MBA teams compete in tourney


A team of WMU MBA students presents their sustainability recommendations for Dow at the school’s Strategic Management Case Competition. Courtesy WMU

Teams of MBA students just completed their version of March Madness.

The final round of Western Michigan University’s Strategic Management Case Competition was last weekend at the school's Haworth College of Business in Kalamazoo.

Sustainability at Dow

The final four teams presented sustainability initiatives for The Dow Chemical Company in front of a panel of business executives for a first-place prize of $1,000.

The business strategies presented throughout the competition showcased the students’ hard work and dedication, said David Flanagan, WMU professor of management and director of the MBA case competition.

“To be honest, this is something where they really went above and beyond what they had to do,” Flanagan said. “And I thought that was great.”

The competition was a result of several professors in the MBA program at WMU wanting to provide additional opportunities for students to highlight their skills outside of the classroom and in front of business executives.

Using a standard Harvard business case customized toward Dow, students had to create strategies and recommendations to improve sustainability for the global chemical giant in Midland.

“The head of sustainability, Bo Miller, is one of our graduates, and we have a relationship with them,” Flanagan said. “Dow is very active in sustainability. They know what they do is important, but it does have a lot of sustainability issues surrounding it, so they are very cognizant of that.”

Flanagan added that sustainability is a huge issue for businesses to keep in mind.

“We have challenges facing our planet and the people on our planet,” Flanagan said. “It’s key to have an understanding that businesses need to make profits, but it also needs to have a positive impact on people and a positive impact on the planet."

The competition

Broken into three different rounds, 39 WMU students representing 11 teams were asked to put together a five-page summary of how they would approach the business case and their recommendations in the first round.

After several professors ranked the reports, the top six teams were invited back for the second round, where teams provided a video presentation of their recommendations.

For the final round, four teams were selected to present in front of a panel of business executives: Paul Boyer, vice chairman emeritus at Meijer; David Hoogendoorn, market segment leader for Michigan and northwest Ohio and office managing partner for Grand Rapids at Ernst & Young LLP; Han Zhang, sustainability leader at Dow; Jim Koessel, senior vice president and manager in the Premier Banking Group at Chemical Bank; and Amy Papranec, vice president in charge of transparency at Stryker.

The MBA students' business-case presentations were judged on several factors: understanding of the issue of sustainability; key issues facing Dow; innovation; creativity; viability; and presentation delivery.


The first-place team — Adam Custis, Don Bolton and James Bronson — won a $1,000 prize for presenting measurable goals to maximize sustainability efforts.

The second-place team — Rachel Leone, Jim Nicolow and Sachi Vyas — won a $500 prize for their focus on transparency, efficiency and trust as key themes.

The first-place team's sustainability strategy for Dow includes multiple elements, including quantifiable goals: providing two innovative breakthroughs for food preservation and crop yield; increasing the percentage of total energy consumed from renewable energy sources; increasing awareness of sustainability among partners; decreasing absolute greenhouse gas emissions; reducing renewable energy costs; reducing the cost of energy-efficient products for construction and transportation industries; and reducing the amount of energy required for water treatment. 

“It was a good event," Flannagan said. "We have great MBAs, and we have great executives in business in West Michigan. It’s great when we can do things like this to get them all together.” 

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