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Notre Dame MBA announces winners of Microsoft virtual case competition

by Carol Elliott

November 30, 2011

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The heart of John Leahey’s marketing plan to help a software giant strengthen community engagement was a simple axiom: Make it easy for people to help each other out.

Leahey’s proposal for a Microsoft give-back plan that allows consumers to donate toward a community service organization won the grand-prize in the Notre Dame MBA Mini Deep-Dive Challenge, a virtual case competition sponsored by the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. As part of the award, the Chicago resident will receive a $25,000 fellowship toward tuition upon successfully matriculating into the Notre Dame MBA program.

The Notre Dame MBA Deep Dive Challenge, launched Oct. 3, saw more than 925 people registering for the online competition, which was open to the public.

“I really liked the idea of the Deep-Dive Challenge, because it gave me a mini-snapshot of what MBA school might be like,” said Leahey, who holds a BA from Hope College in political science and business administration and a master’s degree from Northwestern University in public policy and administration. Leahey is currently applying to the Notre Dame MBA program. “The brief itself was a cool idea as well. It asked a good question.”

Sponsored by Microsoft, the case asked participants to create a one-page proposal that outlines a marketing plan designed to increase the engagement between Microsoft stores and their local communities. The plan had to have a focus on education and technology, and the software company must be able to implement it over the next year.

Judging took place in two phases, with a Mendoza College of Business team of faculty and staff selecting the top 10 entries, which were forwarded to Microsoft executives, who picked the three winners.

Leahey’s grand-prize entry, “Community by Microsoft Store,” proposed a free membership program offered to new and existing customers of Microsoft Store to benefit local community organizations while strengthening the Microsoft Store’s brand awareness nationwide. When a member makes a qualified purchase at a local store, Microsoft Store donates a Microsoft software product to the member’s selected partner organization in the local community. 

“The first-place entry was a very thoughtful program with intriguing incentives for the store and members,” said Kristin Bockius, Microsoft U.S. Education Marketing Manager. “We will definitely consider using the idea. In fact, Microsoft has a similar program currently in operation, but John’s plan really captured the audience, metrics and marketing benefits we were seeking. It was the most thoughtful and relevant response we saw.”

The case represents a real-life business opportunity for the Microsoft Store, which to date has given approximately $14 million in in-kind donations to local organizations committed to education and technology. The company also plans to expand its retail presence significantly in the next two to three years. The first Microsoft Store opened in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2009, followed by 13 more stores by 2011.

“Citizenship is a huge part of Microsoft’s mission,” said Bockius. “It’s very important to us to connect to the communities we serve in new ways that can have real impact, particularly in the areas vital to social and educational growth.”

Second-place was awarded to Sarah Barkow of Minnetonka, Minn., for her proposal for a Microsoft competition for high school students, where school teams work with a mentor to develop software or an app with a given theme. The competition would encourage students to enter technological fields; at the same time, the partnership with Microsoft Stores would provide resources to students, said Barkow.

Kathryn McGeough of Devon, UK, won third-place for her version of a customer-loyalty card. The branded card employs a rewards system where customers accrue points not only through buying Microsoft products, but also through interaction with designated community partners and service organizations.

“We established the Deep-Dive Challenge as a way to give prospective students and others the chance to be part of a Notre Dame experience,” said Mary Goss, senior director of the Notre Dame MBA. “The variety and depth of ideas that came forward was truly impressive. We appreciate Microsoft’s willingness to sponsor the challenge, and all of those who devoted time and creative talents to take part.”

The Notre Dame MBA Mini Deep-Dive Challenge was inspired by Interterm Intensives, a signature component of the Notre Dame MBA curriculum. Each spring and fall, MBA students participate in intense four-day sessions involving real-world presentations and case competitions from some of the top Fortune 100 companies, including Boeing, Coca-Cola, General Electric and McDonald’s.

A previous Deep-Dive Challenge held in January 2011 featured a sustainability case sponsored by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, manufacturer of the Keurig coffee makers.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

The Notre Dame MBA at the Mendoza College of Business enrolls approximately 340 students annually in its one-year and two-year programs. The program is designed to sharpen students’ analytical and problem-solving skills, enhance their leadership ability and increase emphasis on ethical decision making. Students have the opportunity to study the complexities of global business through international immersions in Asia, Latin America and other locations.

The Notre Dame MBA is ranked 24th among U.S. business schools by Bloomberg Businessweek and No. 4 worldwide on the 2010-2011 Aspen Institute’s “Beyond Grey Pinstripes,” an alternative ranking that measures the school’s integration of sustainability and social responsibility into curricula and research. The Mendoza College also is a member of the Forté Foundation, a consortium of major corporations and top business schools supporting women in business leadership roles.