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Lehigh takes on counterparts in international MBA competition

The Lehigh MBA team (left to right): John Bosco Ambe, Rajgopal Badapati, Aditi Katdare, Siddhartha Bhattacharya, Melanie Sanchez-Jones and Dale Falcinelli.

"It is Day One for the New Chrysler.”

It’s a common refrain, but one that Detroit is—finally—starting to take seriously.

Almost nine years after Daimler-Benz sought to transform the automobile industry by merging with Chrysler, a private equity firm has raised the stakes once again. Cerberus Capital Management’s recent purchase of over 80 percent of DaimlerChrysler AG has industry leaders questioning whether Detroit can rebound.

A small team of full-time Lehigh MBA students are asking the same thing. Working collaboratively with faculty and industry advisors, they’re in a rather unique position to determine whether Cerberus, a firm used to hedging its bets on troubled companies, is making a smart move.

“The First One Hundred Days” is the name of the latest edition of the National Black MBA Association’s ( NBMBAA) Case Competition, which Lehigh is participating in for the second consecutive year. The competition is being held during the NBMBAA’s 29th Annual Conference & Exposition in Orlando, Florida, this week.

A new look at health benefits

Bringing together the smartest minds from such top-notch business schools as MIT, Virginia, Texas and North Carolina, NBMBAA challenges full-time MBA students to research, analyze and present solutions to some of the biggest business challenges facing industry today.

This year’s case is no different. “This year’s competition is really fascinating in that it’s so real,” says Dale Falcinelli, chairman of Lehigh’s vSeries (VentureSeries) corporate entrepreneurship program, who also serves as an academic advisor to the team. “Not only do they need to figure out how Chrysler can survive—and grow—under Cerberus, but they also need to look at the new relationship industry needs to build with labor.”

Therein lies the challenge for Lehigh students John Bosco Ambe, Siddhartha Bhattacharya and Aditi Katdare. With the help of classmate Rajgopal Badapati, the team will have 20 minutes to identify and present innovative strategies to evaluate the company‘s benefit plans.

“Our team is recommending a radically innovative healthcare solution along with an hourly wage proposal,” says Ambe. They include an employee eligibility audit, outsourcing retiree healthcare, implementing an intensive healthcare preventative program, and designing a cost-cutting hourly wage proposal.

“Our team has suggested that by effective implementation of these recommendations, Chrysler can foster its relations with the workers’ union, while improving its cost structure and regain its lost glory,” Ambe says.

Real-life implications

The 2007 case study competition, sponsored by The Chrysler Foundation, happens just a few days before representatives from Cerberus and the United Auto Workers (UAW) begin work on a new collective bargaining agreement. Hourly wage structures and medical benefits covering active and retired employees and their dependents are a few topics that are on the table—both in the competition and during the upcoming negotiations.

“This particular study takes most MBA students out of their comfort zones,” says Falcinelli. “Our students are being challenged to provide a stealth analysis of strategic H.R., and how it impacts an organization’s long-term vision and goals.”

Joining Falcinelli as an industry advisor to the team is Melanie Sanchez-Jones, MBA ‘99, herself a Lehigh MBA graduate, who serves as global manager of employee benefits at Air Products, a large international chemicals company. She was instrumental in helping to reduce the complex world of medical and retirement plans as a key component in strategic planning.

Liz Reese, MBA ’77, director of labor relations and field human resources at Air Products, also provided insight on labor relations activities.

Katdare says the case competition has given her team an insight into the world of labor-management relations, while also providing them with a better understanding of the various healthcare costs and wage structures in the industry.

“Lehigh MBA has played a vital role in preparing us for an international level competition like this one. Our case oriented curriculum and faculty members, with tremendous industry background have proved to be very helpful in preparing the case,” Katdare explained.

Acknowledging the support and commitment of the College of Business and Economics’ graduate programs office, Katdare added that the partnership of the Lehigh MBA program with industry professionals has been a huge resource for her and her colleagues.

According to NBMBAA, the case competition was established in 1992 to increase student participation and interaction at its annual conference, as well as to give corporations an additional venue to recruit top MBA talent.

Scholarships totaling $35,000 are awarded to the top three ranking teams, who are judged on the feasibility of their recommendations, the quality of their content analysis, the custom solutions they provide and their overall presentation styles.

Tom Yencho

Posted on Friday, September 14, 2007

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