And then there was one!

At APICS 2018, Bradley University was awarded the student case competition prize

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I'll be honest: Prior to watching the semi-final and final rounds of the student case competition at APICS 2018 in Chicago, I'd never heard of Bradley University, a private university in Peoria, Illinois with about 5,400 students. The school's tagline is: Mid-sized. Big difference.

The Big Difference was on display as Bradley's team of four supply chain students was awarded the case competition prize for excellence in supply chain management strategy on Monday at the APICS conference. The annual competition, done this year in collaboration with Deloitte, celebrates real-world problem solving and technical knowledge within supply chain management. The first runner up was a team from Georgia Tech while the second runner up was from Harvey Mudd College. The winners will divide $5,000 in prize money and their schools will divide $2,500. In addition, APICS funded travel to the conference for the 7 teams that participated in the event.

The final round, held this past Sunday, was the culmination of a nearly one-year long competition, the first year APICS collaborated with Deloitte on the case competition. In the very first round, some 200 teams from around the world were give a real-life case from Deloitte's files (names and details were altered to protect client confidentiality) to work on and submit electronically, including a 5 minute long video. The initial 200 was winnowed down to 60 teams from 8 regions who traveled to a Deloitte office to compete head to head. The 8 regional winners were invited to APICS, with travel provided. They included four U.S. schools, plus one each from Canada, Mexico and India. The eighth regional winner from Egypt was unable to obtain Visas. It was truly a diverse group of young men and women from around the world and representing the global supply chain workforce of the future.

Seven were winnowed to three following a 9-hour plus day on Saturday. That morning, they were all given 45-minutes to address a supply chain problem; then they were all given the same case study to analyze. The question before them was whether the merger of Style, Inc., a high fashion retailer of shoes and handbags, and Nice Things, a smaller competitor in the same space, could deliver at least $10 million in savings through supply chain synergies. The students had about 5 hours to do their analysis, create a powerpoint and rehearse their presentation.

I asked Dean Martinez, APICS's chief operating officer and general counsel, what is the goal of the case competition. “Most competitions focus on how the supply chain teams use a tool,” Martinez said. “We want to see how they become leaders. The only way to do that is to be able to communicate your ideas. If you can't convince those above and below you, you can't be a leader.” The other aspect of the competition that Martinez believes is unique is the focus on real world problems, developed from Deloitte client engagements. To that end, Martinez says the judges know the right answer – or the answer that Deloitte developed for its clients.

That said, the students have to have a right, or nearly right answer, but it doesn't have to be the same as the one that Deloitte came up with. Moreover, what really counts is how well, and how confidently, a team communicates its conclusions and recommendations. “It goes back to the focus on leadership,” Martinez says. That was apparent in the presentations by the three finalists, who each had different savings projections and similar, but different, recommendations on how the merged companies could achieve savings and what their network might look like.

Beyond the cash prizes and bragging rights, what do the competitors walk away with? Martinez believes they benefit from their exposure to Deloitte and other professionals who might be hiring. “They get a chance to hone their skills and convey that they can compete at this level and do this job,” Martinez said.

Registration is now open for the 2019 competition, and first-round entries are due October 31, 2018. More information about the APICS Case Competition is available at


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About the Author

Bob Trebilcock, MMH Executive Editor and SCMR contributor
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Bob Trebilcock is the editorial director for Modern Materials Handling and an editorial advisor to Supply Chain Management Review. He has covered materials handling, technology, logistics, and supply chain topics for nearly 40 years. He is a graduate of Bowling Green State University. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at 603-852-8976.

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