Students Learn the Art of Persuasion at 7th Annual Robert Day School Case Competition

A rewarding and for some, nerve-racking day of presentations and persuasion, marked the 7th Annual Robert Day School Case Competition held March 6th in the Bauer Center.

The takeaway for the winning team was a $5,000 prize but everyone who competed was able to hone a vital skill set that could be crucial in the years ahead in both career and life situations.

According to Brian Dennis, director of administration and programs at the Robert Day School (RDS), the competition, sponsored by The Robert Day School of Economics and Finance at CMC, provides students with an opportunity to work together in a team while evaluating a real-world issue.

“While all of the students had a chance to participate in the first round, I think it was a really positive experience for them to receive feedback from the judges,” Dennis said. “Whether they present or consult in any situation in the future, they no doubt will be asked to make a compelling argument, and the students who participated today will be able to draw on this experience.”

The competition, open to Robert Day Scholars and any student from CMC, gives participants the opportunity to work as a member of a four-person team while thinking critically about business ethics and leadership. Competitors presented their case analysis (entitled: “Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.: End of Incentives”) to a panel of judges consisting of faculty members and business practitioners.

“I am constantly impressed by the presentation skills of the CMC students and Robert Day Scholars, ” Dennis said. “To see them stand up there and confidently address an issue without having to rely on notes or read off of a screen is impressive. They do a wonderful job of overcoming the butterflies that I’m sure are there and excelling.”

Alec Koh ’16, Jenny Smith (SCR) ’16, Nina Kamath CMC ’16 and Nikhil Kanade CMC ’16 made up the winning team and will split the $5,000 prize.

For Koh, a Physics and Economics major who competed last year but didn’t make the finals, the win was a bit of a shock. “We really just wanted to do our best and weren’t expecting to make it to the final round by any means,” he said. “We were somewhat surprised that we made it through because the competition was very tough.”

According to Kanade, a History major and the self-described only “non-Econ-oriented” person in his group, taking part in the competition was a way he could acclimate himself to that discipline and learn more about it. “Coming from a history major standpoint,” he said, “I feel I can always contribute something a little bit different in perspective.”

Smith, an Organizational Studies major, agreed and said that analyzing a situation in a different way broadens perspective. “And that comes from the group members you choose to compete with,” she said. “Each of the group members I was with brought a very different view on the case, which really helped.”

All of the competitors benefitted from the sage advice of the judges.

“Their presentation tips were great,” said Kamath, a Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) and Accounting dual major. “They stressed making good eye contact, not using the PowerPoint presentation as a crutch. It’s not just a one-siloed approach but thinking about problems from different angles in an interdisciplinary way. It really integrates well with a liberal arts education.”

The distinguished panel of judges included: Alex Rajczi, CMC’s Deborah and Kenneth Novack '67 Associate Professor of Ethics and Leadership and George R. Roberts Fellow; Oana Tocoian, Assistant Professor of Economics at CMC; Sara Thompson, Director of Leadership Programs at the Kravis Leadership Institute; Ilona Brunner ’07, Tax Manager at KPMG; Phillip Friedman ’74, P’14, CEO at Harlow Aerostructures, LLC; and Seth Martindale ’04, Managing Director at CBRE.

According to Martindale, although the presentations were uniformly excellent, some competing teams exhibited a bit more polish than others. “When you’re looking at four or five groups back to back like we did, it’s really easy to see who prepared a lot and who prepared just a little bit,” he said.

“And confidence,” he added. “Some exuded it, some didn’t. You might not even know what you’re talking about but if you say it confidently, people will tend to believe you. I know that sounds crazy, but there’s a lot of gray area out there. Make sure you are ready to answer any and every possible question or you will lose credibility immediately.”

In a feedback session, Rajczi gave competitors a formula, going forward, about how to think about their future presentations.

“Often, during a presentation, we don’t stop to think from the other person’s point of view,” he said. “One very good technique is to think of a time when someone persuaded you of something (which, after all, is what you are trying to do in these competitions) and how did they do it? They did it by looking you in the eyes, not by staring at their shoes. I bet no one has convinced you of anything by going through a list. Persuasion is interpersonal.”

Even for competitors outside the winners circle, the case study competition had no downside.

“I would recommend this competition to other CMCers,” said PPE major Ben Fusek ’17.  “It’s definitely a bit of a grind, but I think it’s a really valuable opportunity.”

For Anna Zimmerman ’17, a Chemistry-Economics dual major, the competition was a way to face down a fear. “I always wanted to participate but was never able to muster up the courage to do it,” she said. “This year I just decided to take the plunge and I’m really happy that I did. I wanted to enhance my public speaking abilities and to do some analysis as well as learn from the incredible upperclassmen that have been doing this for a few years.

“Being proud and taking ownership of the work that I do will pay dividends for me in the future,” she added. “That is an education in itself. I recommend this experience to other students, even nervous freshman. Go for it!”