Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Be The Case

“The case method is great!”

It might be the most cliché phrase used to describe Darden, but it’s true.  Business concepts, analytical formulas and economics theories are all important, but the case method allows us to learn those things in the context of a authentic, accessible, fascinating scenario.  At Darden, we learn our frameworks through a series of real cases instead a pile of textbooks.

The only thing more realistic than case method is real life—something I realized during our Marketing Intelligence class this year.  The curriculum is designed to expose us to data collection and analysis methods that can help us extract consumer insights from surveys and interviews.  There are no cases in this class: we ARE the case writer, and the outcome depends on how we help our clients.

Professor Kathryn Sharpe collaborated with the Charlottesville Community Investment Corporation to assemble a group of local entrepreneurs looking for help growing their ventures.  Students were partnered with these entrepreneurs, each with their own set of skills, challenges, and questions.

Our team had the pleasure of working with Lorraine Pike, a Charlottesville resident hoping to start a mobile juice stand on the Downtown Mall.  Lorraine has several vegetable juice recipes that were handed down to her from her father, who grew up in Jamaica.  Her kids love the juice, and she has a hunch the public will too.
Lorraine and her son.

During our final term as First Years, “Team Juice” learned survey and marketing concepts in class and then applied them to Lorraine’s venture.  We conducted in-depth interviews with folks who live and work near the Mall to learn more about their views of health, food stands, and fresh juices.

Using those insights, our team crafted a survey that helped us quantify consumer attitudes and purchasing behavior.  We distributed the survey online and in person, handing out yummy treats from Cinema Taco as rewards for those who were brave enough to take the three page questionnaire.

Who wouldn't want a free taco on Cinco de Mayo?
Team Juice spent hours putting together interview checklists, survey questions, and Power Point presentations that showcased our interview and survey findings.  We met with Lorraine each week to keep her posted on our progress, and to learn more about her efforts as well.  Hopefully she will be able to use the insights we uncovered to further develop her business plan!
Sean builds, Blythe eats.

It was an absolute blast to put together a series of recommendations and findings for a real life client.  As I head off to my summer internship, I can’t help but wonder if I’ll see Lorraine’s smiling face on the Downtown Mall when I come back, peddling her homemade juices to happy customers.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Fabled Darden Cup

In theory, the title of Darden Student Association President is the highest pressure position there is for a student.  There are others, though, who believe that social chairs in varying clubs and sections have it the worst.  Or perhaps the president of the Darden Capital Management Club feels the most heat, responsible for managing a chunk of Darden’s all-important endowment.

I, however, humbly submit a fourth option, that the highest pressure position on grounds is Athletics Representative for Section E.

It sounds crazy, unless you know about the legendary Darden Cup.  The Cup (yes, I’m capitalizing it for the rest of the blog entry) is awarded to the section that earns the most points during a series of athletic and community competitions held throughout the school year.   Sports include softball, basketball, dodge ball, a 5k race, and cricket.  Sections also can rack up points by volunteering in events like the Boys and Girls Club Bike Race.

All the sections take great pride in competing for the Cup, but none more than Section E.  Coming into the 2011-2012 year, Section E had taken home the trophy three consecutive years.  As the newly elected Athletics Representative, it was my job to motivate the section on to an unprecedented four-peat.

It wasn’t easy—Sections B and C quickly showed their superior athletic prowess.  They were bigger, faster, stronger.  Section D leveraged its close-knit bond to come up big in several community events.

Section E, though, stayed in the mix with its unbeatable ground game.  Time and time again, my classmates answered the bell. 

Can everyone pitch a few bucks in to buy a bat for softball?  Done.

Are you able to stop by the game to sign in for participation points?  It’s out of my way, but I’ll do it with a smile.

Second years, can you take some time to participate in the cup for us, even though you’re busy looking for jobs and enjoying your last months at Darden?  Absolutely.

As the year progressed, we stayed at or near the top of the standings with pure heart and organizational grit.

That wasn’t to say we didn’t have our great feats of “athletic” heroism.  A thrilling, last-second “Final Jeopardy” style question catapulted us to victory in trivia.  Sublime performances by two second year students carried us to a dominant win in bowling.  And, an improbable rally in dodge ball saw us rise from last to first in a true underdog story that rivals Vince Vaughn’s.

This year’s competition was the closest in recent memory, with four of the five sections still in striking distance with just two events to go.  After a rousing cricket tournament, Section B pulled ahead of Section E by the slimmest of margins.

The last event was the Darden Cares 5k race—an all too perfect time to shine for the section with the unbeatable ground game.  Section E mates Lauren Byrne, Chris Short, Caroline Burns and I spent hours planning out a comprehensive game plan to maximize our point intake. 


It paid off.  Everyone had a hand in it, from winning a costume bonus to bringing out students and faculty (thanks, Professors Weiss, Snell and Wicks!) in droves to run the event.  John Cote led a pack of Section E runners to the finish (earning the top 5 times) and it was enough to push us to the victory.

The cup was ours again.  Oops, I meant The Cup.

And while I’m obviously joking about my job being the highest pressure one at Darden, the victory took the weight of the world off my shoulders.

 I know this may feel like a one-sided view of the Darden Cup, but I believe it carries takeaways for all of us.  At Darden, we all want to win and we want to be the best.  In some ways, the Cup is an outlet for our competitive spirits.  However, I’ve also been extremely impressed with the sportsmanship and class the vast majority of my classmates showed throughout the year.  We’re not whiny 15 year olds sitting in the dugout crying about playing time anymore.  I hope we learned that we can still compete at 100% effort while having great attitudes and affinity towards each other.  Even better, we raised thousands of dollars for great causes in the process.

The Cup also taught me values and challenges of leadership, organization and motivation.  Bringing 64 people together for a common cause involves loads of hard work, lots of collaboration, an extra heavy dose of humility, a positive and enthusiastic culture, and most importantly a great group of colleagues.

I don’t know how, but Section E has been blessed with all of those elements four years running.  Being a part of such a wonderful group has been a total joy.

That being said, I don’t envy my replacement for next year—the pressure is already on to continue the legacy.