'Undercover Boss' twist to Abington business challenge

alumnus Penn State

Manohar Singh of Penn State Abington and Steve Hynes, chief executive officer of MRO Corp. in the Washington's Headquarters conference room, named for the office's proximity to Valley Forge National Historical Park.

Credit: Regina Broscius

An unidentified man observed as college teams presented their findings at the Penn State Abington business challenge. As the second group spoke, Stephen Hynes, a 1990 graduate, decided it was time to ditch the "Undercover Boss"-ish anonymity he wanted when he sponsored the competition.

“It became clear to me as I listened that if I filled in the blanks about our company, the kids could correct any misconceptions in their plans,” Hynes, chief executive officer of MRO Corp., said. “They put hours and hours into their research, and they really wanted to find the right approach to achieve our goals.”

So Hynes, like any good reality TV "Undercover Boss," revealed himself as the head of the company profiled in the case study.

“The students were stunned,” Manohar Singh, division head for social sciences at Abington, laughed. “They realized they were teaching the CEO of this company. It was the climax of the day, a turning point.”


Inc. magazine named Steve Hynes' firm MRO to its Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies in America last year. He gives back to Penn State Abington by helping prepare students for careers through businesses challenges. 

Credit: Regina Broscius

Abington invited teams from more than 200 colleges to analyze a case study and develop recommendations to grow an anonymous firm and create value for its private equity owners. 

Identified as the fictional HIPCO in the case study, MRO's proprietary platform provides an enterprise-wide solution for the secure exchange of protected health information between health care organizations, other providers, government agencies, payers, third-parties and patients.

The judges selected nine written submissions and invited the authors to present their research to a panel of faculty and business leaders at Abington.

“It was interesting exercise for the kids — researching, forming hypotheses, and defending it,” Hynes said. “I was impressed that the students put in so much effort and leveraged the strengths of their teammates."

“It was clear they chose hot button topics and tried to address issues,” he said. “The winner tied in federal regulations and programs and current trends in electronic medical records adoption."

The presentations proved to be a key learning experience for the students. 

“It was apparent that listening to other students gave them ‘ah-ha’ moments," Hynes said. "They were learning as they listened to each other.”

“It was interesting exercise for the kids — researching, forming hypotheses, and defending it.”

-- Penn State alumnus Steve Hynes, 1990, MRO Corp.

Several months ago, Hynes told Singh he wanted to help students master business decision-making skills. The spring business challenge became the jumping-off point, and Hynes plans to continue working to benefit Abington students.

“Anything outside the normal classroom environment is a differentiator in a competitive situation,” he said. “Universities need outside collaborators to invest in these incredibly smart and talented students and merge academics and the real world.”

Hynes strongly endorses the concept of teaching college students to sell themselves and believes developing a customizable degree in sales would put graduates on a faster track to success.

“The job of university is to give kids a foundation so they can get a job including a foundation in sales,” he said. “The sales profession isn't getting off-shored just like IT isn’t going out of style. The skills are embedded in everything”

Hynes' best career advice?

“Don't get caught up in what your job title and money now," he said. "Work for a company that affords you the opportunity to live and grow."

Penn State Abington Business Challenge results 

Judges selected nine teams totaling 17 students to compete in the final round for cash prizes.

  • First Place: Temple University
  • Second Place: Swarthmore College
  • Third Place: Shippensburg University
  • Honorable Mention: Penn State Abington and Penn State Behrend

"Anything outside the classroom is a differentiator. Universities need collaborators to invest in these incredibly smart and talented students and merge academics and the real world."

-- Steve Hynes, chief executive officer of MRO Corp.

Singh, who manages the academic division that includes the business degree, made the students at the challenge among the first to learn about the college's new MBA Fast Track Program. Abington students can obtain their MBA at Penn State Great Valley within one year of completing their four-year undergraduate program at Abington.