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UC Student Team Earns Top National Honors
In Small Business Institute Case Competition

Date: Feb. 8, 2001
By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825
Archive: General News

A University of Cincinnati team won the top prize in the Small Business Institute Directors' Association (SBIDA) National Case of the Year Competition for business students. The award was announced today at the association's annual meeting in Orlando, Florida.

The team of Tom Bonifield, Ken Bohrer, Tony Khaskelis and Alan Sherry - all from UC's part-time MBA program in the College of Business Administration - earned first place in the Graduate Comprehensive Case category, beating out applicants from a field of more than 200 member schools.

Team members Ken Bohrer,  Alan Sherry and Tom Bonifield with case supervisor Chamu Sundaramurthy This marks the third time in 10 years that UC has had a national finalist in the competition. A scholarship award of $300 comes along with the top prize.

"This is really a big victory," said Charles Matthews, an associate professor of strategic management and director of UC's Small Business Institute program. "It takes a tremendous effort, but these students did an excellent job. They really put forth the extra effort that made this case a national winner."

The team's case, Fascinating, Inc., dealt with a broad range of issues faced by a small Cincinnati manufacturer of industrial and commercial fasteners. The team's case supervisor was Chamu Sundaramurthy, a UC associate professor of strategic management. "This team was truly exceptional! They went the extra mile for the client and did a remarkable job representing UC," she said.

In a period of just over eight weeks in the fall quarter of 1999, the team assembled a 70-page case that served as a competitive analysis for the client's highly specialized industry. The name of the client is being kept confidential at the company's request, so the students used the name "Fascinating, Inc." for their case development.

Among the many features created for the case were customer satisfaction surveys that were given to clients as far away as Australia, advice on patent issues, a data package about the client's industry, a marketing plan, a computer program to standardize ordering and track shipments, a roadmap for new product launches, a value-chain cost analysis and a comprehensive financial analysis that included for the first time a cash flow statement.

"The diversity of our backgrounds definitely contributed to the quality of the case," said team member Ken Bohrer. He pointed out that Alan Sherry, a chemist by training, also was able to draw on a strong background in intellectual property. Tom Bonifield's marketing expertise included an interest in the Internet, which led to development of a search technique that immediately produced a list of 150 potential new customers that had never before been identified. Tony Khaskelis was simultaneously working on a doctorate in chemistry, which helped in understanding the manufacturing processes. Bohrer used his background in sales and finance to develop a financial model to help "Fascinating" understand its potential over the coming three years.

The company initially requested a marketing plan. But when the team took the unusual step of getting extensive feedback from customers during surveys that ran as long as three hours, the scope of the case grew accordingly. After that, "we chose what we thought would be a good path for the company, both offensively and defensively, and backed our approach with strong financial data and creative marketing recommendations," said Sherry, adding that interviews included customers in Australia, Canada, San Francisco, Texas and Florida.

Team members estimate they worked an average of 20 hours per week during the course of the project, on top of their full-time jobs and other classes. Not surprisingly, that made for some odd hours. Bonifield says he and Sherry realized they were online together one weeknight at midnight, and ended up chatting about the case until 3 a.m.

Bonifield says preparing the case solidified his confidence in what he learned during his MBA experience at UC and proved he could apply what he learned to real-world challenges. "For example, we were dealing with a highly specialized industry, and industry data were not readily available. However, Ken did an outstanding job of combing through the financial statements of industry leaders and correlating that with other data to estimate industry size."

"I didn't enter the case competition to further my career - the MBA was supposed to do that," added team member Alan Sherry. "My objective for the case was to internalize a lot of what I had been taught in the classroom. That's the real reward for me, as I am now better able to incorporate the UC MBA experience into my everyday thinking at work."

UC's Small Business Institute program, founded in 1972, is one of the oldest and largest in the country and is a charter member of SBIDA. SBIDA is the oldest and largest professional association dedicated to the advancement of small, entrepreneurial and family-based education.

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