The Haas team places first in the Duke Energy Case Competition. Third from left: Haas students Alan Southworth, Will Bowman, Rebecca West, and Simon Greenberg. Photo courtesy: Will Bowman.
A plan to transform a Nigerian energy company into a sustainable and profitable virtual utility company landed a full-time MBA team first place in Duke University’s Energy in Emerging Markets Case Competition. The 7th annual case competition was held in North Carolina on Nov. 5.
The Team: Will Bowman, Alan Southworth, Rebecca West, and Simon Greenberg, all MBA 21.
The Field: Nearly 40 MBA teams from Europe and North America competed for a $10,000 prize and the chance to meet recruiters from top U.S. energy companies. Finalists included teams from Haas, Yale SOM, University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.
The Challenge: Develop a strategy to help a Nigerian energy company find high-skilled workers for their solar energy project and devise a long-term plan to finance the project, all the while transforming the company into a sustainable virtual utility in the country. (A virtual utility is a company that generates electricity in one place and then sells it to someone in another place without owning or controlling the distribution wires.)
The Team’s Plan: The Haas team proposed a three-pronged strategy that included developing an apprenticeship program to find high-skilled laborers, selling health benefits by replacing diesel energy with solar, ultimately reducing pollution, and identifying target customers—Nigerians who lived in residential estate communities or “gated communities.”
“Our secret sauce was to think creatively about how to monetize benefits from solar and storage which are often left on the table right now,” said Simon Greenberg, MBA 21. “I think we won by taking those novel ideas and thinking not only about how to apply them in the market now, but also about how the company can use them as engines of growth in the future.”
What set them apart from the pack: “We brought more creative ideas and worked hard to test those ideas with those who are on the ground,” said Will Bowman, MBA 21. “We came up with a vision-driven proposal and provided concrete recommendations to make the Nigerian company a virtual utility.” The team spoke to Nigerian bankers, former officers of the Gates Foundation, freelance Nigerian electricians and other solar companies in Nigeria and Africa to assess if their proposal was plausible and profitable.
Rebecca West, MBA 21, said it was the composition of the Haas team that also set them apart from the rest of the competition. “We had three of us dive deep on each of the three content areas, and then Will drove the overall strategy and managed the project and the process,” West said. “It was very helpful to have someone who looked at the bigger picture, and continually pushed each of us to make improvements on our sections and dive deeper. Additionally, Alan and Simon are incredibly talented and have a deep knowledge of the industry. They could think critically about some complex problems, in such a way that we could come up with a cogent and creative strategy!”
The Haas Factor: A BERC Energy workshop helped shape their ideas. They learned how to monetize benefits of natural resources and renewable energy.
The most memorable experience from the competition: Alan Southworth, MBA 21, recalled his teammate Will Bowman posing a question to the judges about whether they have ever been to Coastal Maine. “Everyone in the room was taken aback; the case was about solar panels in Nigeria,” said Southworth. “Will proceeded to give an impassioned speech about sometimes having to take an indirect route to get to the hardest to reach places. The metaphor landed and I think he even received a standing ovation from one of the members of another school’s team. I can’t say whether that answer was the reason we won, but it was absolutely the moment that generated the most buzz among the crowd for the rest of the evening.”