Berkeley MBAs Win UNC Real Estate Competition

Case competitors know they need to be prepared for anything, but conducting research in a foreign language? A team of Berkeley MBA students had to do just that on their way to taking first place in the UNC Real Estate Development Challenge at Kenan-Flagler on Feb. 11.

The Berkeley-Haas team beat out 16 competitors from top MBA real estate programs, including Columbia, Wharton, and the home team at UNC, to win $10,000 and top honors. The team consisted of full-time student Gretchen Heckman, MBA 12; evening and weekend MBA students Meaghan Kroener and Joseph Rehrmann, both MBA 12; and evening and weekend student David Sterlace, MBA 11.

To prepare, the team reviewed the competition’s previous cases and worked through an Urban Land Institute case that required creation of a downtown redevelopment zone using LEGO bricks. “A really ingenious way to help non-design professionals connect with what they’re creating,” Kroener, an architect, says of using LEGOs.

What the students did not do was brush up on their Spanish language skills.

The competition challenged teams to create a redevelopment proposal for a site adjacent to and including a historic train station in Montevideo, Uruguay. Each Haas team member took charge of a key element, such as design, market research, entitlement, and finance. Rehrmann says the Berkeley MBA team “performed the most thorough research by far,” noting that this was particularly challenging because it included analyzing Uruguayan market data, city plans, and official documents−in Spanish.

The effort was worth it, Kroener confirms. “We dug deeper than housing trends and the macro-economic climate of Uruguay,” she says. “We identified local customs, such as neighborhood festivals, and analyzed zoning maps and special use districts. This additional entitlement research helped us defend the uses we had planned for our site and the micro data helped prove a true need that would support a successful project.”