University of Pittsburgh

commons room

Winning Future

Written by Jennifer Bails

Four business students sit nervously in a conference room at the Pittsburgh headquarters of telecom giant Ericsson, where they are being addressed by a group of senior managers. The Pitt MBA students are handed a challenge that would test even the most seasoned corporate executives. In just three months, they must analyze the market for a new product that could transform the way people communicate—and figure out how Ericsson can position itself as the leader of this coming revolution.

The managers explain that the product, known as quadplay, refers to using the same networks to provide television, home and mobile phone services, and broadband Internet. These megabundles would offer consumers unprecedented digital freedom, they say. The Pitt students nod intently and take notes, trying to understand what quadplay is and why customers would want it.

“We walked into that first meeting not knowing what it was, and I’m not sure our client did either,” student Tom Higgins recalls later. Through subsequent meetings and phone calls and e-mails, the Pitt students and Ericsson business executives clarified how the new product would connect household digital devices. Customers could, for example,  use their cell phones to record programs on their TVs or continue watching a favorite sitcom when they leave their homes.

Higgins and his teammates—Craig Romanek, Tien-I Shen, and Gurpreet Ubhi—collaborated with Ericsson last fall through a Pitt project course in which MBA students worked in consulting teams to advise local companies and governmental organizations on real-world problems. For their project, they carried out a national survey to study the consumer market for quadplay. They interviewed top executives at leading communications companies to dissect the customer base, growth patterns, and financials. They also used advanced strategic planning methods to develop a program Ericsson could follow to implement quadplay.

Their extensive research and hard work earned them the top prize among 70 students participating in the Katz School’s McKinsey Cup Playoffs last year. Launched in 2006, the competition is sponsored by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company to reward students for excellence in business consulting. “The McKinsey Cup competition is part of a broader effort at the Katz School to give our students an increasing amount of experience-based learning so they have the tools to understand the business process,” says Bud Smith Jr., clinical professor of strategy, environment, and organization, who leads the project course.

In honor of the victory, the four students’ names were inscribed on the winners’ trophy. But more importantly, they learned firsthand how a business operates and what’s happening in today’s warp-speed world of communications technology.

“Everyone will start hearing about quadplay in three to five years,” Higgins predicts. Keep your ears open.