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MBA Team Wins $12,000 in Product Strategy Competition
above, left to right: David Paredes, Jim Ham, Jordan Carlson, Kevin Wolf, Maria Diaz

A five-member Notre Dame MBA team won the championship round of the Fuqua Product Strategy Case Competition at Duke University, taking home a first-place check for $12,000. In less than 24 hours and working through most of the night, the team brainstormed and presented its strategy to judges.

“They didn’t really throw us a curve ball,” said Maria Diaz, one of the winning MBA team members, referring to the case they received when they arrived. “Because of that, a lot of the prep work we had done before even leaving for Duke helped us out quite a lot.”

Diaz was joined on the winning team by MBA students Jordan Carlson, Jim Ham, David Paredes and Kevin Wolf.

“We’re a group of five very competitive individuals,” Diaz said.

On Dec. 4, 2004, the second-year MBAs defeated teams from second-place Emory University, Cornell and Harvard universities, and a second team from Notre Dame, composed of first-year students Jenny Baily, David Chow, Sharon Moore and Christine Yoon.

Organized by Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, in Durham, North Carolina, the competition is the first and largest business school case challenge focusing on product strategy. The final case study challenged the participants to help the Lawn & Garden Care Group of John Deere & Company grow at or above industry benchmarks. John Deere executives judged the competition.

“To have two teams in the finals of such a competitive field and then to win was very gratifying,” said Associate Dean Ed Conlon. “It speaks very well of the quality of our program to attract students of high caliber and then to provide a business education that enables them to excel as problem solvers. We are very proud of all of our students who participated in the competition.”

The second-year team, wearing coordinated navy Notre Dame polo shirts to show school pride, was shut in a 7-foot-by-10-foot study room during the competition, pasting sheets of flip charts on the walls to aid their planning.

“There were times when it was really low key,” Diaz said. “As time went on, it definitely got more and more intense.”

She said the group needed some comic relief now and then: “There were a few times when we got slap-happy,” adding that the students cracked up for 20 solid minutes at one point.

“One of the great things about our team was that we were able to move through this process—a pretty stressful process—with very little conflict,” Diaz said. “A lot of ideas are going to be shot down...No one’s afraid to say, ‘I don’t think that’s going to work.’ It makes us much more efficient and productive.”

In all, 15 teams participated in the preliminary round of the Fuqua competition. In addition to the finalists, a third Notre Dame team took part along with students from Dartmouth College; Columbia, New York and Northwestern universities; the universities of Chicago, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania; and UCLA.

—Rachel Reynolds and Dennis Brown

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