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Wisconsin BBA Students Take Top Honors at Supply Chain Case Competition

by Jane Burns Friday, January 22, 2016

The Grainger Center trophy case is gaining hardware like the cases at the Kohl Center, thanks to another winning performance at a national supply chain competition in November.

A team of four BBA students at the Wisconsin School of Business took top honors for the second consecutive year at the Fall Series of the National Undergraduate Supply Chain and Operations Case Competition at Arizona State University.

grainger center for supply chain management wisconsin school of business

Wisconsin BBAs Hannah Wikum (BBA '15), Cole Bjornstad (BBA ’16), Kelly O’Neill (BBA ’15), and Katie Slavin (BBA ’15) celebrate their big win at the National Undergraduate Supply Chain and Operations Case Competition.

“The prestige of winning a national case competition two years in a row sends a strong, positive signal to employers and other universities about the quality of our students and programs,” says Verda Blythe, director of the Grainger Center for Supply Chain Management.

The winning team included Cole Bjornstad (BBA ’16), Kelly O’Neill (BBA ’15), Katie Slavin (BBA ’15), and Hannah Wikum (BBA ’15).  Team members had 24 hours to come up with the solution to a real-world business problem, and then the solution was evaluated by industry professionals.

This year, students were asked to solve a problem for Intel Corporation—how to produce a new, lower-end chip for use in the Internet of Things that expands communications capabilities. The team conducted a make vs. buy (in-house vs. outsource) analysis that included the many supply chain trade-offs for each approach.

“It was also asking, ‘How do you not dilute your brand by throwing in these lower-end cheap chips into the product mix?’” O’Neill says.

The students found a marginal difference between the two approaches and ultimately chose the higher-priced option of making it in-house. The four knew their choice was a risk, O’Neill says, but they believed it was a better strategic fit for the company.

“They really stressed intellectual property, and it just made sense to keep it in-house,” O’Neill says.

The students also suggested introducing the chip under a new brand, calling it “Netli,” an anagram of Intel. With an Internet search, the group found that the word meant “the focus of” in Turkish. That fit, they believed, because the chip would be the focus of the future for Intel as a leader in the Internet of Things revolution.

“This strategic approach to supply chain management education, which was a key factor in the judges’ decision, is a hallmark of the Wisconsin supply chain program, a unique aspect of the Wisconsin School of Business,” Blythe says.

The four students didn’t know each other before the competition, but all had a similar inspiration for the work they did during it: Senior Lecturer John McKeller’s Procurement and Supply Chain Management  class (Marketing 423). O’Neill even had her notes from the class along on the trip to Arizona.

“It was all about procurement,” says O’Neill, who graduated in December and in June will begin a three-year rotational program at BP America in Chicago. “How do we want to get these items? How do we want to get them shipped? It was really relevant.”

The team was awarded a cash prize of $4,000, and finished ahead of second-place Minnesota and third-place Arizona State, as well as University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School, and Brigham Young University, Marriott School of Management.

Learn more about the Supply Chain specialization at the Wisconsin School of Business, ranked 11th nationally among undergraduate supply chain programs by Gartner.