"If you don't know how to use data in business, you can't be an effective executive in the modern world," says Craig Dixon, '97, J.D. '00, Co-Founder, The St. James.
On May 16th, The Raymond A. Mason School of Business hosted the third annual Data Feast Competition in conjunction with The St. James and The Boehly Center for Excellence in Finance. "Data is everything in business. We are reliant as managers, entrepreneurs, and business leaders to understand what is happening in the business and use the information to make sound decisions," explained Dixon. "Evaluating the quality of those decisions in real-time can be very powerful enablers." Dixon stressed to the competitors that the skills they are learning in the Masters of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) program will prove to be invaluable assets to the organizations they will soon join.
It is clear that data matters. But why? Ultimately, it tells a story. During the keynote speaker address, Etim Edim '98 and Executive Director/CFO Technology, Operations, Resilience Divisions, Morgan Stanley conveyed, "Data visualization helps you represent the data and the analysis, but storytelling helps you communicate that information to your audience, and that is what really takes you to another level as a leader."
The Business School and The Boehly Center recognize the importance of measuring progress and preparing students for a data-driven world. This digital transformation requires a high level of fluency and aptitude and the best way to prepare students for mastery in this field is through real-world experience. Partnering with two Tribe alumni-owned companies: Eldridge, a private investment firm, and The St. James, a large sports, wellness, and entertainment complex in Northern Virginia, the competition provides an invaluable sandbox in which students can test their mite in the realm of business acumen and technical/implementation skills.
In its third year, this case competition gives teams of Residential and Online MSBA students a project that takes them several weeks to complete. Professor Joe Wilck, Professor of Business Analytics and Machine Learning helps coach and mentor the students, alongside other professors and advisors. Unlike business analytics case competitions at other universities, the students are judged on their data science aptitude and business acumen. "Our students must showcase their technical rigor alongside the ability to articulate the business value of their work effectively," says Wilck. "We approach this competition with a double pitch mentality that requires technical expertise and the ability to communicate with impact."
"One must be able to make the data more easily digestible and comprehensible. That's where data visualization plays a key role. It's essentially the triangulation of data analysis with graphics, or the visual elements, along with a well-thought-out narrative to be able to tell your story and present your findings or outcomes," Edim says. "One of the key skillsets that you can learn as you study data analytics is the desolation and presentation of the data." And according to a 2019 Deloitte survey, "70 percent of employers report that advancing in their firm is contingent on exhibiting strong analytical and presentation skills."
This year's competition challenged the students' ability to apply what they have learned in the classroom to an ambiguous real-world problem. Several weeks before this year's competition, each team was given actual data from The St. James. Together with their own research, students utilized the information to analyze customer behavior in the realm of digital engagement. The students were tasked with providing modeling, analysis, and a dashboard showcasing how The St. James could better reach its current and future customer base in the digital space. "We benefit from receiving unique and impartial insights from students," says The St. James Co-Founder, Kendrick Ashton '98. "The information is penetrating, useful, and impactful, and we will be able to leverage this data interpretation to further our vision and realize our full potential."
During the competition, team members tuned in to share pre-recorded presentations and then participate in a live Q&A with judges. The competition consisted of one affiliated judging panel combining business & technical acumen with one judging rubric. A special thank you to this year's technical judges: Eric Druker - Data Science Director (Central Integrity), Meta; Karen Jackson - President, Apogee Strategic Partners & former Virginia Secretary of Technology; Guillermo Rodríguez-Abitia - Professor of Operations & Information Systems Management; and Som Saadat - Managing Director, Condor Advisory LLC. We also thank this year's business judges: Ashley Shaffer - Director of Strategy & Operations, The St. James; Bryce Snape - Managing Director, FTI Consulting; and Phillip Wagner - Professor of Management Communications.
It was wonderful to have such a broad array of insight from diverse judges. The students' analyses gave The St. James new insights and recommendations for actionable opportunities to engage their clientele in the digital space. The panel feedback enabled students to refine their pitch skills and absorb invaluable critiques to apply to future endeavors.
Ashton and his fellow The St. James co-founder Craig Dixon '97, J.D. '00 continue to be excited about partnering with their alma mater. "William & Mary is an extraordinary place, and we value the experiences we had there as students and the ability to give back. This is truly a win-win for all involved."
The two winning teams each received a $1,000 prize made possible by Eldridge and The St. James to be shared amongst the team members. With another year of successful competition and fruitful insight, the program looks forward to expanding in the year to come and, hopefully, hosting an in-person competition in 2023.
The Mason School launched the residential and online MSBA in 2015 and 2018, respectively. The programs continue to grow and incorporate immersive experiential learning opportunities giving students an edge in a competitive marketplace.
"This competition exemplifies everything we are doing right in the classroom. I absolutely love this event. I think it is right over the center of the plate at who we are as the Raymond A. Mason School of Business," says Mason School Dean Larry Pulley '74.
A hearty congratulations to the 2022 Data Feast Case Competition winners:
Business Acumen Winners:
- Aaron Freed: LinkedIn
- Jay Boyd: LinkedIn
- Reed Whitmer: LinkedIn
- Brandon Parkman: LinkedIn
- Cait Smith: LinkedIn