Synchrony Financial CEO Judges Fifth Annual Integrated Leadership Case Competition

Twelve teams of business students from around the world got to stand in the shoes of Margaret Keane, the CEO of Synchrony Financial, as they competed in the Integrated Leadership Case Competition (ILCC) at the Yale School of Management on Saturday, April 8.

The next day, the teams got to meet Keane as she judged the finals and spoke at the awards ceremony.

The fifth annual edition of the ILCC centered on a raw case developed by Yale SOM’s Case Research and Development Team (CRDT) about Synchrony Financial. The company, a spinoff from GE Capital, is one of the leading providers of consumer credit in the United States, offering financial solutions and credit card processing services for retailers. Synchrony’s partners range from small, mom-and-pop shops all the way up to retail giants such as Walmart and Lowe’s.

Synchrony, as the case points out, faces challenges from new fintech companies that offer credit services tailored for the millennial market. The company also wants to attract young tech talent to its ranks at a time that longstanding financial service companies have lost their luster as employers.

According to the judges, the team from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) devised the best strategy to meet these challenges. The team from National University of Singapore (NUS) finished second, and the team from INCAE (Costa Rica) came in third.

Unlike other case competitions, the ILCC also evaluates student teams as to their collaboration skills. Nineteen observers judged the teams on Saturday as they deliberated and polished their presentations. The team from the University of Cape Town won the award for the best team dynamics, which was presented by Yale SOM Professor Amy Wrzesniewski.

In a question-and-answer session at the awards lunch moderated by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean for leadership studies, Keane thanked all of the teams for their hard work. She noted that all of the presentations contained good ideas that will be considered by the company. “The presentations were impressive at getting the story of Synchrony,” Keane remarked. “These are the issues with which we are grappling.”

“We are all working at light speed in this business. The business is transforming quickly,” she noted.

Jordan Robbins ’17 and Vaibhav Desai ’17 led the student-run ILCC and emceed the awards ceremony. They thanked the teams for coming from around the world to the weekend competition. The teams first received the case on Saturday morning and had only seven hours to prepare their presentations for first-round judging on Saturday.

All of this year’s teams came from Global Network for Advanced Management and represented 10 different countries. Besides the four winning teams, teams from Asian Institute of Management (Philippines), Fudan University (China), Hitotsubashi University (Japan), Indian Institute of Management at Bangalore (India), Lagos Business School (Nigeria), UCD Michael Smurfit (Ireland), Remin University (China), and  Yale SOM competed over the weekend.

Besides Keane, three other senior leaders from Synchrony—Glenn Marino, Chief Commercial Officer; Courtney Gentleman, Chief Marketing Officer, Payment Solutions; and Beto Casellas, Chief Customer Engagement Officer—served as judges during the preliminary rounds. Helping Keane judge the finals were Maya Sudhakaran ’14 of Prodigy Finance and Markus von Wartburg of the Analysis Group. Tanmay Manohar  ’16, director of product management, social data products at Viacom Media Networks, was another judge during the preliminary rounds. Yale SOM Executive MBA students Helen Ioannidis ’17, Seydina Fall ’17, and Ankur Kapadia ’17 served as first round judges as well.

Under the direction of Wrzesniewski, Masters of Advanced Management students Robert Yang ’17 and Joy Ma ’17 trained the team observers and oversaw the judging of the team process part of the competition.

The case was written by Jean Rosenthal, Greg MacDonald, and Jaan Elias of the Yale Case Research and Development Team and can be accessed from the Yale SOM Case Directory.

About the Event

The 5th Integrated Leadership Case Competition will take place from April 7 to 9 at the Yale School of Management with 15 teams from around the world competing.
The Yale School of Management Student Government launched its inaugural case competition in April of 2013 on the Yale campus. The Yale School of Management Integrated Leadership Case Competition (ILCC) was created to convene the best students from participating universities in developing creative solutions for business challenges that require the integration of multiple disciplines. The first competition was sponsored by Analysis Group. The second inaugural case competition expanded to include teams from around the globe and is sponsored by Analysis Group, EY, Nestle Waters, the Global Network for Advanced Management, and Yale SOM’s Leadership Development Program.

Based on Yale SOM’s integrated curriculum and comprehensive leadership development program, competing students are encouraged to take into account different vantage points (finance, marketing, ethics, etc) and multiple stakeholders (customers, investors, employees, etc) when formulating their strategy for resolving multi-faceted and complex problems. The one day case competition asks students from eight to ten participating top international business schools to tackle a Yale SOM raw case on business ethics. Competing teams will be given the raw case on the day of the competition, and at the end of the day, teams will present their ideas to a panel of esteemed judges representing Yale faculty, sponsors, and corporate leaders.

Yale SOM pioneered a “raw” format for case studies in 2006.  Raw cases are web-based, open-ended, and multi-perspective presentations that can feature thousands of pages of relevant material that students must analyze, such as 10-Ks, analyst reports, news articles, stock charts, and interviews with key players.  This format reflects the way managers must access and analyze information to make informed business decisions.

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