Elon MBA students assess crisis response in intramural contest

Plane crashes in 2018 and 2019 were the backdrop for an annual competition between graduating Elon MBA students judged on their analysis of Boeing’s response to problems with its 737 MAX 8 jetliner and recommendations to address a company culture that contributed to both tragedies.

One of the world’s leading aircraft manufacturers had its bestselling jetliner grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2019 after a new software system that helped manage the plane’s pitch led to fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia.

If the loss of life wasn’t bad enough, the initial public response from Boeing was criticized as unsympathetic and defensive, while future investigations revealed significant concerns among company engineers that the 737 MAX 8 was not yet ready for flight.

How could the company have better responded to the tragedies? What can be done moving forward to correct the internal culture that allowed warnings to be ignored? And how should Boeing restore public trust in the safety of its aircraft?

The winning team for the 2023 Elon MBA Case Competition was comprised of (from left) Tim Boles, Mary DeFriest, and Alexa Lowey.

These were the central questions of an annual competition won this month by Mary DeFriest, Tim Boles, and Alexa Lowey, who were among the graduating Elon MBA students to complete a case study and present to eight judges as part of their program.

The MBA 5020 Case Competition is a signature experience for students who this year used a consultative approach to assess Boeing’s internal and external issues, evaluate factors that influenced the tragedy and response, and create action plans to guide next steps.

“Taking a real life, tangible situation and applying everything we’ve learned in our classes throughout the MBA program provided a sense of confidence that we will be able to successfully move forward in whichever career path we have ahead of us,” said Lowey, an event scheduling coordinator at Elon University. “The case competition was a reminder of everything that we have learned in our MBA courses.”

Boles echoed Lowey’s sentiments.

“When taking an economics or accounting course, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking of these topics in a silo,” said Boles, the senior assistant director of admissions for campus visit at Elon. “The case competition forced our team to think about each of the topics we learned in relation to one another. If we were implementing a training program for employees, what would that mean for the overall profit of the business not only in the short term but also long term? How is it being communicated both internally and externally? This felt like a true business proposal.”

DeFriest, who serves as director of marketing and fan engagement at Elon University, also praised the experience for allowing her “to showcase all the skills learned thus far in the MBA program.”

“It is important to be clear and concise in your presentations,” she said. “You may only be able to capture company decision makers for a brief amount of time and you want to make sure you leave a good impression.”

Twenty-seven students collectively took part in the competition, which concluded on Feb. 4 with presentations to judges comprised of Love School of Business faculty, the school’s executive-in-residence, and alumni of the Elon MBA program.

Second Place

  • Quinn Reilly, Assistant Director of Admissions at Elon University
  • Aaron Ofori, Supply Base Manager at John Deere
  • Olivia Holbrook, Executive Assistant to VP, Finance and AVP at Duke University
  • Lindsey Furiness, Talent & Culture Consultant at Town of Cary

2023 Judges

  • Xin Liu, Assistant Professor of Marketing
  • Alex Perry, Visiting Assistant Professor of Management
  • David Goslin, Managing Director at Deloitte and Executive-in-Residence for the Love School of Business
  • Rynita Julien G’22, Senior Director, Global Program Manager at CSL Behring
  • Jocelyn Johnson G’18, Product Manager, Active IQ at NetApp
  • Michael Johnson G’18, Senior Customer Reference Manager – Global Content Strategy & Innovation Awards at Red Hat
  • S. Eric DeVane G’22, Finance Senior Supervisor at PepsiCo
  • Mark Leath G ’22, CEO at AMT Group, Inc.

Competition Organizers and Administrators

  • Jasmine Suitt, Instructor and Assistant Director of Graduate Programs
  • Jo Ann Buck, Faculty Coach and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Management

About the Elon MBA

Designed for working professionals from Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Raleigh, Durham and beyond, the Elon MBA offers small class sizes, a curriculum focused on the transfer of course content to practical applications, professional development support for students and alumni, evening classes offered in two locations (Elon and Research Triangle Park) and an extraordinary faculty committed to teaching and engaged learning. Learn more at elon.edu/mba.