A global tech firm intent on reshaping its customer engagement model wanted honest feedback and fresh ideas. So a group of QAD executives some of whom are Penn State Abington alumni, presented the challenge for the campus' fourth international business competition.
Each year about 18 students from Abington and its European partner, Hof University of the Applied Sciences in Germany, are selected for the real-world collaboration, officially the course is BA 494. They don't work from a standard case study, which is the norm. And instead of forming teams by school, the Americans and Germans intermingle.
The Germans arrived in Philadelphia, split into five teams with the Abington students, and the clock started. Within 48 hours, they had to perform primary research, develop a solution and present it to a panel of QAD executives -- all while surmounting cultural and communication hurdles within their teams.
"We were put together with people from different cultures as our teammates," Breanne Schneider, an Abington corporate communication major, said. "It's what I can expect in the professional world.”
"I learned to communicate, but it wasn’t just language. I have a sarcastic personality so the Germans didn’t quite understand what I meant," Joe Cusak, a senior business major said. "But we worked it out, and then it was smooth sailing.”
"We were put together with people from different cultures as our teammates. It's what I can expect in the professional world.”
-- Breanne Schneider, Abington student
The group traveled to the company's New Jersey offices for the discovery phase, gathering data and grilling employees for more. QAD executives were invested in the process, making themselves available afterward for additional information just as they would for a consultant or vendor.
Finally, the teams hunkered down in their Center City Philadelphia hotel to complete their research and massage their proposals into cogent presentations.
The judges noticed one team, dubbed BBFM Marketing, in particular that treated QAD as a client of their fictional agency. They also reinforced their ideas with a handout for later review.
Two nontraditional Abington students gave their teams seasoned perspectives. Herman Chen, an entrepreneur and parent on an intense track to earn his degree in two years, handled objections nimbly. And Fauve Bouchard, who works full time at an accounting firm, set the tone for her team with a calm and confident demeanor.
Chris Hageman, senior vice president of Global Customer Support at QAD, was impressed by their output.
"Your presentations were thought provoking," he said. "Your maturity level was off the charts."
The students also received unexpected feedback from members of the QAD leadership team visiting from offices in Germany, India, Australia and the United Kingdom.
"You educated us, and the constructive criticism of our current model was great," one said.
At the close of the competition, the students were exhausted but feeling accomplished.
"It was an unprecedented opportunity to apply our knowledge and our ability to discuss the reasoning behind our decisions," Chen said.
The case competition was organized by Gary Calore, coordinator for intercollegiate and interdisciplinary programs at Abington, and Maximillian Walter, professor of economics at Hof University and visiting scholar at Abington. Chris Hageman, senior vice president of global customer support, and Edgar Wilburn III, customer support consultant, led the QAD team.
Students enrolled in BA 494: International Business Case Competition are selected to participate in the course by Abington faculty.