Each spring, the Target Case Competition gives Nebraska Business students the chance to put themselves in the executive management chair and present a strategic business plan to Target managers with the goal of improving customer experience at their stores. This year five student teams worked to improve online strategies and blend them with the brick-and-mortar store experience.
“Obviously this is a huge factor for all companies right now to improve shopper experiences online, in order to drive traffic into the stores,” said Kevin Oswald, Target store team leader who served as one of three judges for the event. “It’s also a great opportunity for Target to be on campus and listen to the different approaches student’s apply to the case. All five teams presented something totally different this year, and gave us something new to think about.”
Alison Stephen, district manager for the 14 Nebraska Target stores, also judged the competition. She sees the unique perspective of students being a major benefit to her company.
“Sometimes management can get married to what we’ve already been doing and focusing on, so it’s fun to hear new ideas and the view from the millennial generation because they’re both a growing part of our workforce and a major part of our customer base,” said Stephen. “With a case like this, students tend to better understand how people use technology in their daily lives, so it helps us rethink our business practices.”
In particular, judges stressed how impressed they are with Nebraska Business students. Oswald, who recruits on the Lincoln campus, announced at the award ceremony that Target has hired more than 150 Huskers during his 12 years recruiting.
“Nebraska is a tier-one school for us and this competition demonstrates that,” he said. “The teams did a great job on their case research, and digging into the current Target app. They found surveys of online data they could take and apply to this case.”
The winning team received $2,000 in Target gift cards to share among teammates, and second place winners received $1,000 in gift card money to split. Dr. Kathy Farrell, James Jr. and Susan Stuart Endowed Dean of the College of Business, attended the award ceremony and emphasized how participating in the competition can help students find jobs.
“A lot of employers will ask for some work sample, and this is something you can use when you’re looking for a job,” said Farrell. “It’s great to get this kind of experience in college.”
Joseph Zach, a senior accounting and finance major from Omaha, Nebraska, typified the level of excellence Oswald lauded. As a member of the winning team, he credited his business classes with helping his team put together an effective presentation.
“In my business policies and strategies class we’ve been comparing businesses, and doing SWOT analyses where we identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the companies. Our SWOT analysis ended up being a big part of this case, so I was able to pull materials from class into what we did here,” said Zach.
Katie Gaul, a junior management major from Omaha, said it helped that her team all had a connection through the Nebraska Business Honors Academy. Although they found it difficult to find time to meet collectively because of their student involvement, they found ways to utilize the best attributes of each team member.
“We assigned parts that played to each person’s interests and strengths, so it made it easier to do the project,” said Gaul. “We all have different perspectives, but thankfully we’d all worked together before, so managing our group dynamics was a little easier. We met the night before the competition and the following morning to bring it all together.”
Dani Bernhardt ’07, store team leader, also judged the competition for Target, as one of the many students who has made the transition from Nebraska Business to Target in the past 10 years. She believes the relationship remains as strong as ever.
“We have many executive team leaders and store team leaders from Nebraska,” said Bernhardt. “We recruit students from all majors, and especially appreciate the quality of students from the College of Business and their commitment to values. A lot of things students learn at Nebraska are what we stress at Target. When we’re hiring, we want to see those time management skills and that drive to excel that Nebraska students have.”
First Place Team ($2,000 in Target Gift Cards) included:
Michael Eesley, junior management major from Omaha, Nebraska
Katie Gaul, junior management major from Omaha, Nebraska
Jackson Grasz, junior management major from Omaha, Nebraska
Joseph Zach, senior accounting and finance major from Omaha, Nebraska
Second Place Team ($1,000 in Target Gift Cards) included:
Kristen Fellhoetter, junior marketing major from Bridgeport, Nebraska
Jack Fortner, sophomore finance major from Elkhorn, Nebraska
Jess Nguyen, junior marketing major from Omaha, Nebraska
Megan Tam, senior marketing major from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia