Berkeley MBA Students Win Real Estate Challenge

A strategy encouraging Las Vegas conventioneers to "add play to your workday" garnered first place for a team of Berkeley MBA students at the National Real Estate Challenge Nov. 19 at the University of Texas at Austin.

Members of the winning team were full-time Berkeley MBA students Kyle Early, MBA 11, and Zach Chan, Will Hu, Evan Schwimmer, and Bao Vuong, all MBA 10; and evening and weekend MBA student Amanda Hawn, MBA 10. The team beat out twenty teams, including Chicago Booth, Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton, to take the $6,000 first prize. Professor Nancy Wallace and Adjunct Professor Bill Falik coached the team.

The case was an analysis of an investment opportunity that Goldman Sachs' real estate private equity fund, Whitehall, looked at in 2004: The potential acquisition of the Las Vegas Hilton and the Stratosphere. The teams were asked to analyze the opportunity, determine the strategy, and make a recommendation to the judging committee, according to Hu.

The Berkeley MBA team’s solution focused on how to renovate the property so that it appealed to its core customers, conventioneers (the property is adjacent to a convention center), and on how to structure the transaction so that it addressed the issues of control and alignment of interest that were mentioned in the case.

"I believe we won because we went the extra step of delivering a strong vision and story for the property," says Hu. "The great thing about real estate is that while it can certainly be an investment opportunity, it also has tremendous social value as it is so intertwined into peoples' lives. We kept this at the forefront of our minds when developing a concept."

The team’s concept outlined a specific restaurant and retail mix that would encourage conventioneers to not only stay at the hotel, but also play at the casino, eat at the restaurants, shop at the stores, and see the shows. Their tagline was "Add play to your workday."

Chan says the Haas School’s overall dedication to excellence and collaboration fed into the team’s victory. "As you can imagine, with only 72 hours to read, analyze, and write up the case, our discussions were intense," he says. "Everyone on the team was driven to do their best, and it was an amazing experience to see the six of us come together to produce a solution that everyone believed in."