The winning team from Rutgers Business School in Newark was made up of students (from left) Erika Uchinaite, Dhrumil Shah, Charlotte Lin, Anna Sista, Sophia Gonzalez, Renato Franco-Rosas and Nicole Perez.

Diversity and friendship strengthened top team's performance in Johnson & Johnson case competition

The seven Rutgers Business School students from Newark who won the Johnson & Johnson national case competition were methodical about their preparation, turning an the old adage about practice makes perfect into something of a mantra.

Dhrumil Shah, one of four juniors on the team, said the practice didn’t let up even after the students went through two rounds of competition in early March to win the chance to represent Rutgers Business School in the national competition.

"Even during spring break, we kept working," said Shah, who is studying management information systems. "We added more ideas to try to improve our presentation, and we kept practicing, practicing, practicing."

Shah and his team mates – sophomores Renato Franco- Rosas, Anna Sista and Qiongshan "Charlotte" Lin as well as juniors Nicole Perez, Erika Uchinaite and Sofia Gonzalez – won the March 27 competition over nine other teams, including Penn State, Ohio State, Rider and Seton Hall. A team from Rutgers Business School-New Brunswick also participated. The winners received $5,000 in prize money.

In the competition, the student teams were given three options for expanding Johnson & Johnson's Listerine product line with a children’s mouth wash, a whitening mouth wash or an all-natural mouth wash. The teams were provided with demographic information, financial and administrative cost data as well as various options for packaging and marketing.

Each team had to select an option and then explain their strategies from both a marketing and financial perspective during a 20-minute presentation. Afterward, they faced 10 minutes of questions from three judges, all senior Johnson & Johnson executives.

The Rutgers Business School students, who are from seven different countries, used their diversity to emphasize a multi-cultural approach in the global marketing plan they developed in the competition.

Sista, who is studying accounting, said the fact that everyone was from different countries resulted in more ideas about how to approach their case, especially the marketing aspect. "We tried to take as many ideas as we could and come up with an all-around marketing strategy," she said.

The team also found a way to charm the judges by highlighting its diversity as they introduced one another and identified their home countries. Sista always introduced herself last, telling the panel of executives judging the competition that she was from the "good old USA."

"That made the judges laugh every time," she said.

While the team used its diversity as an advantage, it was also something that required them to work harder when they were writing and refining their presentations. "I needed to make sure everyone was able to say what they needed to say," said Sista, the only native English speaker in the group. "When everyone was writing up their part, we helped one another. We did every part together and then practiced, practiced, practiced.”

During spring break, Shah said Marc Kalan, an assistant professor of professional practice in Rutgers Business School's marketing department, spent several hours with them, providing feedback. They also had friends who helped them prepare for the questions from judges.

The team used a combination of simulated television and social media ads, print ads, brochures and coupons as part of their marketing strategy. The students also employed a SWOT analysis to evaluate strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats involved in their venture as well as a complete financial analysis and break-even charts to support their decisions.

Sista and Shah said a strong friendship also strengthened the team. "It was definitely an advantage knowing one another,” Sista said. "We knew one another’s strengths and weaknesses, and we could be more honest.”  

Joe Markert, an instructor in the Department of Management and Global Business who organized the Newark campus stage of the competition involving 15 teams, said case competitions like the one sponsored by Johnson & Johnson offer students a chance to demonstrate their skills and knowledge to business professionals.

"Each student gains a perspective on decision-making at the corporate level as well as an understanding of trends and business needs in the health care marketplace,” Markert said. "Just as important, students create and develop their networking skills, enhance their workplace collaboration and gain a perspective of today’s global economy."

For the students, some of those lessons might still be sinking in. When they were announced as the winners at Johnson & Johnson’s headquarters on that Friday in March, the students cried and screamed and jumped up and down.

"Everyone," said Sista who had urged everyone to maintain a sportsman-like demeanor, "freaked out."

It was understandable though. As Shah put it when the team was still savoring its success: “We had a goal in mind: We would try our best. We really worked so hard to do that.”

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