Nora Wang, Prateek Samal, Natasha Cacho, & Madeleine Durand

 

PORTRAITS BY CHUN-LI 'KEN' HUANG

 
 
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It was 8:20 p.m. when Natasha Cacho ordered a celebratory pizza to her room at the Marriott hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego, California, a mere forty minutes before her team was to submit their work. The 24 hours of rigorous research, analysis, and preparation pushed each of the sleep-deprived competitors to their inordinate edge, when disaster finally struck.

The finicky formatting code of Google Drive had kiboshed the working layout of the presentation and sent the presenters into a frenzied panic. Laptops and notebooks flew across the room as everyone tried their luck to unscramble the mess before them. The clock read 8:54, and even the tech-savvy Prateek Samal was still stumped. Their goals had shifted from potential victory to basic survival, and disqualification appeared imminent. “How did you remain calm?” Madeleine Durand responded, “We didn’t.”

October 29, 2017 marked the start of the first International Business Case Competition at the Fowler College of Business at San Diego State University.No one expected Marist, without an international business program, to challenge reputable powerhouses like Washington State University, Villanova University, and the University of Southern California.

Dean of Management Lawrence Singleton commissioned Dr. Detelin Elenkov, a business professor with experience as a judge in case competitions, to put together a diverse team of emissaries. Prateek Samal, a business major from India, Nora Wang, an accounting major from China, Natasha Cacho, a business major from Puerto Rico, and Madeleine Durand, a business major from the U.S. were gathered to form the team.

“The Globalists” were aptly named for their international experience. Prateek, though born in Odisha, India, lived in Poland, Australia, Cuba, and Austria before attending Marist. His father worked at an embassy granting Prateek a vast array of cultural experience to bring to the table. Natasha was raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. At Marist, she toured Southeast Asia through the ASAP program. Nora grew up in China then went to high school in California.

The "Globalists" acheived second place at Marist's first-ever attempt at competing in the International Business Case Competition in San Diego, California. The team was made up of four juniors: Madeleine Durand, a resident of Rexford, New York; Natasha Cacho, a student from Puerto Rico; Nora Wang, a former inhabitant of China; and Prateek Samal, an Indian-born student that has lived in Austria, Poland, Cuba, and Australia. Their unique backgrounds, tangible international wisdom, and an electric chemistry gave the group the edge over top-tier competitors

Madeleine, from Rexford, New York, both grounded “the Globalists” and provided an outlook characteristically Marist. Each contributor drew on their personal experiences and professional interests to carve out their niche in the project. Nora’s interests in analyzing trends through numbers led her to focus her research on regulations and market operations.“Nora is an incredibly reasonable thinker, and often took the devil’s advocate position in our discussions,” Prateek observed.

“Nora the Explora,” as she was known as in high school, prides herself on trying new things and utilizing different mindsets. She derives much of her analytical thinking from literature, which she cites as an integral part of her identity. Natasha’s passion for curtailing discrimination and other problems in the workplace and her expansive knowledge of labor law made her a prime candidate to tackle the human resource and corporate management side of the research. “Natasha radiates positive attitudes. That is a big plus in a team,” Dr. Elenkov said.Madeleine’s motherly instincts quickly took over. She packed everyone extra clothes, snacks, and supplies for their trip to the airport.

 

“When different people come together, they work together. The unity we felt was very rewarding." -Natasha Cacho

 

“The answer to ‘Mom, can’t we just go to Starbucks before we work?’ was always no,”Natasha chuckled. Prateek’s most significant contribution emerged while they were considering strategy for their case: how to improve the suffering Godiva market in Japan. “To have a chance against these bigger schools we had to do something bold. No risk, no reward, and our willingness to take that risk is what could give us the edge,” he thought while brainstorming with the others.

After Madeleine had the group read the case aloud in their room, Prateek made a confident announcement: “Alright guy, we are going to India.” He knew it would be the perfect target. His childhood taught him the importance of chocolate in India’s gift-giving culture, receiving more chocolates than he could ever eat from his aunts and uncles. Nora, from her experience and research, could tell that the chocolate market in Northeast Asia was saturated. Chicken fingers, coffee, and a competitive drive to surprise their opponents fueled them during the 24 hour allotment. They worked tirelessly to exploit this ambitious angle. Natasha valued Prateek’s perfectionism in the face of such a rigid time limit, even when it was frustrating at times. “At first I thought he was picking apart my work, but then I realized he was being extremely honest and sincere. Not many people have the confidence to criticize your work.”

“I often had trouble reasoning my points and we were stepping on each other’s feet. Madeleine explained things well for us and calmed me down,” mentioned Prateek. He wanted to contribute an objective criticism to their work. When technology betrayed the group, tensions peaked. Prateek was finally able to fix the presentation and submit their project with four minutes to spare. The group enjoyed their pizza and a much-needed ten minutes of silence chartered by Madeleine, before plunging back into rehearsal.    

After a night of sparse sleep, they presented and waited. “Since the School had not participated in an event like this previously, there were no real expectations, except we knew our students would perform at a high level,” said Associate Dean James Phillips.= They certainly did not expect Natasha, Nora, Madeleine, and Prateek to beat out six other schools for second place in the competition. “They had an outstanding combination of creativity and rational analysis. Their presentation was creative, but executed in the most practical way. Objectively, they won this,” said Dr. Elenkov.

The diversity of the team played a large role in their victory. “When different people come together, they work together. The unity we felt was very rewarding,” Natasha said. Prateek tried his hardest to keep things professional amongst his colleagues, but according to Madeleine, the four have truly become family. “We’re the weird kind of distant family that you try to avoid during Thanksgiving! And Prateek, well, he’s my bro.” she said, laughing.

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