Every year at the end of the summer, General Motors and Wayne State University’s Mike Ilitch School of Business host the Supply Chain Case Competition to test students on their strategic, tactical, analytical and communication skills in a collaborative, competitive environment. Teams are given approximately a month to prepare for the case and decide on real-world solutions to the problem at hand. Among the 25 teams present this year, representing supply chain management programs from all over the world, the Broad College supply chain team took second place overall.
The Spartan squad was made of up Nicole Hanson, Emily Oehmke, Linghao Zheng and Austin Langlinais, all seniors studying supply chain management. The four students were handpicked by Mike Thibideau, assistant professor in the supply chain management department, for their merits shown in class. Collectively they represented the supply chain expertise at Broad, consistently the No. 1 ranked supply chain program in the United States.
The students were invited to join the group over the summer and began preparations at the start of the fall semester. The brief was given on Sept. 1, so there was very little time to waste. “We created Excel sheet after Excel sheet processing our work and double-checking our assumptions,” Oehmke said of the team’s preparation process and their attention to detail.
The process was not without its hurdles. Hanson and Oehmke both noted the challenges of finding a solution in a team like this. Hanson described “getting a solution and going with it because we spent so much time running around, trying to figure out the numbers and decide what would work best.”
She explained how Broad’s emphasis on collaboration contributed to the team finding a solution. “There’s so many different solutions; there’s not just one answer. We always wanted to keep changing it and improving it, but we got to a point where we had to just make a decision.”
Oehmke described the process as being helpful for her collaboration skills in the future. “This competition taught me to be more willing to adhere to my team members’ thinking processes, communication and teamwork styles,” she said.
After weeks of preparation, the Broad team traveled to Detroit to compete. The first round of competition required each team to give a 20-minute presentation of their research and the solution they’ve decided will work best. There, groups were divided into five regions, and the winners from each region were selected to compete in the next level of the competition. Judges included executives from General Motors and its suppliers.
After taking first in their region, the Broad team moved onto the next challenge: two hours to come up with a new solution to the case and present a 30-minute presentation to the panel of judges. The Spartans were ultimately honored with second place overall.
Although Thibideau selected the members of this team, it was truly a student-run effort. “He really left it open to us, because he wanted it to be all on us,” Hanson said.
Thibideau noted that his role was mostly informative at the start but hands-off down the line. “Instructors do not read or involve themselves in the case analysis or recommendations, and this drives one of the most appealing aspects of case competitions,” he said. “Students own the struggle.”
Hanson also noted that the breadth of her education was helpful in this competition. “We all have different dynamics, so learning to work on a team like that, under high stress, was really valuable,” she said. “Even my accounting and finance classes helped because we ended up doing a lot of financial modeling for our presentation.”
Thibideau explained the importance of experiences like this for a student’s success after graduation. “This case competition is always a difficult case where there are no simple answers,” he said. “They have to make their recommendations in a convincing manner and defend their analysis.”
Oehmke offered her appreciation to Thibideau for selecting her to compete. “Overall, it has given me such great insight into automotive supply chain, and it is thanks to him,” she said. She also explained how this experience will help her moving forward. “It was a high-pressure month, and I know working in this environment successfully will help me in my career. I have had an interest in automotive for a while, so this opportunity has opened my eyes to the end-to-end supply chain process.”
This excellent showing is yet another win for the already highly ranked supply chain program at the Broad College.