Carlson MBA Team Wins Net Impact Case Competition! (Or, the Day I Got Food Poisoning and Became a Thousand-aire)

Monday, February 22, 2016

With this blog post, I am announcing my retirement from case competitions. Like many great athletes of my generation, I am going out on top: I have, in fact, never been part of a losing case competition team; I’m leaving before ever tasting defeat. But the toll this sport has taken on my body can no longer be ignored. It’s time for me to call it quits.

The scene was the national Net Impact Case Competition. Our Carlson team had advanced to the Finals after a successful virtual round submission last Fall. Having successfully presented in the morning, we had just been notified that we had been selected as one of the five teams advancing to the championship round.

That’s when it began. At first a slow grumbling. Then, a wave of nausea. Finally, the expulsion of the contents of my entire stomach.

Food poisoning.

Try as I might, I had to notify my team that I couldn’t go on. The “incidents” were occurring too closely together for me to make it through our championship round presentation. They would have to present without me. (And that turned out to be a good choice: More “incidents” occurred at exactly the times I would’ve been delivering the introduction and conclusion to our presentation!)

As I resigned myself to my room, the Carlson team, sans me, presented to the judges. In the midst of their own excitement and anxiety about finding out the results, I received check-in texts: “How are you doing?” “What do you need?” There was delivery of a Sprite. Then two bottles of Gatorade and a box of saltines, which, upon reflection, couldn’t have been particularly easy for them to find and, given my level of dehydration, were potentially emergency room-saving supplies. Finally, about eight hours after the presentation I missed, they galloped into my room holding a giant check. We had won. And, without hesitation, even though I wasn’t a part of the winning piece of the puzzle, they wanted to include me in the celebration.

Students Holding Check of $10,000

I often tell prospective students that one of the reasons I chose Carlson is that you can go almost anywhere you want to go: Carlson grads work at McKinsey, Bain, and BCG; our alumni hold positions with Fortune 500 firms, tech start-ups, and most any place you can imagine. In addition, at Carlson, you can compete with the very best: You can participate in case competitions and outperform schools like Sloan (MIT), Tuck (Dartmouth), INSEAD, and Haas (UC-Berkeley). (Sorry, but I just had to rub that in.)

But, what sets Carlson apart is something that goes beyond the skill of our students or the companies we end up at.

I wrote in my application essay that I was looking for a “competitive yet collaborative MBA community that would push me to achieve more than I ever thought possible while supporting me personally as I explored my own, unique career journey.” I saw the competitive and collaborative elements of our school on display in our winning work. But, more important to me – certainly in that moment! – was seeing the Carlson community in action: Teammates carrying my part in a presentation, bringing me supplies when I was sick, and including me in a celebration when they didn’t have to.

The Carlson MBA is about more than where you end up or what you achieve; it’s about our community. And, I am so glad to count myself a part of it.

(And to be able to eat solid foods again.)

A Headshot of Adam Rao