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Smeal Team Takes Second Place in International Marshall Cup

A team of four undergraduates from the Penn State Smeal College of Business finished in second place in the Marshall International Case Competition held on Feb. 15-19 and hosted by the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business.
February 28, 2011

A team of four undergraduates from the Penn State Smeal College of Business finished in second place in the Marshall International Case Competition held on Feb. 15-19 and hosted by the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business.

Twenty-nine teams from the world's leading business schools were invited to participate in this year's competition, held on the USC campus in Los Angeles. After 24 hours of preparation and two rounds of presentations, Smeal's team of Chris Gray, Paul Lerew, Theresa Piazza, and Courtney Powell bested all of the teams but one, New Zealand's University of Auckland.

The competition officially kicked off on the morning of Feb. 18 when the teams received the case and had 24 hours to prepare their presentations. The case centered on developing a new global human resources strategy for Hewlett-Packard. Several HP executives served as judges for the competition, in addition to others from business, government and academia. Teams were judged based on the quality of their analysis, their presentations, and their ability to answer the judges' questions.

For their presentation, the members of Smeal's team drew inspiration from one of Penn State's signature athletic cheers and developed a plan of engagement for HP employees centered on the theme of "We Are HP." They focused on uniting HP employees worldwide while also celebrating the many diverse cultures represented in the regions where HP has a presence around the world. The team spent its 24 hours of preparation time in a hotel room researching HP's HR initiatives and policies and devising an overarching strategy to attract, retain and engage the company's more than 300,000 employees.

The team's preparation began a few weeks prior to the contest by studying cases from prior years' competitions and reviewing videos of past performances by Smeal participants with faculty adviser Andy Gustafson, assistant professor of business administration. Gustafson, who has advised Smeal teams in the Marshall International Case Competition for years, including during two Marshall Cup victories in 2001 and 2003, critiqued the team's performance during practice sessions and pointed out strengths and weaknesses in past teams' presentations.

During the first round of the competition, Smeal was grouped with the University of Minnesota, The National University of Singapore, and Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi (Italy). After advancing out of the group round, the team competed in the final round against the University of Texas, Thammasat University (Thailand), the University of Manchester (United Kingdom), the University of Auckland, and USC.

Three of the team members—Gray, Piazza and Powell—have competed together in previous case competitions, and Powell credits that experience for their success in California.

"We all knew each other and our respective strengths going into this competition," she says. "We didn't have to spend much time honing our presentation skills because we've done this before. We knew what we had to do presentation-wise, so we could focus all of our efforts on developing a strategy that addressed the case."

In addition to the competition itself, the four-day schedule included several social activities to allow the participants to get to know each other before the competing began. They participated in a scavenger hunt in Santa Monica, tours of the USC campus and CBS studios, and even a bull-riding contest.

Beyond the hard skills the team sharpened in the competition itself, Powell says the best part of the experience was competing with, and getting to know, students from more than a dozen countries around the world.

"The whole experience had a more global feel to it than other competitions, from the case itself to our competitors," she says. "It was incredibly valuable just to be able to compete with so many high caliber students from around the world. It really helped us all to grow our global perspective."

Not only will these new contacts potentially be a boon to her future career, but Powell adds that she's looking forward to visiting her new friends around the world after she graduates next year.

For more information and a complete list of the schools that participated in the Marshall International Case Competition, visit www.marshall.usc.edu/undergrad/buad/international/case.

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