was a lot of fun watching them avoid each other. They really are very competitive.”

Today, much like student-athletes on the basketball or soccer teams, business students are competing in the school’s name and holding the Marquette banner high. From the CFA Challenge to competitions in supply chain or real estate and more, they go head-to-head in a variety of arenas. And their success is demonstrating the college’s excellence in preparing students
 to apply their knowledge and conceptual understanding to real-world problems using reflection, analysis and synthesis.

Stephen Arcuri: Team took first in regionals of CFA Insitutue Research Challenge.
Sabrina Thomas: Placed second individually in Project Management Competition.
Stephen J. Gillespie: Team took first in Minnesota’s University Challenege in Real Estate
Matt Melinyshyn: Team placed first in ASU’s National Case Competition in supply chain and operations.

“These competitions add another avenue for experiential learning, which is one of the strategic pillars of the college. It’s a great opportunity for the students to apply what they have been learning in class and gives them poise that will help them throughout their own careers. Their success is really an indicator of the great hands-on education they are receiving at Marquette,” says Dr. Brian Till, James H. Keyes Dean of Business.

Matt Melinyshyn, Bus Ad ’18, agrees and points to his experience in several supply chain competitions as further proof. He and his classmates competed in the Arizona State University’s National Case Competition and placed first out of 11 teams from across the country. “We were given the task to evaluate Oracle and its current situation regarding the growing trend away from in-house data storage systems,”says Melinyshyn. “The fact that we were all adept in the processes we were proposing in our solution helped our team deliver a strong presentation in front of the judges.”

“The real value of these competitions is the experience and exposure the students get to industry conditions and professionals,”

He also attributes part of the success to the diversity of expertise found on his team. “In addition to supply chain, many of the students have double majors, so unlike some of the other schools, we were able to bring IT, finance and marketing perspectives to the table,” says Melinyshyn, a supply chain and marketing major.

“These competitions really give the students a chance to put their knowledge and skills to the test against their peers from other universities. And because
 the judges are all from the industry, it really validates the students’ ability to communicate effectively with senior managers,” says Dr. Mark Barratt, associate professor of supply chain management.

Not far from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities’ campus stands the WaHu Tower, a $90 million student housing project comprising 327 units and 24,000 square feet of retail space. Coincidentally, that happens to be just what Marquette’s team at the regional NAIOP Real Estate Competition recommended for what was then a former used car lot. “There’s also a senior housing facility in the suburbs of St. Paul and a hotel near the Mall of America that our teams recommended in other years,”says Andy Hunt, Bus Ad ’08, Grad ’13, director of Marquette’s Center for Real Estate.

“The real value of these competitions is the experience and exposure the students get to industry conditions and professionals,” says Hunt.

When Hunt says “exposure,” he means a lot of it. Students are given their case some-time near the end of January and present in mid-April. In the time between, they put in up to 20 hours per week on preparations. As part of the development and final judging process, students routinely touch base with at least 50 professionals, whether that’s through one-on-one calls to gather data from brokers, meetings with other developers in the area, visits to banks to discuss nancing, or feedback from real estate specialists at practice events. “This kind of exposure is unparalleled and gives the students a real-life view of their develop- ment project,” says Hunt. “What’s more, this contact absolutely impresses the professionals they interact with, and often leads to shadow opportunities, internships or jobs.”

Pitching a proposal and hoisting the trophy at the 2018 NAIOP Real Estate Challenge in Minneapolis.

Competing in two real estate case competitions every year — one in Chicago and one in St.Paul — Marquette teams have won six in the last 10 years, including three straight wins in Minnesota from 2015–2017, and taken second place in another four. Stephen J. Gillespie, Bus Ad ’18, a real estate major and the Commercial Real Estate Club’s director of finance, competed in St.Paul. “I was a little nervous to present in front of 200 judges, but I was also confident because it really just meant putting into practice everything I had learned in class. It’s a chance to show yourself in front of some very successful and highly regarded real estate professionals and that helps lead to conversations about future jobs,” he says.

No matter the competition or format, each offers an opportunity for experiential learning that simply cannot be replicated in the classroom. “I’ve had to present in front of industry professionals in the past,” says Melinyshyn, “but never on this scale. How else could I learn how to address a whole ballroom and to be both poised and con dent? And on a more personal note,
 I had never been to Arizona and looked forward to the opportunity to see how supply chain-focused businesses operated outside the Midwest — which could affect my post-grad career search.”

From the 2018 issue of Marquette Biz, the annual magazine of the College of Business Administration at Marquette University. Read the entire issue.