UHV MBA students make their case at spring conference

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The outcome of the competition at May 3's Master of Business Administration Conference was inconsequential to Lindsay Norton and her University of Houston-Victoria teammates.

The team gathered after presenting its case and exchanged compliments about how smoothly it went.

"We thought we nailed the execution," Norton said. "Since there were a lot of good competitors, we didn't really care if we won. We were just proud of what we had done."

By less than a point, Norton, of Katy, Houston residents Johanne Fonnes and Cristane Martin and Juliet Igboanusi, of Richmond, took home the top prize in the MBA case competition.

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 and keynote address by Denise Castillo-Rhodes, Texas Medical Center executive vice president and chief financial officer.

There were 79 students on 21 teams from the MBA capstone course Seminar in Strategic Management who competed in the conference. The teams each presented an analysis about Waste Management, a Houston-based company with the largest network of recycling facilities, transfer stations and landfills in the industry.

Winning team members received a certificate and will be invited to participate as panelists at future case competitions. Their names also will appear on a plaque in the School of Business Administration main office in Victoria.

Runner-up teams were second place - Falguni Chakraborty, of Spring; Chia-Hua "Jenny" Chang, of Tomball; Imranali Maredia, of Sugar Land; and third place - Soltan Matchanov, of Houston; and Nathan Dibbern, of Houston; Karen Pantel, of Goliad, and John Smith, of Katy.

"It was another outstanding competition this year because the teams were prepared and passionate about their case analysis," said Farhang Niroomand, dean of the UHV School of Business Administration. "Based on what I saw and heard Saturday, it's clear that our students are ready to take what they have learned in the MBA program from UHV faculty and area business leaders and contribute these skills to a wide range of industries."

Igboanusi said her team was well-prepared and played to the strengths of each individual team member. Members also contacted Waste Management to get input, which helped them steer clear of their original case recommendation.

"We tried to think outside the box," Igboanusi said. "We originally were considering a recommendation for the company to diversify its risk and try overseas markets, but company representatives told us the complications of trying that approach."

Norton explained that a partnership with a foreign company is usually necessary to enter an international market for waste management companies. Waste Management had a partnership in China, but it was dissolved earlier this year, she said. That's when the team switched to focusing on recycling in North America.

Both students said they learned a great deal about strategic management by taking part in the competition.

"I found that the bottom line is not just the profit margin," Igboanusi said. "It's important to be able to grow the business. I also learned the importance of budgeting and planning."

Norton said she learned that businesses don't have the capacity to take on many disruptive challenges at one time.

"Companies can have ongoing challenges like rising fuel costs, but when you get to strategic decisions, companies need to find out what has the most impact on the success of the organization," she said. "The most challenging part for us was finding the right thing to focus on."

The students joined UHV faculty, staff and contest judges for the luncheon and Castillo-Rhodes' speech. She is responsible for accounting, finance, tax compliance, procurement and billing and collections at the Texas Medical Center. Rhodes serves on many boards in greater Houston, including the UHV School of Business Administration Dean's Advisory Council.

"Denise talked about the importance of giving back, whether it is mentoring younger colleagues or traveling to another country to help build a clinic," said Jeff Blodgett, associate dean of the UHV School of Business Administration. "She also stressed the importance of having a 'roll up your sleeves and get it done' mentality."

The luncheon was sponsored by Bloomberg Businessweek, Regency Post-Acute Healthcare System and Wells Fargo inancial adviser - Mark Zafereo. Castillo-Rhodes' speech was part of the Willis Group Distinguished Speaker Series.