By Stephanie Skordas, Sr. Associate Director, Communications
“Coming to the table with no information, working to a strict deadline, with the specific goals of the outcome left up to the group as a whole I felt was a very valuable experience to showcase not only what we have learned so far in the Master’s in Management program, but also what our future careers may look like,” said Logan Oyler (MSM ’19).
For the second consecutive year, FactSet sponsored a fall case competition for the 112 students in the School’s Master of Science in Management (MSM) program. The challenge: examine JCPenney’s financial situation and offer ideas to help the company move past its liquidity crisis. Using data and financial statements from 2010 – 2012, the 23 teams had two days to conduct their analyses, put together their solution, create a presentation, and practice their pitch.
“The case reiterated the importance of understanding financial projections and creating a sustainable plan based on those realistic expectations,” Shonti Johnson (MSM ’19) said. “This was also the first opportunity we had to formally present and perform in front of strangers helping build both confidence and esteem in our group’s abilities.”
Each team made a case before a panel of judges made up of School of Business faculty, staff, and a representative from FactSet. From the initial round, the judges selected four finalist teams. These teams would not only present their case before a new panel of judges but also their classmates in the Bern Beatty Colloquium.
Judges for the final round were FactSet representatives Neale Hicks (BA ’11, MA ’12) and Peter Dorsey, along with Norma Montague, associate dean of the Master’s in Management program, and professors Susan Langlitz and Rob Nash. What they didn’t know was that JC Penney CFO and EVP Jeff Davis had slipped into the room to watch their presentations.
“I thought all the groups were very poised. It was interesting for me that in a very short period they would read that case study, pull out some key salient points, and then be able to step forward and be able to speak so confidently about their solution,” Davis said.
Erin Hagen, Shonti Johnson, Logan Oyler, Rachel Rapp, and Deb Roth took home first place. What’s more, everyone on this team is in the School’s Emerging Leaders Program. It’s a 34-month degree program in which students first earn a Master’s in Management degree in 10 months and then earn an MMS in Physician Assistant Studies with the Wake Forest School of Medicine.
“I feel like each team kept outdoing the other and the professionalism was certainly there,” said Peter Dorsey, a FactSet sales specialist. “For being so early in the program it was great to see how far along the students were in financial analysis, but also applying that analysis in a way that is professional and also productive for us as the hypothetical board members.”
The following faculty, staff, and FactSet representatives saw students through the first round: Pete Brewer, JD Crossen (MA ’14), Peter Dorsey, Neale Hicks, Mark Johnson, Eric Olson, Stacy Owen, Stacey Panchyshyn, Matt Siracusa, Deon Strickland, Bren Varner, and Colleen VonDohlen.
A week after the competition, Davis returned to campus to share an in-depth debrief of the JCPenney case. This time, he shared data and financial statements between 2013 and 2017, giving students a complete picture of how JC Penney restructured debt, raised cash, and developed real estate to change direction in the market. Students asked questions about specifics relating to earnings, cash operations, and restructuring.
After the Q&A, Associate Dean Norma Montague addressed the students. “Do you remember when I met you in July? I told you that you were a diamond in the rough that would be shaped by experiences in this program,” she said. “Did you ever think in July that you’d be able to understand a word a CFO like Jeff Davis said, or follow along as he explained JC Penny’s financial condition? If I had said the word ‘secured’ in July, you would have said it was one thing attached to another. Now you understand that in business this means that the debt is backed by pledged assets. You are learning a whole new vocabulary. The change in you is evident, and the beautiful thing is that we still have seven months together.”
Davis, who resigned from JC Penney in October, is also the parent of a student in the program. “I am a big proponent of the MSM program. The primary reason is having a strong understanding of some of the core tenets of business regardless of what your background is, is so important when you get out and start working, be it in your home, if you’re an entrepreneur, or working for any other business,” he said. “Wake Forest has a unique way of taking some very complex topics and disciplines and breaking it down to its core essence so that it can be absorbed. The School doesn’t dial it down either. The program requires people to think at a higher level. It challenges them.”
Davis said he’s excited to know his daughter will have these same advantages when she enters the workplace after graduation.
“The former CFO of JCP’s attendance for the final four presentations and to then return for a debriefing with our students was a definite highlight of the case competition, Montague said. “The case scenario centered on the liquidity crisis for JC Penney and having one of the executives instrumental in making the actual decisions regarding the future of that company available to us was a tremendous opportunity for our students, the case competition, and the entire program. This is real-world learning that, try though we may, simply cannot be replicated via a paper-based case. He was able to provide invaluable context, color, and real-world lessons to the students’ case experience and we appreciate his participation.”
“Though I was on the first-place team, I think that every team worked equally hard, brought to the table their strengths as team members to work as a group to a strict deadline, as well as honing presenting skills individually and with a team,” Oyler said. “The knowledge, creativity, teambuilding, presentation, and every other skill that was used to go from a 5-page case to a finished presentation in a little over two days are all skills that will help every member of our class in their career searches.”