Friday, November 4, 2011

IN HOT WATER: MBA Leadership Fellows Manage a Business Crisis

Scenario: The people of Grayling, Michigan are getting sick from drinking nitrate-contaminated tap water. A baby has died. STAR Global Beverage Company subsidiary, AquaStar, the bottled water company pumping water from Grayling’s water supply, is a possible scapegoat, along with the area farmers who have over-applied nitrate-rich fertilizers into the soil.

Taking on the role of a crisis management team working for STAR’s CEO, two teams of Terry MBA Leadership Fellows vied for top honors in the first business crisis simulation of the school year and presented their recommendations to STAR’s “Board of Directors.” Their presentations demonstrated that having the right answer is not necessarily the solution to the case. In this simulation, both teams came up with the right answer for dealing with the crisis, but the real test was knowing how an executive team presents to a corporate board. Besides bragging rights, each member of the winning team received a $500 award.

"The greatest takeaway I had from the crisis challenge was the value I found in constantly being challenged to defend a position. Our group spent almost 2/3 of our time simply debating the opportunities presented to us and taking turns poking holes in each path we could devise. I think in the end, we were better prepared to defend our stance since we had already come up with and at least attempted to address all the possible issues with taking that option. There wasn't going to be a perfect option, but we learned how to most effectively find and defend the route we chose," Emily Nerland, MBA '12.

Terry invited business people from the Athens area and from the University community to serve as STAR’s “Board of Directors” and judges of the competition. They included Matt Kirby, a Terry alumnus, survivor of the Worldcom and Wachovia debacles, and current owner operator of a local Chic-fil-A restaurant; Lauren Loftin, Conservation Education Specialist with the Athens-Clarke County Government; Dr. Nick Berente, successful entrepreneur and member of Terry’s MIS faculty; and Dr. Todd Rasmussen, hydrology and water resources expert from the UGA Forestry department.

“The case was quite realistic. I see problems like this all the time. Land contamination leaching into the local water supply is a serious issue in many communities,” said Dr. Rasmussen, who has served as an expert witness in water-related lawsuits. “Both teams came up with a balanced solution that addressed immediate needs, like providing uncontaminated water to Grayling, and longer term solutions, like enforcement of environmental regulations and community agreements on water and land usage.”

The MBA Leadership Fellows will face another crisis challenge in the spring.