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University of Maryland Smith School’s Emerging Markets Case Competition

Every year I look forward with anticipation to the University of Maryland Smith School’s Emerging Markets Case Competition, a really exciting event. The University of Maryland Smith School of Business is a member of GBSN’s Executive Board, our premier level of membership. Eight MBA student teams from top business schools are invited to present to judges from different walks of life, including myself. The teams receive the same business school case 48 hours before presenting – an incredibly short time in which to process a ton of highly complex information and to prepare a 15 minute team presentation.

This year’s case was unusually challenging. It was about a huge worldwide gold mining company planning to expand operations into a new area of Ghana. The teams were asked to put themselves into the shoes of the executive responsible for social outreach such as linkages programs, water and sanitation, the activities of a  corporate foundation and so on. The company’s chief financial officer insisted that this person justify the corporate social responsibility budget using the same “cold-hearted” benefit/cost criteria that the company applied to all expenditures, for example the purchase of new machinery.  In other words, the teams were asked to translate social benefits into dollars and cents.  How does one quantify employee morale? or the monetary gains to the company of better educated or healthier employee families? I readily confess that I would have flunked this test.

All eight teams came up with wonderful presentations, but the eight judges agreed unanimously that the winning team stood out, and so, to the joy but also some embarrassment by UMD organizers, the Smith School team once again won the highest marks. The second of two prizes was awarded to the team of the Foster School of Business, University of Washington, who had flown in all the way from the West Coast to present the case.

I feel really privileged to have been part of such a great competition.