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Four UHV students win top prize at MBA Conference

Dec. 21, 2013 at 6:21 a.m.

Hong Thai, left, Vrushali Patil, Aiday Luckett and Lindsay Voorheis pose for a photo after winning the University of Houston-Victoria School of Business Administration Case Competition on Dec. 7 at UH Sugar Land.

Team Andrews used scouting, working hard and reaching out to the company it was researching to get a leg up on its competitors in the University of Houston-Victoria Master of Business Administration Case Competition.

The extra effort paid off when the team, made up of Houston residents Hong Thai and Aiday Luckett and Katy residents Vrushali Patil and Lindsay Voorheis, finished first out of 28 teams competing Dec. 7.

Thai sat in during the competition in the spring to get a feel for it. Then he contacted the winning participants to get their feedback and coaching.

"I thought it would be helpful to get some mentoring about how to approach the competition," Thai said. "If we were going to compete, we wanted to get as much out of the experience as possible."

Since 2003, the conference has been the culmination of the UHV School of Business Administration's MBA program. Held at UH Sugar Land, where UHV offers many of the programs, the event also featured a luncheon, mini career fair and keynote address by Atul Vir, president of Equator Advanced Appliances.

There were 96 students from the MBA capstone course "Seminar in Strategic Management" who competed in the conference. Winning team members received a plaque and also will be invited to participate as panelists at future case competitions.

One of the past winners judging this time was BJ Abraham, a 2012 MBA graduate who works in Victoria as vice president of finance for Regency Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers. Abraham said he was looking for how much thought the students put into their case.

"I wanted to see how they understood the scope of the problem they were trying to resolve," he said. "In the solutions they were preparing, I looked for whether the students thought about the economic ramifications or just had wishful thinking."

Patil, who studied finance at UHV, said the team addressed the issue of a food distribution company's drop site and proposed a recommendation to overcome that issue. The members also were polished in how they presented.

"They gave us 25 minutes, and we made sure to not go over," Patil said. "We all displayed confidence in giving the presentation, and there was a good flow to how we made our case. I would like to give my sincere thanks to Jifu Wang and all the professors who helped us achieve first place."

This year's case topic was about Sysco, a Houston-based corporation that distributes food products to a variety of businesses. During team Andrews' presentation, a judge asked how the team planned to take the case to Sysco.

"What the judges didn't know at that point was we had invited a Sysco business analyst to review our case," said Thai, who earned an MBA with a management concentration and runs an engineering firm. "We couldn't schedule a time for it prior to the presentation, but I did invite him to attend the day of the competition, and he took us up on the offer. What I really want to do is take this case to Sysco and put the concept into operation."

Finishing second in the competition was the team of Chuong Ly and Jonathan Lee of Houston, and Cristina Mickens of Missouri City. Taking third was the team of LaSaundra Cotright and Beverly Rymer of Houston, and William Kelly of Katy.

Patil and Thai both said they enjoyed the keynote address by Vir, which was part of the Willis Group Distinguished Speaker Series.

An entrepreneur and inventor, Vir runs Equator Advanced Appliances, a manufacturer of innovative household products. His best-known contribution is the development and marketing of residential laundry appliances, specifically combo washer-dryers that wash and dry in one integrated unit. The units are sold at Best Buy, Sears and several other retailers.

The story of how he brought the combo washer-dryer captured the attention of UHV students, faculty and alumni attending the luncheon, said Jeff Blodgett, associate dean of the UHV business school.

"Mr. Vir couldn't get any financing when he first started," Blodgett said. "He borrowed all he could on his credit cards and took out all his savings. He formed a company in his father-in-law's garage. He took a leap of faith. When this machine became popular, he eventually attracted competition. So then he had to innovate even more."

After the luncheon, students attended a mini career fair. Company representatives talking to students were from MD Anderson Cancer Center, Briggs and Veselka Co., Geico, Regency Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers, and Donovan and Watkins. Also present at the fair were representatives from the National Black MBA Association, the National Association of Women MBA, the National Hispanic MBA Association and the UHV Student and Alumni Association.

The luncheon was sponsored by The Willis Group; Bloomberg Businessweek; Regency Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers; Geico; Briggs and Veselka Co; and Cink.

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