At the Daniels College of Business, we talk a lot about “challenge-driven education.” What we mean by that is that we think students learn best in real-world situations, solving problems which actual companies are facing, and importantly, when the stakes are highest. This philosophy applies across our entire school: undergraduate programs, MBA programs, and all of our specialized Masters degrees. It’s just what we do.

Such was the case with the Daniels Undergraduate Case Competition held on May 5th. Teams were tasked with presenting go-to market and scale-up strategies to the owners of Echo Mountain (themselves Daniels alums.) Echo Mountain is the closest mountain to Denver, Colorado, but has changed hands several times in the past decade. It is positioned in an industry which has seen considerable M&A consolidation as of late as Vail Resorts and Aspen Skiing buy up competitors.

Students were given 21 hours from the time they found out the problem they would be analyzing to live presentation of their recommendations to the owners of Echo Mountain, and with $10,000 in total prize money on the line for winners, this was truly an example of “challenge-driven education”.

Here’s what the winners had to say about their experience:

 

It is remarkable, shocking even, how much can get done in 21 hours.

We substituted sleep with caffeine in order to squeeze as much out of those hours as possible. We completely changed portions of our strategy in the middle of the night. Somewhere along the way we became overly concerned with the fact that our work space started to smell like an airport. Our walls were plastered with strategic alternatives, implementation schedules, key pieces of research, and whatever white space was left was reserved for our random brainstorming sessions.

As crazy as those 21 hours were, we’ve identified the three elements of our team and our decision making process that we believe most contributed to our ultimate success.

We Constructed a Cognitively Diverse Team

When we started putting our team together, we knew there was no value in everyone having the same thoughts about the case or agreeing about everything. We wanted teammates who would think about the content of the case fundamentally different and challenge each other’s assumptions. Our cognitive diversity helped cultivate our holistic and well-vetted solution to the case problem.

We Came Prepared

The competition for our team started a few weeks before the case was released. Our team spent about 10 additional hours in preparation. We had strategy meetings, outlined how we wanted to spend our time after receiving the case, took our best guesses on what the case content might contain based on the materials provided and even called officials in Clear Creek County where Echo Mountain is located to do additional contextual research. Not only did this prep-work give us an advantageous head start, but it gave us the fundamental confidence that we understood the content of the case better than any other team.

We Didn’t Go with Our First Idea

We gave ourselves plenty of time to consider and reconsider (and then consider again) our strategy. From the start, we managed to create a space and strategy that was flexible and allowed for a certain degree of change. We refused to let the pressure of limited time bully us into overcommitting to an idea that we weren’t entirely sure about. We changed our strategy throughout the competition, but we never changed our conviction to present the best strategy we had to the judges.

 

All that being said, we are extremely humbled and proud to have won this case competition and are unexplainably grateful to all those at Echo Mountain, Burwell Enterprises, and Daniels College of Business Undergraduate Programming for providing us with this opportunity.