Careers & Student Outcomes

Stevens Team Earns Gold Medal in Global Scaling Competition

Online MBA students from Pfizer demonstrate strategic acumen.

The Stevens School of Business team of Chinthaka Chandrawansha, Rachèle Nestor, Tara Otegui and Douglas Sutherland took the “global” part of the 2024 Global Scaling Challenge literally.

All first-year online MBA students, their countless hours of work from locations all around the nation, and even during a vacation to a family wedding in Sri Lanka, paid off with a gold-medal winning effort at the annual competition that “offers participating teams and mentors a unique opportunity to understand and solve complex scaling needs and challenges that firms face operating in a highly diverse environment.” Teams were tasked with creating one-year, five-year and 10-year strategies to grow the business of chosen companies. They remotely presented their plans to judges and representatives of those firms.

The top three finishers from the three regional challenges (Americas, Asia and Oceania, and Europe and Africa) advanced to the global round. The teams had roughly three weeks to prepare their strategy for the regional competition and only 16 days to create new plans for their two new firms in the finals.

“I was in Sri Lanka during that time,” Chinthaka said of their final preparation. “The 10.5-hour time difference was a challenge, but I think we were able to turn it into a blessing. Rachèle and I were working closely together and worked around the clock. She would work during the day where she was, and I would work during the day where I was. But the last few days, we were all working on Eastern time so I didn’t sleep for about 36 hours.”

Aside from all-nighters, the team also had one other important thing in common. All four work at Pfizer in various roles, utilizing the company’s corporate partnership with the School of Business. Chinthaka is an automation engineering manager in North Carolina, Rachèle is an oncology precision medicine institutional specialist in the Washington, D.C., area, Tara is a senior associate scientist working in clinical trial labs in Pearl River, New York, and Douglas is the quality control laboratory manager for a site in Rochester, Michigan that makes a specialized form of penicillin.

“I ultimately want to get to a position in my career where I am on the strategic side of things,” Douglas said. “Be the decision maker; less doing and acting, more planning and checking. I think an MBA gives you the background and the knowledge to make very impactful decisions. Stevens and Pfizer have a partnership, and I think it's amazing. It allows me to continue to work and take classes in the evenings.”

None of the four knew each other from their work roles, but they had been in a class together before starting Marketing Management taught by professor Gary Lynn. Before the semester began each student had to submit a video stating their case about why they would make the best CEO of a company. Little did they know it was also an audition tape. Very quickly into the semester, without a lot of other work to be evaluated on, they were all invited to be part of the competition.

“First and foremost, I was flattered,” Rachèle said. “I asked him, ‘Why did you select us?’ And he said something to the effect of, ‘Because I think you're the brightest students in my class.’ Once someone says that, how can you say no? I’ve never been shy about hard work. I think when you challenge yourself, it gives you confidence. A professor, who I respect very much, saw something in us, and I certainly wanted to explore what the whole thing was about.”

The team didn’t have a lot of time for meet-and-greets and team-building, so having a similar background was beneficial under such strict time constraints.

“I knew them a little bit from the class. We were some of the people that would talk in class and engage with the professor,” Tara said. “And then we can just got put together as a team, so it was great to make that connection with them.”

This year’s competition cases presented unique challenges. Every firm was involved in space technology. Company missions included cleaning up “legacy bodies” like old rockets and satellites, providing secure communication and reliable navigation, and building a platform to electrokinetically propel objects through space, meaning moving objects without firing a thruster or using consumable rocket fuel. Much of the technology is still years away from being put into action. In the final round, the team split the two companies up with two members working on each.

Online meeting screenshot of the team being notified they won and celebrating.The team celebrates their victory with Nancy and Gary Lynn (top middle) and Brianne Kain (bottom left).

“The firms had some almost dreamlike goals that are awesome, but a lot of this stuff is at least 10 years away, and we had to put a plan together about what is your company going to look like in one year, five years and 10 years,” Douglas said. “Much of it was hypothetical, but we had to make them believe that they could do this, and to make them believe they could do it, we had to believe that they could do it. That was really interesting. We had to think outside the box and convey the information in an understandable and exciting way. We did that, and I was really proud of us.”

The group relied on support from Dr. Lynn and his wife, Nancy, a professional speaker who has helped thousands of executives with their communication and presentation skills. The duo provided a contrast in styles and expertise to prepare the group strategically and aesthetically.

“Professor Lynn stayed with us from day one,” Chinthaka said. “We had daily meetings. We discussed our progress and really went through everything. Sometimes we came up with solutions, and sometimes we had to break everything back down. He really helped us build something that was foolproof.”

“Nancy is a professional speaking coach, and she’s worked with companies on how to present,” Douglas said. “She helped us with how we appeared in the frame of the video, the volume of our voice to keep the audience interested, keeping eye contact, use our hands, but not too much. She helped all of us with that. She was instrumental, and she was a very nice yin and yang with Professor Lynn.”

The foursome carried on Stevens’ tradition of success in the four-year-old competition. Stevens teams won both the silver and bronze medals at the 2023 challenge, earned gold at the 2022 event, and placed third in the inaugural GSC in 2021. The lessons learned in those earlier victories were imparted firsthand during the many practice sessions and discussions attended by previous GSC competitors, including Ksenia Kartamyshev, Brianne Kain and Jesse Cohen. who lent their specific expertise to the team. Brianne not only had participated as a student but had experience proctoring the regional competition, while Jesse’s work with the military was particularly important during the finals because one of the company’s customers was going to be largely based in that sector.

“I think it's incredible that some of the former students came back to help,” Rachèle said. “I think it says a lot that they're willing to take time out of their busy lives and schedules to help these four people that they've never met and to help Professor Lynn because he's invested so much into his class, into his students and certainly into the Global Scaling Challenge participants. I feel like I got a super course by being able to have this experience, which was above and beyond.”

“Brianne was our student mentor, and she knew what it was like to be in our shoes,” Tara said. “She helped us with motivation, research and making the narrative. Jesse helped us with his expertise in the military and military technology, but on the morning of the competition, I was feeling really nervous, and he actually jumped on a call with me. We did like a 20-minute Q&A, and he really helped me.”

While the accolades and prize money were well worth the hard work and effort, the lessons learned during the competition will outlast the rewards.

“It helped my confidence in being able to make good decisions and have confidence when you don't have all the information,” Douglas said. “Just believing in yourself and saying, ‘I'm going to give this the best that I have, and that's all that I can do. I’m going to help and support my team.’ It also helped grow my network with the judges. I'm on LinkedIn with the firm's CFOs and CEOs and a couple of their chief engineers.”

“It's a phenomenally challenging experience, but we learned so much in just a few weeks,”Rachèle said. “If this were the only thing I took out of the whole program, I would feel like I learned a lot because it combines so many different aspects—entrepreneurship, presentation skills, collaboration, building a strong team— skills I’ll certainly use for the rest of my life.”