Is child labor down the supply chain more cost than benefit? What’s the best advice in such a case? This was the challenge presented during the second annual Aggie Case Competition hosted by Mays Business School at Texas A&M University. Thirty-six undergraduates, with majors ranging from finance to biomedical engineering, took up the challenge for a two-day period in March, which included research, developing solutions, and responding on the fly to tough questions from a panel of judges.

Top consulting firms Alvarez & Marsal, and McKinsey & Co. sponsored the two-day event, challenging participants in teams of four to create a “crisis management” solution for a well-known firm facing possible negative press attention. In the challenge scenario, a film producer was preparing to release a documentary exposing the abuse of child laborers in India, specifically focusing on the company IKEA. But there was a twist: IKEA had no idea that their products were the result of mistreated child workers. With the company being blind-sided by such a dilemma and forced to come up with the right solution in a short time period, students were asked to determine if the company should continue the supplier relationship or end it, and explain the costs and benefits of either action. Open to any student interested in a possible career in consulting, the event provided hands on experience through the simulation of a real-life corporate case. Teams had 24 hours to come up with a solution and present it to the judges.

The team “Aggie Capitalists” had an innovative approach to the problem. They proposed an educational program within the Indian manufacturing facilities. Group members Jeremy Knop, Travis Cocke, Omar Khan, and Ahmad Mouneimne chose to maintain child labor because of the fact that the practice is deeply rooted in the country’s culture; most children must work to supplement their family’s income. In the Capitalists point of view, bringing manufacturing to a halt would not solve the problem in the long run. Their solution involved setting up a school at the factory site, splitting child workers into groups, and rotating them through school and work stations.

The group’s unique solution fostered support from the judges, placing them among the three winning teams. Interestingly, the Aggie Capitalists strategy came very close to the real-life solution employed by IKEA, who incorporated education into the children’s workday.

The panel of judges included Mays faculty as well as top consultants, such as Charles Goodman, Alvarez & Marsal business consulting manager and former Mays faculty member. Goodman explained the two objectives of the case competition: expose students to the consulting profession, and give them practice with case interviewing, a method used by many companies when selecting their employees. “My generation never had this opportunity as undergrads. It’s so important because it’s better to learn and be prepared now than to be exposed to case interviewing for the first time when applying for your first job,” said Goodman.

The judges further challenged the participants by asking tough questions during presentations about each group’s suggestions, creating situations where the students were forced to come up with an answer on the spot.

“The competition helps you become a better problem solver, which is essential to any aspect of business. You really have to be able to think on your feet,” said Jeremy Knop, a sophomore finance major and one of the competition’s winners.

KPMG associate Clark Bosslet ’06, one of three recent Mays graduates involved in organizing the competition, feels that the event provides more than a hands-on learning experience for participants; it also opens doors to potential career opportunities. “It brings in consulting firms who do not often come to A&M’s campus and exposes them to some of our brightest students. Each of the consulting firms from last year ultimately extended an offer to at least one student who participated in the event, and we hope that trend continues,” said Bosslet.

The winners of the Aggie Case Competition were: Jason Knight, Vineet Tiruvadi, Rhys Davis, Mark Browning, Marcus Pennington, Todd A. Hunter Jr., Laura Grace Robinson, John Martin, Jeremy Knop, Travis Cocke, Omar Khan, and Ahmad Mouneimne. Winning teams received a jump drive and $25 American Express gift card.