Fresh connections, new destinations: NAU business students win regional competition, qualify for international finals

NAU Business Students

With a healthy combination of confidence and nerves, a team of undergraduate students from Northern Arizona University’s W. A. Franke College of Business won a regional supply chain competition in Pomona, California, earlier this month. Having to manage the purchasing, bottling and negotiation of an orange drink company, these NAU students secured one of 30 spots in the worldwide competition held in the Netherlands later this semester.

Trent Scarborough, Kolton Chato, Kevin Walkup and Julia Wolburg Martinez made up the team. It is the first year NAU has competed in this competition, and it was the only school in the competition without a supply chain program. Christopher Scherpereel, one of the two coaches of the NAU team, said competitions like these not only introduce students to industry experts and career opportunities but provide context for the skills students learn in the classroom, taking them outside their comfort zones.

“The supply chain model sounds simple, but decisions from one area of the company directly affect decisions in others,” said Scarborough, a junior-level business economics and finance double major, who acted as the vice president for purchasing for The Fresh Connection, their simulation juice company. “But with practice and through trial and error we were able to discover what works and what doesn’t. We found ourselves overprepared for the competition, which really paid off in our ability to make fast decisions, talk about the next rounds and still have time for laughs.”

The team met several times a week to run through practice with their faculty coaches, Scherpereel, a professor of management, and Scott Hoefle, lecturer of management. Chato, a senior studying finance, acted as the vice president for operations during the competition. He said the preparation allowed them to set a strategy the night before that put them in a good position by allowing the team to focus on what they were comfortable with from their practice, while avoiding trying anything new during the competition, relying on their preparation plans.

The preparation showed. Up against some of the top business schools around the globe, the NAU team had the best performance, finishing the competition with a return of investment of 21.86 percent for the simulation orange drink company. The second-place team measured at 12.08 percent.

“My team and I are so grateful to our professors for coaching us in preparation for the competition and giving us this opportunity to compete,” Chato said. “As a first-generation Navajo student, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete against the best of the best.”

As part of the competition, students used textbook examples to create real-world solutions.

“We proved that the strategies we learned in class could be applied to the business world,” said Walkup, a senior studying management who served as the vice president of supply chain management.

The hard work and preparation didn’t stop in Pomona. Scarborough, Chato, Walkup and Martinez, a marketing major who acted as vice-president of sales will continue building their skills for the Global Student Challenge Finals where their team of four will be expected to run a virtual company suffering from severe losses. The goal will be to make the company profitable again, and it is likely the NAU team will be one of the only undergraduate teams represented. With a cash prize of €20,000 ($21,614.40) and the coveted Global Champion title, the competition will be fierce—and the Lumberjacks are ready.

“I have never been to the Netherlands before, so this is a personal opportunity for me to explore somewhere new and further develop my decision-making skills,” Scarborough said. “This is a huge opportunity for my own professional development and networking across the globe.”

Alexander Daer, Alexis Keene, Robyn Krise and Cameron Pearce also competed on behalf of NAU.

Northern Arizona University LogoMcKenzie McLoughlin | NAU Communications
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