UA’s Net Impact Team Takes Second in Hitachi Foundation Competition
Eller MBA students Nick Theisen, Dale Prentiss, and
Tayo Akanni placed second in the case competition
sponsored by Net Impat and the Hitachi Foundation.
Photo by Simmons Buntin.
By Liz Warren-Pederson
Three Eller MBA students — Tayo Akanni, Dale Prentiss, and Nick Theisen — placed second in a nationwide case competition focused on the role of business in creating a more sustainable world and sponsored by Net Impact and the Hitachi Foundation.
The case competition was centered around the study “Integrated Packaging Corporation: Struggling to Do the Right Thing,” which explores how CEO Al Fuller successfully revitalized a failing corrugated box plant in New Brunswick, New Jersey, while dramatically improving the standard of living for his employees. The case posed the question whether this model can successfully be expanded into another inner city: Detroit, Michigan.
“In the case, we needed to find financial and human relations solutions for the company to succeed and pay their workers a fair wage for a fair days’ worth of work,” Prentiss explained. “We excelled on this aspect of the case and the work was split evenly between the spring and fall semesters, because there was a case addendum in the fall which required that we write two different case analysis reports.”
Part of their success on that phase of the competition was due to their mix of personal and professional experiences. “We had a great deal of diversity on our team,” Prentiss said. “We come from very different backgrounds, which helped us analyze the issues the company faced from many different angles. We spent a lot of time brainstorming and asking each other hard questions, playing devil's advocate.”
Prentiss, who’s focused on entrepreneurship and marketing, taught for eight years. Akanni is an Army vet and Peace Corps volunteer who is focusing on finance. Theisen has nonprofit experience and a marketing focus.
“We used a great deal of information from our finance classes and our professional experiences to help us understand how management could get workers to buy in to the company agenda and excel at their jobs,” Prentiss said.
The competition stretched out over 2010. “The second part of the competition was promoting curriculum change in your MBA program,” Prentiss explained. “The focus was on creating an ethical culture and having more professors teach cases about how improving workers’ conditions helped companies improve their financial performance.”
This component came from Net Impact’s research into a surge in demand among MBA students for greater curricular emphasis on creating a more sustainable world. According to an Aspen Institute report, only 30 percent of business schools require content in a core course on how business can act as an engine for positive social or environmental change (Beyond Grey Pinstripes 2009, The Aspen Institute).
“The competition was actually very inspirational,” Prentiss said. “It emphasized to us that when you take care of your employees, and treat them like human beings, they will excel at work and your company will reap the benefits.”