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Wisconsin Investment Banking Case Competition Puts Undergraduate Students in the Driver’s Seat

By Clare Becker | Photography by Paul L. Newby II

April 21, 2022

Amit Kumra, Brianna Sypolt, Finn Williams, Nora Blake, and Ryan Burnett
The WSB-wide Wisconsin Investment Banking Case Competition featured 60 student participants with the winner and top two teams receiving monetary awards thanks to the Nathan S. Brand Award for Excellence in Finance.

A household name synonymous with summer barbeques and family get-togethers, this consumer brand has enjoyed decades of market dominance with its outdoor grills thanks to quality workmanship and Midwestern roots. But now, Company X is a rumored target for acquisition. Senior management and the board of directors need some answers—and they need them fast. What is Company X’s value as a standalone company? What is the profile of a front-running acquirer? Would this be a positive strategic deal for Company X? What about maximum buyer prices? Should Company X just stay independent?

Such was the financial valuation challenge posed to Wisconsin School of Business finance students this January during the first-ever WSB-wide Wisconsin Investment Banking Case Competition, hosted by WSB’s Department of Finance, Investment, and Banking and the Wisconsin Investment Banking Club. Students competing in the real-life consumer retail case were tasked with analyzing and synthesizing data on the company, creating actionable recommendations and a proposal, then pitching it live to a panel of faculty and industry judges and receiving their feedback.

Ryan Burnett (BBA ’24), a finance and economics major with a data science certificate, says the competition was a fantastic experience. “I was able to not only apply everything I had learned in my various finance classes, but also explore my interest in investment banking. The case competition has given me an applied investment banking experience not many other students may have.”

Teams received valuable input and coaching during the review stage from Brad Chandler, director of the Nicholas Center for Corporate Finance and Investment Banking , and Marisa Mackey Palmer, senior finance lecturer. The competition was judged by WSB alumni and industry leaders Adam Taetle (BBA ’90), senior managing director with Evercore and a WSB Dean’s Advisory Board member, and Benjamin Riback (BBA ’97), managing director of consumer and retail with William Blair. The winner and the two top placing teams received monetary awards thanks to the Nathan S. Brand Award for Excellence in Finance.

The competition offers students the chance to learn by doing, building key skills in the solving of real-world business problems that will help position them for investment banking success. WSB’s Finance Program Director, Jamie Macias, says alumni and recruiters almost always comment that WSB students are “very well prepared.”

“We want to make sure that [students] have the academic and the professional skills preparation to get them ready for their desired career pathway.”

Jamie Macias

“They have the accounting, the finance, the holistic business acumen to be successful on the job. I think our students also have this element of grit and work ethic that on Wall Street is unparalleled, and that opens up a lot of great doors for career progression down the road,” she says. “But the flip side of that Wisconsin work ethic and Wisconsin spirit is that they tell our students that they’re too humble and not confident enough at times. That’s why we’re trying to do more of these applied experiences at scale.”

Macias is also an advisor to WSB’s Wisconsin Investment Banking Club, a role which sparked the idea for a revamp of the case competition tradition. “The club has, for many years, run an internal case competition open to all of its sophomores, which was about 25,” she says. “It was a great learning experience for them to work on a real-life case, present, and then get feedback. So, we decided to expand the case competition: We partnered with the club and made it the first Wisconsin Finance Investment Banking Case Competition. We ended up having 60 students sign up—we tripled the size of it.”

The club also assigned junior and senior year mentors to each of the eight teams. “It was a privilege to serve as a mentor for this incredible group,” says Amit Kumra (BBA ’22). “As an incoming investment banking analyst, it was a very unique experience reviewing work instead of generating it for the client.”

Transforming the undergraduate finance degree

The restructured competition integrates well into what is a larger vision already underway for the finance program—transforming the undergraduate degree. Macias says that process is taking place in the following ways:

Diversifying the student body: “The finance industry is really striving to become a more inclusive, diverse place. They’ve invested a lot in trying to create opportunities for more women, underrepresented minority students, and other historically underrepresented identities within the finance industry including LGBTQ plus, disability, and veteran status.”

Career readiness and pathway skills: Macias says that investment banking recruiting timelines have shifted earlier over the last five to six years, and students need to be prepared with interview skills and via applied experiences.“We want to make sure that they have the academic and the professional skills preparation to get them ready for their desired career pathway.” Burnett says the competition also strengthened his interview skills. “It has allowed me to better understand the material I study for technical interviews, to sound more knowledgeable when discussing recent finance trends, and it has given me a great team experience to elaborate on in behavioral interviews.”

Alumni and employer networks: Equitable access to the WSB network is critical, Macias says. Even in an extremely competitive environment, “our network is what has allowed us to be successful. We have many passionate alumni, parents of Badgers, and people working in industry that have advocated hard for Wisconsin students within their organizations. And that has allowed us to build some really strong, sustainable pipelines at certain firms where we’re placing numbers of students each year.”

Along with these key areas, the finance program aims to increase its current 93 percent job placement rate to 98 percent by 2025. Macias says the program is also interested in assessing student satisfaction with their job placements.

“The successful delivery of this competition has inspired Wisconsin Finance to look into other signature experiences at scale,” says Macias. “This is just the beginning of our great transformation efforts to make sure our finance students and alumni are ready for the future of finance.”