Management Leadership Association (MLA) is a pre-professional and philanthropic organization based at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Every year, MLA hosts the MLA-Target Case Competition, a fun and educational event that provides opportunities to improve teamwork, presentation, and leadership skills in a real boardroom setting. Each three-person team prepares a 20-minute presentation with their solution to a unique management case study. They then present their recommendations to a panel of experienced Target regional managers who will provide constructive critique and networking opportunities.
Aside from gaining leadership and presentation experience, every team is eligible for prizes amounting to:
$1,500 for 1st place
$1,000 for 2nd place
$500 for 3rd place
Business Scholars and MLA-Target Case Study first place winners of team “Los Gatos,” Blessie Isip ’19 and Maggie Mei ’20, share the details of their experience preparing for the competition and what led to their success as first place winners.
How did you hear about MLA and what prompted you to join?
Blessie: Neither of us are in MLA, but we do know people who are in it and we knew that the case competition comes up every year. Maggie and I really enjoy doing case competitions because we like the problem-solving aspect of it. There is a lot of strategy and creativity involved and each case comes with a different approach. I have participated in Target and PwC Case competitions, while Maggie has been involved in case studies for Deloitte, PwC, and Target.
Maggie: Neither of us are in MLA, so we heard about the Target & MLA Case Competition through the CBA newsletter like other business students. The two of us have participated in three case competitions together, and we have a great team dynamic. We love competing in case competitions because they’re a ton of fun, and you learn a lot of soft skills that you won’t necessarily get from the classroom. The monetary awards are also very motivating.
What is the process for applying for and participating in the MLA-Target Case competition?
Blessie: First, you need to form a group of three team members. Then, you attend a kick-off session about 3.5 weeks prior to the final due date in which you receive the case. However, both of us were very busy at the time, so we weren’t 100% sure that we would have the time to do it. In addition to this, we also didn’t know a third person for our group, and it took us a while to find that person. Once we emailed MLA our information, we were put on a waitlist because we registered when the registration period had passed. Luckily, a team dropped out two weeks before the presentation, and we were able to participate. One of our members ended up not being able to participate due to the lack of time and prior spring break commitments, which was totally understandable. This is how it ended up being just the two of us.
How did you prepare for your presentation?
Blessie: For this case, we had to analyze the competition for one of Target’s departments and provide recommendations on how Target can improve their omni-channel reach. Through process of elimination, we chose to analyze the Baby and Kids department. We wanted to challenge ourselves with the department we chose. Neither of us know that much about consumer product offerings in this category. After that, we began to choose the competitors that we would analyze (Amazon, Walmart, Costco, and buybuy BABY).
Then, we created a SWOT analysis of Target’s own Baby and Kids department. The Opportunities and Threats portion of the SWOT analysis was really interesting because these points have to come from external factors. I’m currently taking Introduction to Marketing (MKTG 360) where we had a few assignments using the Mintel database. Therefore, I used the Mintel database to research which external factors affect Target’s Baby and Kids departments. During my research, I thought it was really interesting how the category of Baby and Kids is so broad and trends can change so fast. For example, a toy train is not going to interest a 12-year-old, but a 4-year-old wouldn’t know what to do with a Nintendo Switch. Target needs to keep this in mind when deciding where to position products. Also, another major trend is that parents are empowering kids to have more influence over purchases. This is a great opportunity for Target to take advantage of in the coming years and it eventually played a role in our final recommendation.
Once we performed our SWOT analysis, we sat down for a few hours to come up with recommendations. This is a big brainstorming part of the case competition. You have to be creative, but the idea has to be feasible for a company to adopt. In the end, we came up with three recommendations: create a meal kit plan for baby food, enhance children’s shopping experiences, and strengthen their marketing for FSA/HSA offerings.
After we completed our PowerPoint, we practiced our presentation all the way up to 15 minutes before our final presentation.
Maggie: The case was about analyzing one of six of Target’s departments: Baby & kids, apparel, electronics, home essentials & groceries, and others that I can’t remember. Our task was to analyze the competitions within that department, perform a SWOT analysis, come up with a recommendation, and do a SWOT analysis of our recommendation.
In terms of the actual presentation, we individually wrote a script of what we were going to say and main points the night before. On the day of the presentation, we practiced both together and individually from 9:00AM - 1:15PM (our presentation was scheduled at 1:30PM).
What challenges did you face during the process of creating your presentation?
Blessie: To me, our biggest challenge was the time constraint. Since we were initially waitlisted, we had about a week less to prepare for the competition and we found out we were accepted right before spring break too! We tried to get as much done over break, working through our spring break plans and we managed to find time to work on the case when class started back up again. Like I said, we really enjoy these case competitions, so it doesn’t really feel like work when we do them.
Maggie: In my opinion, the biggest challenge we faced was coming up with our solution. We had a couple of recommendations, but we felt that none of them were unique enough to push us towards that winning presentation. It took us a while to think of a solution that we were proud of, and one of us got inspiration from a Korean drama called Memories of the Alhambra. It’s a fantasy/romance television show about a fictional augmented reality game. The gaming aspect of the show served as an inspiration for the part of our recommendation that involves transforming the shopping experience for kids.
Even though we are friends and have worked on case competitions in the past, we don’t agree on everything. It took us a while to find that middle ground when it came to fine tuning our solution.
Though the process was challenging, it paid off in a major way. Congratulations to Blessie and Maggie, as well as all the teams who participated in the MLA-Target Case Study Competition!