CSOM hosts identity contest

The fifth-annual competition asked teams to tackle problems for Ecolab.

by Bryce Haugen

Jesse Ross had no time to waste.

The second-year University of California-Los Angeles masters in business administration student kept a brisk pace Friday afternoon at the Carlson School of Management, placing a lunch order before squeezing in a bathroom break.

“We’re not stopping ” only to sleep. And we didn’t get much sleep last night,” said Ross, one of 35 MBA students from seven top marketing schools who came to Minneapolis this weekend for the Elite Eight Brand Management Case Challenge.

A team of five Carlson students also participated.

The five-year-old competition, which asks students to tackle a real-life branding problem posed by Ecolab, a St. Paul-based sanitation products company, is the only one of its kind in the nation, said 2005 competition chairwoman Laura Forero.

No other competition is entirely student-run, she said, and no other offers a comparable prize ” $10,000 for the winning team.

Unlike other competitions, the students’ marketing ideas will transcend the academic world. Ecolab officials will seriously consider “the good ones” and implement some of them over the next few years, said Maarten Potjer, a competition veteran turned Ecolab executive.

Competitors gathered at the Carlson School on Thursday afternoon to get briefed on case specifics, which company officials did not release to the media. Forty-eight hours later, following a marathon of strategizing and presentations, the weary and excited competitors arrived at the 28th floor offices of Fallon Worldwide for the award ceremony.

Before announcing the winners, Ecolab’s Vice President of Marketing for North America Mel Yasis said the five-member teams produced “no breakout ideas,” but offered “good analysis and sound strategic thinking.”

“I can tell you are all going to great schools,” said Yasis, a Carlson School alumnus.

The 10 judges from local company sponsors unanimously declared the University of California-Berkeley team the winner. Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business took second ” and $7,500 ” and the University of Pennsylvania team received $5,000 for its third-place finish.

“We felt we did a good job, but we’re all pleasantly surprised that we won,” said Berkeley second-year MBA Pareen Shah, who said he would use his share of the prize money to pay off some student loans.

The Carlson School did not place, but team members said they were pleased with their performance given the fierce competition.

“I think we represented the Carlson School well,” said Chris Jones, a second-year MBA.

Potjer, who, as a member of Northwestern University’s team, placed second a few years ago, said the students did a good job of confidently addressing branding problems of Ecolab, a company with $4.2 billion in annual sales.

“Each of the teams did a good job understanding the complexity of the business we run,” he said.

Besides learning who won, competitors enjoyed spectacular views high above downtown Minneapolis while dining and networking with local company officials.

Competition judge Alex Sellers, who is the senior buyer of candy for Target Corporation ” one of nine corporate sponsors ” paid visits to students’ tables throughout the night, passing out business cards and giving competitors much-valued “face time.”

“It gives us an opportunity to meet with a whole bunch of employers,” Shah said. “The more people you know, the better.”

The Elite Eight Brand Management Case competition premiered in 2001 with a General Mills branding issue. Carlson School alumnus Justin Jacobson spearheaded the event because other competitions he went to “were more like an extension of a class,” he said.

With the help of the Carlson School deans and supportive faculty members, the event has grown in national prominence each year, said Jacobson, now a General Mills associate marketing manager working on Honey Nut Cheerios.

“It was supposed to be another piece to aid our national exposure,” he said.