UW Teams Take Top Slots at Milgard Invitational Case Competition

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Foster team takes 1st, Milgard team takes 2nd with proposals for the corporate social responsibility competition Feb. 27.
The team from Milgard School of Business, left to right: Derek Collins, Wes Carter, Angela Chase and Robert Velasquez. | Photos courtesy the Center for Leadership and Social Responsibility.Last Friday, Feb. 27, the UW Tacoma team took second place in the 4th annual Milgard Invitational Case Competition on Social Responsibility, run by the Center for Leadership and Social Responsibility. Thirteen teams from around the country proposed innovative ways for REI to approach a real-world question: how to make its business more sustainable. 
“This is the only undergrad case competition on social responsibility anywhere in the world, and we’ve started to develop a reputation for it,” says Joe Lawless, executive director of the Center for Leadership and Social Responsibility. Fifty-one students came from around the U.S. and Canada, from as far away as Pennsylvania.
UW Tacoma’s team consisted of Wes Carter, Angela Chase, Derek Collins and Robert Velasquez, all seniors in the Milgard School of Business. The team from UW Seattle’s Foster School of Business took first place, marking the second successive year that teams from UW Seattle and UW Tacoma have placed first and second, respectively, in this competition.

The case competition brought 51 students from around the country to UW Tacoma to tackle a real-world business problem.

Seattle-based retailer REI inspired this year’s case, offering a challenge based on a real-world initiative for the company. Students were asked to propose innovative tools to further REI’s commitment to sustainability.
The retail business model is based on extracting and processing natural resources. “That model isn’t necessarily sustainable, given a world of limited resources,” says Lawless, so an organization like REI “needs to look at alternative delivery models to encourage people to get outdoors but that don’t necessarily use limited resources.”
Teams received the challenge on Friday morning and had just 72 hours to research the problem and develop a proposal. The following Friday, Feb. 27, they presented in Tacoma in front of judges from the business sector, including REI’s Vice President of Strategy Vikram Sahney.
Many of the teams proposed models that grew out of the sharing economy. “I’ve got a kayak that hangs in my garage for 363 days a year,” explains Lawless. In a sharing economy model, he could rent or lend that kayak to others.
The UW Tacoma team presents their proposal, REX or REI Exchange, in Philip Hall.The UW Tacoma team proposed a service called REX, or REI Exchange, which would help members track and share their gear, using sharing economy principles. The group was the same one that took second place in this competition last year and has taken first place in the Milgard internal competition two years in a row.
Group member Carter attributes their success, in part, to their decision to appoint a team leader in Collins. “Derek is an amazing strategist.... One of the common struggles we’d hear from the other teams was the lack of a focused direction,” Carter says. “A team without a captain has fifty points on the map and no compass.”

Lawless with the team from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

“Another factor of our success was the balance of seriousness and fun,” Carter adds. “We presented our case to the judges as if this were the real deal and in our minds, it was. However, thirty minutes prior to the presentation we were dancing, singing and even practicing karate.”
Students often participate in case competition to get experience tackling real-world problems with limited time. “I participated in the case competition for the challenge and application of business theories taught at the university,” says Carter. Additionally, Lawless notes, students get a great opportunity to network with judges who are already working in the business sector.  

REI Vice President of Strategy Vikram Sahney talks with the team from the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder, which placed 3rd.

The Milgard School of Business Center for Leadership and Social Responsibility also puts on an internal case competition January 30 through Feb. 2, drawing students from Milgard and other UW Tacoma academic programs. Additionally, the center is hosting the Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility March 12 in Seattle. 
Overall, the success of UW teams in this case competition may have been in part due to the sustainability focus of the two business schools. 
“I think that we do a good job of preparing our students to think strategically about sustainability and corporate social responsibility,” says Lawless. “Because it’s integrated into a lot of what we do at both the Foster School and the Milgard School, I think the students are used to thinking about sustainability issues on a regular basis.”
Watch a Video from Last Year's Case Competition

Written by: 
Abby Rhinehart / March 5, 2015
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu