Friday, September 20th. About a month into the fall semester and a group of students were gathered in the Wells Fargo Room of the Haas School of Business, some pacing the carpeted floors, others sitting, their feet tapping nervously. Still others stood outside, talking on the balcony in the glow of the setting sun. The stage was set for the finals of the 2nd Annual Cohort Finance Case Competition.
Designed to encourage interaction amongst newly entering Haas undergraduates as well as serve as an introduction to case presentations, the Cohort Case Competition asks students to work in groups of 3 to 4 within their cohorts to address a business problem – the kind of financial decisions executives of large firms face; training Haas undergraduates to address real-world issues in a collaborative spirit.
In its 2nd year, the Cohort Finance Case Competition drew over 21 teams, 4 of which presented at the finals for the chance of coming out victorious, representing their cohort, and winning a cash prize of $200. Each team was given 10 minutes to present, followed by a 5 minute Q&A.
Cohort Leaders and students from both 2015 and 2014 were present to cheer on the presenting teams, with Stacey Patten, External Cohort Liaison for the Class of 2015, emceeing. The Leaders’ excitement matched the participants’ – many had never been to a case competition before. One of the pleasant surprises of the night was attendance by first years who were interested in Haas – thanks to efforts to the leaders made to reach out to the greater campus community at “Business at Berkeley,” underclassmen heard about the event and attended to gain greater understanding of the culture at Haas.
Judges conversed with teams in the seemingly inevitable technical-difficulty lull before their presentations, a refreshing bit that worked to calm overactive nerves. The first team, representing Shattuck Cohort, was genuinely surprised at having been chosen as finalists: it was their first case competition and most had little to no background in finance. Regardless, the team impressed the crowd, a smooth opening to the final presentations. Cooling down after their presentation, the team showed refreshing light-heartedness: “We’re not competitive,” they smiled, “just here to have fun.”
In addition to presentation jitters, timing was a challenge. The teams’ recommendations were often so complex and vividly explained that many fell short on presentation time, to the dissatisfaction of the competitors. The judges were not shy in asking questions that challenged students’ ability to think of everything from broad concepts of consumer behavior and entertainment trends to specifics of proposed budget and timely implementation. “Intense” seemed to be the word of the night, at least amongst the presenters – for the audience, it was “impressed.”
Aaron Mendelsen, a director of Credit Suisse and active member of HAN-SF, served as one of the judges. The competition presented a valuable opportunity for juniors to practice both analytic and presentation skills, he noted, praising the Cohort Program’s efforts to establish a new undergraduate tradition. Kevin Hsu and Tammie Chen, both of whom represented UC Berkeley as part of the external case competition team, cited giving back as one of the primary reasons they decided to judge presentations. “I’ve been helped by many Haas alums to know what I know now,” said Ms. Chen, adding that she “would love to transfer knowledge [to build] a stronger Haas network” for the future.
And the results! 1st place went to Gold Cohort, represented by Grace Chen, Alex Moskowitz, and VK Vu. In 2nd was Blue with Sam Choi, Jackie Mazon, Wilson Tsai, and Clara Vo – who finished with pride and a group hug, in exactly kind of spirit that the Cohort Program seeks to foster among undergraduates, even when they are immersed in a competitive situation. Confidence Without Attitude, in action.
Across the board, the feeling by the end of the night was overwhelmingly positive. Win or not, the experience was still worthwhile, for participants, the Cohort Leaders and Liaisons who made the event possible, and the audience.
“Glad we survived,” Ms. Patten jokingly said, reflecting as the doors were closing on the event.
If the case competition was any indication, it looks like Haas, the greater Cal campus, and the business world can expect much more than mere survival from the Class of 2015.