Student teams at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business Administration competed in the 2017 Union Pacific (UP) case competition, delivering presentations to UP executives to make recommendations on investing in the emerging sage grass market. Teams received the case summary at 8:30 a.m. and had until noon to consult with UP managers, build a business plan and create a power point presentation. During the afternoon the four teams presented their plans for a half-hour each to the executives.
Shawntell Kroese ’96, assistant vice president at UP, served as one of three judges for the competition. Nebraska students impressed her with their resourcefulness, particularly given the tight time constraints.
“Most students don’t take time out of their day to do a case competition like this,” said Kroese. “That’s how you learn to think quickly and come up with recommendations. Whether you’re selling an idea about investing in sage grass or selling yourself on a job interview, so much of being good at business is practice. I’m 20 years into my career and I still practice a lot.”
Kroese and her associates gave professional feedback immediately following the presentations, and during the wrap-up before the winning team was announced. She emphasized a very slim margin separated the four teams.
“Each team presented logically and gave reasonable recommendations, and as judges we had different ideas who should win. Union Pacific is a Fortune 150 company, and everybody there is good, and a lot of how you move up the ladder is learning how to work with other people. Working with the best business students here today helps up your game and get better, and that’s what this competition is about,” said Kroese.
Winning team members included Connor Dietrich, a senior actuarial science and finance major from Omaha, Nebraska; Alex Nachreiner, a sophomore accounting and finance major from Omaha; Nate Nemer, a senior accounting and finance major from Omaha; and Gabby Williams, a junior accounting major from Cleveland. All four winning team members study in the CBA Honors Academy.
“You don’t get many opportunities to receive feedback from people at high levels of a company who could be hiring you for a job someday,” said Nemers. “It helped us understand their expectations for delivering a presentation in a real-world scenario. I guarantee I’ll remember what they told us when I’m in a similar situation down the road.”
“The manager consultation during the morning preparation made us think about things in new and different ways,” said Williams. “Then Shawntell and the other executives helped us realize our facts have to be strong in order to back up what we’re recommending during the presentation.”
Nemers believes the lack of preparation time is a positive. He said students on his team found roles where they felt most comfortable and went to work.
“Getting thrown into a project without any information forces you to come to conclusions quickly. That’s something we’ll have to do in the job environment and it teaches us how to think critically,” said Nemers.
Rob Simon, associate professor of practice of marketing, facilitated the competition. He endorsed the trial-by-fire nature of the student case work.
“We expect them to make mistakes but the main thing is getting that experience working with a Fortune 150 company,” said Simon. “A lot of students even in other Big Ten schools never get this experience, and it’s something they can put in their portfolio and looks great on their resumé.”
Winning team members received $100 gift cards. Simon said a trophy recognizing the winners will be on display in the new College of Business building this fall.