SIU teams among leaders in international business competition
CARBONDALE, Ill. — Top Dawgs. That’s where not one but two teams of Southern Illinois University Carbondale business students have been for weeks now in the long-term, ongoing Capsim simulation business competition.
Teams from around the globe participate during intense, eight-week sessions that result in a final score determining their placement on an overall leaderboard. Amazingly, for more than seven weeks, the scores by two Saluki teams have bested impressive worldwide competition to remain in the top 10% (decile) of the ever-changing number of teams, said Marcus Odom, the professor of accountancy and Deloitte and Touche Faculty Fellow in the College of Business and Analytics who taught the summer class in managerial accounting and control for both teams.
“The experience our students get from the Capsim competition is priceless,” Odom said. “Having a team, let alone two teams, finish the competition in the top decile shows the caliber of students that we have in our program. There are teams from many top universities, both in the United States and internationally, that participate in Capsim, which provides our students with a gauge of how they match up worldwide.”
Odom said students in his MBA course participate in the competition every year and some teams have fared well in the past. But he doesn’t remember ever having two teams in the top group.
“It’s tough competition,” Odom said. “They were competing against teams from Ohio State University, Columbus State University and EGADE Business School sede Monterrey, just to name a few.”
Capsim lists teams on the top of its roster alphabetically, so it’s impossible to know exactly which team is leading the list at any given time, but Odom said the length of time a team spends on the list is an indicator of how good it is.
Team One from SIU includes:
- Michael Jessup, of Carterville, Illinois, who also works as a business adviser and program coordinator for the Illinois Small Business Development Center at SIU.
- Eric Hildebrandt, of Murphysboro, Illinois.
- Brian Ward, of Carterville, Illinois, who has an analytics specialization.
Members of the second SIU team are:
- Curtis Drake, of Marion, Illinois.
- Scott Tablerion, of Anchorage, Alaska.
- Samantha Walker, of Anna, Illinois.
All are online MBA students with the exception of Walker, who is a Master of Science in business analytics student.
What’s it all about?
Capsim is a CAPstone SIMulation, used by more than 1,500 universities and companies. Odom said each of the eight weeklong rounds represents one year in the life of a business. After each “year,” the teams analyzed their results, prepared reports and made decisions for the next round.
“Capsim provides the students with a true experience of the types of decisions that companies make in the real world,” Odom said. “They get to see how the many different functional areas within a business have to make decisions and how those decisions affect other areas. In addition, the students compete against other teams within the same industry, so they get to see how their results are directly impacted by their competitors. One of the biggest things they take away from the Capsim experience is learning that a business is made up of many parts, and all of those parts are important and need to work together and not in a silo.”
Jessup said the competition was intense but also quite rewarding.
“Our first product was a microchip,” he said. “We looked not just at the manufacturing of the piece, but also at the employee training, stocks, financing, marketing and so many other factors. There were a lot of moving pieces. We added multiple products and product lines. It got very in-depth and complicated as we added more technology and changed inventory practices, just like they do in the real world. There are a lot of decisions that must be made. My decisions this week will affect how everybody competing against us does next week. If I cut my price, then I have to ask how it will affect my quality and my profits. This simulation really makes you think about all aspects of business operation.”
Hildebrandt said all of the teams start with the same basic product and funding and go from there.
"We read through pages and pages of guides to understand the program,” he said. “We studied to gain the best market advantages. We learned to negotiate and capitalize on the market. It involved a lot of networking and strategizing, experience with difference scenarios, figuring out where the cash flow was going and how to use debt to create wealth. It was almost like a sport.”
Countless hours, strategy involved
The students said they learned how to make conflict productive.
“We had very in-depth conversions. Some were over three hours long,” Hildebrandt said. “It was pretty important to determine our company’s footprint and strategy and stick to it, then utilize the feedback from the other teams and the weekly results. It was almost like playing chess. The reality is that strategy can be costly, and it takes time.”
Jessup said he and his teammates had “a lot of arguments and arm wrestling over which way to go, but we were always able to come to an agreement. We failed and we won as a team. We adjusted and we moved forward.”
“We would have some pretty heated discussions, debating the pros and cons of our decisions,” he said. “But I think that’s a good thing. We worked hard and did a lot of research, and at the end of the day, we tended to leave our sessions fairly confident in our decisions.”
They said they kept two things in mind. First, Jessup said, they would frequently say “I’m not moved, but I can be persuaded,” and it became the team’s motto and their approach to differences of opinion. And second, they remembered where they started.
“During the process of the simulation, we worked things in that we learned as the class went along, too,” Hildebrandt said. “Strategy is what you come up with and put into play through your actions. We would restate our initial strategy in our meetings. It's important to stick to your strategy, be patient and consistent. We were getting great results, and any time we were tempted to do anything drastic, we would remind ourselves of the strategy and plan we adopted when we started. It was effective and helped us stand up to the challenges.”
A few revelations
During the challenge, the participants experienced some surprises.
“One of the biggest things I took out of it is that debt for companies is very different than debt for individuals,” Jessup said. “Personally, I don’t like to have any debt. But a business can use debt wisely with a different mindset to manipulate things to its advantage. For instance, with our business, we were able to use debt ratio to give our customers extra time to pay us for products they purchased and to pay our creditors for materials we purchased more quickly. Both of those things made us more attractive to people wanting to do business with us and that in turn increased the profits of our business.”
That also was a bit of a shock to Hildebrandt, who earned his bachelor’s degree in nursing and has experience as a paramedic and nurse and is exploring a career as a hospital CFO or operating his own healthcare business. He noted that in the later rounds of the competition, his team had maxed out its advertising budget and was searching for a strategic move to maintain high profits.
“We looked at accounts receivable and gave our clients an extended time period to make their first payment and that ended up playing in our favor,” Hildebrandt said. “We made $178+ million in sales while another team topped $212 million in sales, but when all the factors such as overhead costs and total profits were taken into account, we came out ahead. Our company had a better overall structure than our competitors did. A business can leverage debt and invest capital and turn debt into profit.”
The SIU teams were proud to point out that they did not require emergency loans. The business students also said that despite all the hours and hard work, they were glad that a prediction made at the beginning of the class came true.
“They told us that we would we surprised by the amount of fun that we would have with this project, and I would agree,” said Ward, who earned his bachelor’s degree psychology and is now exploring ways to combine that with business for a career where he can make a difference.
Odom said he’s proud of the SIU teams not only for their results, but for how well they worked together to meet the challenge before them.
“The overall experience the students get from this competition cannot be measured,” Odom said. “They have to learn to work in teams and develop those critical skills while actually competing. I believe that the team skills they develop are as important, if not more, than the business acumen they gain from running the simulation.”