Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Teams from Top MEM Schools Gain Real-World Lessons in "Business War Games"

By Anna Fiorentino
April 2016 • Thayer By Degrees: MEM

For five weeks, the 4th Annual Master of Engineering Management Programs Consortium (MEMPC) PriSim Business War Games Competition pitted seven teams from the nation’s best Master of Engineering Management (MEM) programs, including Dartmouth's, against each other. Using one of PriSim's computerized business simulations, each group of students functioned as a management team running an auto manufacturing company.

Along with Dartmouth, teams from Northwestern, Cornell, Duke, USC, MIT, and Stanford assigned each of their members a different business role and worked with the online simulation to design and improve the performance of three vehicles. The two Dartmouth teams placed third and fourth out of the five teams participating. Winners from Stanford, Northwestern, and Duke received Nexus 9 tablets from Google. But Dartmouth students left with plenty of other gains.

Dartmouth PriSim Teams
The Dartmouth teams (l to r): Emeka Umeh, Sankar Ananthanarayanan, Min Yin, Yuchen Su, Yu Zheng, Harsha Nalla Reddy, Jing Pan, Eric Hauke

"We started this simulation right at the tail end of our MEM accounting course," says Eric Hauke, MEM'17, who was responsible for his team's distribution. "It proved very helpful, as it was necessary each week to analyze the financials of our company and our competitors. We looked at our debt ratios, cash flow statements, and balance sheets." Joining Hauke on his fourth-place team was Jing Pan MEM'17, who oversaw financing, Harsha Nalla Reddy MEM'17, on manufacturing, and marketing manager Yu Zheng, MEM'17. Dartmouth's third-place team was comprised of Sankar Ananthanarayanan MEM’17, Yuchen Su MEM’17, Emeka Umeh MEM’17, and Min Yin MEM’17.

The competition aims to connect MEM students across the country and raise awareness of the unique degree which combines engineering with business skills. While Dartmouth students have participated in the competition since its inception, this was the first year that teams were organized by school.

"For the first several years we mixed students from various schools on one team, giving them that cross pollination. The logistics of the students working remotely between various schools and time zones made it frustrating, so this year we moved to a school versus school model," says Ross Gortner Th'03 '04, Associate Director of Dartmouth's MEM Program.

"We had restructured how the competition was run this year, and we think it showed a higher level of commitment from participants than we've seen in past years,” adds David Semb of PriSim. "The competition this year was very tight."

In another twist to this year's games, the two Dartmouth MEM teams coincidentally chose to enter the same market: the minivan. That invited an extra set of challenges.

"The competition was fierce between us since we had very similar specs and positioning," says Pan. "At first, we tried to compete by lowering price, but our profit was squeezed and there was no benefit for either of us."

But, embracing the true business problem-solving nature of the competition, the two Dartmouth teams found a solution by negotiating standard pricing to ensure a profit. "We also differentiated our product to target different customer segments, so that both of us had a similar market share,” says Pan.

What made the minivan market appealing in the first place, explains Pan, was the well-established potential customer group and their willingness to pay. "There were no other players in the minivan market at the time we chose it, so we believed it was a good market to enter into to avoid competition and make a profit," he says. "I learned how to think as a board member and about the importance of considering every department and business when making decisions."

In addition to working online, teams met in person twice a week to discuss their decisions. And aside from the three initial designs, they also had an opportunity to design and produce new vehicles in new market segments.

"The key takeaway was that real-world markets usually do not go by predictions," says Nalla Reddy. "It’s important to take into account the unpredictability while making long-term decisions. Sometimes the risks taken pay off and most times they don't, as in our case."

Both Dartmouth teams walked away from the competition not only with a better sense of how to run a business and work as a team, but also with an understanding of how those from other top MEM programs would do the same.

"It was nice to see some creative and smart business strategies deployed successfully by the other teams," says Hauke. "I now know that the other top MEM programs are comprised of very smart, business-savvy young people just like Dartmouth."

Dartmouth's MEM is a professional degree program offered by Thayer in conjunction with Tuck School of Business. The MEMPC, founded in 2005 by former Dartmouth engineering professor Bob Graves to raise awareness about the degree, is a small group of highly selective and forward-thinking professional graduate engineering management programs.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for MEM students to apply what they are learning in a simulated real world environment," adds Gortner. "PriSim provides a great platform for students to engage in the auto industry, where engineering management is so critical."

Tags: design, M.E.M., students

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