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Carroll School of Management Graduate Programs

Annual Consulting Competition

consulting competition

By William Bole

A medical device company hopes to maintain both the market share and premium price of its highly rated instrument used for endoscopies, amid widespread pressure to lower hospital costs.

A nonprofit group—which provides urban youth with jobs in the fine arts—needs to bolster the efficiency of its operations.

A leading insurance company is trying to get its claims adjusters to make greater use of a system for sharing electronic data.

These three organizations have something in common. Each received valuable advice and timely solutions from M.B.A. students at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management.

In all, 20 companies invited Carroll School teams this year to advise them on a broad spectrum of management concerns. Among the clients were Eastern Bank, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Au Bon Pain, Island Outfitters, and Junior Achievement USA. On May 8-9, the projects culminated in the annual Diane Weiss Consulting Competition, in which prominent judges evaluate the advice and presentations. The 2013 winner was the team working with medical device company Boston Scientific.

The consulting projects are part of a required course taken by fulltime, first-year M.B.A. students in the spring semester. Typically there are 20 teams of five or six students.

The 33-year-old program gives students a chance to apply classroom learning to “real business challenges,” said Scott F. McDermott, who teaches the class and directs the effort with Vincent M. O’Reilly. He added, “The clients are much more apt to extend career opportunities to us, once they’ve seen the quality of our students.”

All 20 teams gathered in Fulton Hall on a Thursday night to hear the three finalists make their cases to a four-judge panel.

The Boston Scientific team, for example, explained its multi-pronged approach to shoring up the company’s market for its endoscopic device, Resolution® Clip. The detailed action plan involves smarter use of social media, improved packaging, and metrics for showing better patient outcomes (with less risk of medical errors). The team also described its extensive research on the ground: “We spent a lot of time in the reimbursement office” at Boston Scientific, said Caroline Sprague, whose tailored specialty in the M.B.A. program is Corporate Communications.

The other finalists were the consulting teams for Liberty Mutual (which needed advice on its knowledge management system, iConnect), and Boston-based Artists for Humanity (which employs inner-city youth). All three of the companies represented in the final competition are planning to, or have already started, implementing aspects of the student proposals.

The teams took turns on a stage facing the judges, who sat at the front of the tiered lecture room and directed questions at them following the presentations.

Did the Artists for Humanity team meet with resistance in seeking to build a data-driven culture at the organization? The answer in unison was “no.” The organization knew it had to get a grip on such matters as whether its projects (in graphic design, for instance) end on time, to the satisfaction of clients. For that purpose, the students created an Excel-based performance management system dubbed “Sketch Pad.” That system is now fully in use.

The three-hour event closed with the final verdict.

Referring to the Boston Scientific presentation, David Roache, Managing Director of Consilium Partners, told the team: “If I were an investor, I would have started writing out the check.” The other judges were Fay Donohue; President and CEO, Dental Services of Massachusetts; Mark Tarini, Managing Director, ArcLight Capital Partners; and G. Peter Wilson, Carroll School accounting professor.

Besides Sprague, the first-place Boston Scientific group included Kelly Cocco, Chi Zhang, Cameron Kittle, and Matthew Person.

In 1987, the competition was named in honor of Diane Weiss, who had led the winning team three years earlier while fighting cancer. She died at age 27.