Making the Case for WorldCom: Students go Toe to Toe in RDS Case Competition

It wasn’t easy, but ultimately, they named a victoror rather, victors.

On Friday, April 8, the Robert Day School of Economics and Finance hosted a case competition involving 60 students who competed in teams for a chance to win $5,000. Challengers ranged from freshman to senior undergraduates and included Robert Day Scholars and RDS Master’s students as well.

The teams of four had to critically evaluate a predetermined business issuein this case, analyzing “Accounting Fraud at WorldCom.” This required them to identify what led to the fraud, as well as address ethical considerations for WorldCom employees. Teams were judged on presentation, reasoning and evidence, creativity, and analysis of ethical considerations, by a panel of CMC professors George Batta, Audrey Bilger, and Alex Rajczi, and practitioners Richard Chino ’90, Allen Van Deventer P’07 and Nicole Cronqvist. After every team completed a presentation in the first round of the competition, three teams were selected to present in the final round. During a reception at the California Club that evening, the winning teammatesall seniorswere announced: Andrew Grimm, Nirant Gupta, Chris Jones and Elizabeth Schmitz-Robinson.

Declaring a winner wasn’t easy, Rajczi said. “Honestly, there wasn’t a single team that made what I would call a mistake.” In his opinion, the winners distinguished themselves with detailed discussions of WorldCom’s troubled financial position. Beyond that, Rajczi says he was most impressed by their evaluations of the moral characters of the company’s two senior managers.

“As a teacher of ethics, I can tell you that most people have a hard time explaining why they make their ethical evaluations,” he said. “They tend to just assert them without backing them up.” But the three finalists were prepared, Rajczi said. “First they described the managers’ actions, then they explained why those actions could be viewed differently by different people. Lastly,” he said, “they gave their own assessment andthis is a key pointthey gave reasons for that assessment.”

Judge Richard Chino ’90 says he was particularly impressed by the winning team’s emphasis on the need for checks and balances, making a comparison between WorldCom and the U.S. government.

“Our team was very driven and committed to the project,” winning team member Andrew Grimm said. “We deliberated, developed a general outline of our points, and practiced our presentation repeatedly.” Not only that, but, “Our team exemplified a liberal arts education,” he added. “Our majors included government, philosophy, international relations, economics, and accounting. Multiple perspectives helped to flesh out a holistic view and to explore a range of crucial factors that led up to WorldCom’s fraud.”

“It was great to see the students experiencing a team-based competition like this,” Chino said. “The case itself presented a good example of how a high-flying business lost its way and ultimately created ethical dilemmas that had to be faced by lower-ranking team members.”

For those hoping to pursue an MBA, he says the competition provides a taste of what to expect in business school.

“Judging the competition was a wonderful experience,” Rajczi said, although narrowing down a winner was difficult. “We felt like we were picking the best from the best,” he said.

“Overall, it was a pleasure to see how many students dedicated themselves to this task and put forth such great effort,” Chino added. “I hope all participants learned many lessons from this experience that will help them in their careers.”

As for Grimm, Gupta, Jones, and Schmitz-Robinson, they split the $5,000 evenly. Grimm says he’s putting his share towards a post-graduation trip, and an apartment in Los Angeles when he starts work at Deloitte Consulting. As for his classmates’ post-grad/career plans, he says Schmitz-Robinson will go on to Stanford Law, Gupta to McKinsey Consulting in San Francisco, and Jones also to San Francisco, to work at Deloitte.

Kelsey Brown ’13