University of Southern California

Marshall MBA Team Takes Second Place in Case Competition
Executive Leadership Council's Event Focused on Sustainability and Minority Recruiting Issues
May 20, 2011 • by News at Marshall

When Joshua Zelkind, MBA '12, read about the Executive Leadership Council's (ELC) 8th Annual Business Case Competition, he knew he had to get involved. For one, the topic of this year's contest, "Seizing New Energy Opportunities While Reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions" and sponsored by Exxon Mobil Corporation, spoke to Zelkind's interest in sustainability issues. Then there was the ELC, which is dedicated to developing African-American corporate leaders, and the added focus of the contest on involving minorities in both the competing teams and the proposed solution.

"For me sustainability and renewable energy is a topic I'm passionate about and very interested in so from that perspective it was great to work on it. Also to be part of a minority case competition was definitely an additional part of it because it is really important to address that population especially in corporate America and in business schools," said Zelkind, who is of Puerto-Rican descent.

For the ELC challenge, MBA students were asked to analyze the current U.S. energy portfolio and then develop a comprehensive national plan of alternative paths for America to lower its greenhouse gas profile by 2030 in the most cost-effective way. They were also tasked with coming up with a plan to recruit more African-Americans and ethnic minorities for job opportunities in the green sector.

The contest required teams of up to five students to be 60 percent minority, with a majority being of African-American descent. Zelkind got fellow first-year MBA students, which included Gordon Hallman '12, Edward Harper '12, Ricky Mixon '12, Angel Vizcarra '12, on board. No team member had prior industry experience with renewable energy or U.S. energy policy, so as soon as they received the competition materials in early March, they wasted no time.

"Right now renewables make up 8 percent of the current energy portfolio in terms of consumption and we projected what we thought it would look like in 2030 and the different legislations we would need to be passed as well as tax policies that would need to have evolve to get the United States to that point," said Zelkind. "We received a lot of assistance from our professors and we reached out to different faculty members throughout USC, not just Marshall. We found faculty to be very receptive and willing to help and that certainly helped us cement our ideas."

They also attended the alterEnergy Conference, a forum on renewable energy presented by Marshall's Net Impact chapter and co-sponsored by the Society and Business Lab, in early April. The moderator for the forum, Dr. Mark Bernstein, head of the USC Energy Institute, was particularly helpful to the team. They submitted their 40-plus-page paper in early April amid a hectic time that included mid-terms, a full course load and other extracurricular activities. Their hard work paid off -by the end of the month, they found out they were among the three finalists selected from 22 competing teams to present their plans before a panel of judges in Virginia on May 6 and compete for the top prize of $35,000.

"There are only the three finalists, so going into it, you know you're going to place, which is a great feeling. You want to exceed the expectation and make that push for first and that's really what drove us in our preparation," said Zelkind.

Though they didn't take first-Carnegie Mellon received that honor -the team finished a respectable second, winning $20,000 and placing above last year's first-place winner, the University of Michigan, which took third and a prize of $15,000.

"It was just generally a fantastic experience, working with my peers, getting to know each other and really each being able to contribute to the project in a different way," said Zelkind. "What was really great and what you hope for in a group environment is that the final product that you create is better than any one of you could have created individually and I think that what we ended up presenting was truly just that."

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.