Battle of the Biz

By Brian Benson

As January comes to an end, Northeastern’s hockey teams prepare for the Beanpot tournament, while another group of students practices for a Beanpot of their own – one with calculators and case studies instead of ice and pucks.

Instead of skating around Matthews Arena, these students sit in a Dodge Hall classroom hammering out solutions to real-life problems for nine hours on a Sunday afternoon. They are training for the 2007 Business School Beanpot Case Analysis Competition, a grueling day-long challenge held Feb. 24 at Boston University, where teams analyze a case study of a real-life business situation.

Northeastern has won eight of the 10 Beanpots held so far, including the last four.

“It takes you way beyond the classroom into the real world,” said Raymond Kinnunen, a College of Business Administration professor nicknamed “Coach K” by his team. He has coached Northeastern’s team since the beginning of the competition.

Team member Adam Heath, who is returning for his second year, agreed with Kinnunen about the real-world aspects of the competition, adding it is also stressful.

“It’s an extremely tense, pressure packed day,” the senior finance and accounting major said.

To be a member of the team, students must go through a rigorous interview process.

Another returning member Rachel Schaffer, a senior music industry, marketing and entrepreneurship major, said she was apprehensive at first.

“I didn’t have any idea what it was [when Kinnunen contacted me before last year’s Beanpot],” she said. “But I read past articles Coach K sent me and decided it was right up my alley.”

After a series of interviews with professors and past team members, Schaffer learned she had made the team.

“It was quite a long haul,” she said. “I was really excited to be selected.”

The annual competition, which is judged by Fortune 500 company executives, is between Northeastern, Babson College, Bentley College, Boston University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Suffolk University. It was started by two BU students in 1997.

The Northeastern team credits much of its success to Kinnunen’s leadership.

“No one that I’ve met knows more about winning,” said Jess Toochin, a senior finance major. “He stresses preparation and we [examine cases] so many times it just becomes second nature.”

Heath compared Kinnunen to New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

“He’s just like Belichick – hard work and preparation,” Heath said. “He’s definitely an asset at everything he does.”

While the team changes each year, current members called Kinnunen the one constant that keeps his team ahead of the competition.

“Everyone’s trying to copy our recipe,” Heath said. “It’s the ultimate form of flattery.”

This winning strategy attracted new members this year, including senior finance major Rob Mandeville.

“[My decision] was based on the successful tradition, ” he said. “It’s a prestigious competition, the knowledge we gain is invaluable.”

For six weeks leading up to last year’s competition, Schaffer and her teammates analyzed case studies, practicing all day Saturdays and Sundays with debriefing sessions during the week.

“I learned more in those six weeks than in any course I could have taken,” she said.

Mandeville said much of this experience cannot be replicated in a traditional educational environment.

“We learn a lot of skills you can’t necessarily gain in the classroom,” he said. “It teaches you a different way to think about problems that arise.”

All the intense preparation paid off as Northeastern’s team won the 2006 Beanpot, their fourth consecutive championship.

“Winning was the best,” Schaffer said. “It was one of the greatest moments of my life. You get treated like a rock star.”

Over the long hours of training a strong bond has formed among the teammates.

“We’re all type-A personalities,” Schaffer said. “You meet people who become friends of yours for life.”

With three weeks before this year’s competition, the team is confident it can earn its ninth championship.

“It’s not genuine arrogance,” Toochin said. “We just have so much faith in our abilities.”

Heath said he hopes to celebrate a second Beanpot victory.

“I don’t know anything else and I don’t want to know anything else,” he said. “I want to remember how great it is to win.”

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