The winning team of the seventh annual PepsiCo MBA Invitational Business Case Competition included Tyler Whiteman, MBA ’23.
Whiteman is a first-year student who had spent most of the past decade in musical theater as an actor, singer and dancer out of New York City. Then COVID hit.
“In a matter of days, I watched as the virus devastated my industry,” the St. Louis native said. “After repeated calls from my agent delivering unfortunate news of all my jobs being canceled, I decided to hit the drawing board: I knew if there was ever a time to make a massive switch in my life, this was it.”
On October 14, he was among MBA students from 16 universities who were randomly assigned to nine mixed teams of four from different schools. PepsiCo gave them the case the next morning.
“Being a rather large career-switcher, I won’t pretend that I wasn’t somewhat intimidated by the other top MBA programs represented among the competing teams,” he said. Those programs, among others, included Columbia, Cornell, Harvard and Yale.
The teams brainstormed, crunched numbers and refined their ideas for nine hours throughout the day that Friday. That Saturday, they presented solutions to PepsiCo senior executives and talent acquisition team members.
Texas Christian University’s MBA program and the Neeley School of Business presented the virtual competition. First place of $7,000 was awarded to the team of Whiteman, Brent Schlagel (SMU, Cox School of Business), Adriann Dolphin (Harvard University, Harvard Business School) and Mayank Mehra (TCU, Neeley School of Business).
We asked Whiteman about his experience.
What was the most challenging aspect of the competition?
“The case competition was completely virtual, which presents a productivity and fatigue challenge in a time-crunch setting like this. Fortunately, my teammates and I have had plenty of practice Zooming in our respective MBA journeys thus far.
“I felt this challenge the most when it came time to present our final recommendation to the PepsiCo executives. The performer in me craves the in-person audience and live energy that simply cannot be replicated through a computer screen. That’s all the more reason my teammates and I sought to really bring that energy to one another throughout our presentation, even though we were stationed in different parts of the country.”
You had to learn to work with others very quickly. Did you learn anything from that experience?
“Yes! I virtually met my teammates for the first time the evening before the case was distributed. The next morning, we hit the ground running. (The case was emailed to everyone at 9:30 a.m. with a final slide deck submission deadline at 6 p.m. that evening.)
“My team really capitalized on that time given to us before the case was received. For about an hour, or so, the four of us connected, honed in on individual skill sets and strategized our approach for the next morning.
“Takeaways from this experience center on the importance of building that foundation of ‘team’ and expectations before diving into the work. We weren’t given a lot of time to do this, but I would say what we did with that time was extremely productive and heavily contributed to our success the next day.”
How did your Olin experience prepare you for the competition?
“Being a rather large career-switcher, I won’t pretend that I wasn’t somewhat intimidated by the other top MBA programs represented among the competing teams. That being said, it is quite exciting to see the progress I have made in just a short amount of time, here at Olin. A little shy of 190 days since beginning the full-time MBA program, I attribute much of my performance at the PepsiCo case competition (and overall success) to my Olin family of professors, coaches, peers and alumni.”
What distinguished the winning team from the other teams’ efforts? Can you tell us about the case?
“The case revolved around innovation, branding and go-to-market strategies. There were two innovative products—a Mountain Dew beverage and a Doritos snack—about to be launched individually to market. We were tasked with the objective to convince the board why these products should, instead, be released synergistically as a bundle through both point-of-sales and marketing efforts, rather than through two separate campaigns.
“Our recommendation included a financial assessment and break-even analysis of the product bundle, a created branding campaign titled: D2 CREATE YOUR MIX, and finally a strategy to implement the branding and merchandizing recommendation over the proposed four-quarter timeline—all in about nine hours. Though I wasn’t able to see presentations from other competing teams, I would say the judging panel seemed to be most impressed with my team’s ability to work so strongly and seamlessly with one another in such a truncated timeframe. It is always fun to get the wheels of top decision-makers at a top firm turning; I believe our team did just that.”