THE ASSOCIATE UPDATE
An Experience in the Words of Ali Syed
My name is Ali Syed, I am a senior and an Accounting major, and I served as the moderator for the 10th anniversary edition of The Associate.
So how did I land this gig? Well, I was aware of the competition and had previously considered applying for it, but found my plate a little full after stuffing it with academic and professional obligations this semester. However, I was still very much interested in being a part of it in some way, so I chose the next best thing: I inquired about the moderator position and was graciously offered the job.
By this time, all the pieces of the puzzle for The Associate were already put together. Eight of the CBE’s brightest were carefully selected out of many applicants. To learn more about this year’s candidates, click here to view a complete list.
SECU was selected as The Associate’s partner company, and would make a job offer to the winner of the competition. The role of the “Donald” was to be played by Rod Staatz, President and Chief Executive Officer of SECU. Also representing SECU on the judges’ panel would be Chief Financial Officer Steve Arbaugh and Chief Operating Officer Michael Gordy. Click here to find out who else has played the role of Donald in the last 10 years.
Joining theses judges were our very own Dr. Shohreh Kaynama, Dean of the CBE and Dr. Tim Chandler, Provost of TU.
Lastly, five companies were chosen to present challenging business cases to the candidates. Representatives from these presenting companies would also play a significant role in determining the winner of their case challenge. For a comprehensive look at the cases presented at this year’s competition, click here.
What was my role? Consider a TV show like American Idol, where the contestants are the talent and the judges are the authority figures, and the host’s job is to ensure that the show moves along skillfully. Similarly, as the moderator, my job consisted of making opening and closing statements, making professional introductions, and ensuring all the events took place effectively and as planned, all while making certain the focus remained on the candidates, business associates, panel of judges, and the competition.
We kicked off the competition with our first scheduled event on Feb. 11 in the Dean’s conference room. There was quite an infectious aura surrounding the room and emitting out to the hallway. The stage was set. An excited audience consisting of professors, faculty, students, contestants from past competitions, and other professional associates anxiously awaited the proceedings. I met and introduced myself to the judges and the candidates and wished them all good luck. Though I usually feel quite serene speaking in front of a large audience, I felt a little nervous energy as this was my first foray into the role of a moderator of a prestigious event. However, being in a room full of influential people clad in professional attire in a formal setting was somehow exactly where I felt home at the moment. The clock hit 5 p.m., all parties took their places, the camera started rolling, and we commenced.
After a brief welcome and a few minutes on the positive impact of The Associate on students in the last 10 years, I invited the panel, which also included TU’s President Maravene Loeshke, to make their opening remarks. Our eight candidates were divided into two teams, Team Quality Control and Team Risky Business. Following encouraging comments from the panel, I invited the candidates to introduce themselves individually and present their case as to why they should be chosen as The Associate. Over the last 10 years, this competition has allowed the CBE to showcase its many outstanding students, and this particular group was indeed very impressive and talented. I was excited to see their brilliance on display in the upcoming weeks and found myself rooting for them all. We concluded the evening with the presentation of the first business case by representatives from Berry Plastics, followed by a closing statement from yours truly.
The following week, on February 18, I started The Associate’s second week with an opening statement and a recap of the first case, after which both teams made their presentations. I was, just as everyone else in the room, incredibly impressed with the remarkable effort both teams put forth. The presentations were meticulously crafted and confidently delivered, with attention to every minute detail, a touch of humor, and included professionally designed handouts. Both teams even managed to carefully incorporate the presenting company’s brand colors into their attire. After careful deliberation, the presenting company and the judges’ panel declared Team Quality Control the winner of the case, and made their first elimination from the losing team.
Over the next four weeks, another three business cases were presented by Target, Better Business Bureau, and Carchex respectively. Each week the candidates worked in teams and delivered their solutions to the demanding cases. Another three candidates were eliminated in their quest to be The Associate.
In week five of the competition, only four candidates remained standing and, just coming off of Spring Break, had to endure a rigorous, early morning interview process with SECU representatives. The purpose for this was for SECU to narrow down the candidates to two finalists who they deem to be the best fit with the company upon winning the competition. Another two candidates were eliminated that evening, and the remaining two finalists would have to work individually on the last case, which was presented to them by Wallmonkeys.
April 1st may be April Fool’s Day to some, but for the finalists, this day was no joking matter. This was the big finale. This was the day one of them would win The Associate and a job offer from SECU. We were in a much larger room filled to max capacity. Both candidates received immense support and were cheered on by friends, families, and faculty. The energy in the room was palpable. I started to speak but my microphone did not work. A member of the technical team walked me through the strenuous process of clicking on the “Power” button. Following that faux pas and a timely quip from Dr. Tim Chandler about my technical savvy, I started the evening with a recap of recent events. I invited Dr. Kaynama to say a few words about our candidates. Both candidates followed up with charismatic and well-developed presentations; each followed by a brief session of questions and reflections from the panel.
The judges’ panel exited the room for a while in order to deliberate and decide the winner. During that time, the audience was given a fantastic recap of the entire competition by the remaining six candidates in the form of a humorous and personality-driven presentation. Though they did not make it to the final two, they reminded us once again why they were chosen to compete in The Associate in the first place.
The panel arrived a few minutes later and provided the finalists with their feedback and announced the winner of the competition and a job offer with SECU. On behalf of the CBE, Dr. Kaynama also presented a $1,000 scholarship award to all candidates. In a surprise twist, SECU additionally offered all candidates an opportunity to earn another $1,000 award through an optional case study. I wrapped up the evening with a closing statement where I hope I was able to encapsulate what I knew everyone in the room felt: The Associate had been an extraordinary experience for everyone. To celebrate all the candidates’ efforts, a reception awaited us. A nice spread of snacks and refreshments was enjoyed by all, not to mention many congratulatory remarks to the candidates and cheerful conversations among many. It was a felicitous ending to a fantastic competition.
So here is my takeaway: I am extremely glad that I decided to undertake this role and be a part of this competition. Not only did I get a chance to meet and network with established professionals, I also met and was inspired by a great group of very talented students who represented Towson University magnificently. I am proud of their efforts and confident in their abilities and future success. I am also incredibly impressed with the manner in which the trio of top-level managers of SECU delivered their honest yet constructive and encouraging feedback to these students; it rendered a great insight into how they manage their corporate culture. As a matter of fact, after I communicated my sentiments, they graciously invited me to SECU headquarters for a lunch and discussion.
I leave you with this thought: if you are planning to graduate in spring 2015 and would like to apply for The Associate, you can do so by clicking here. If for some reason you are unable to compete, remember, The Associate also needs a skillful moderator. Don’t pass up on this opportunity. I guarantee it will definitely be one of your best and most fruitful college experiences.
If you haven’t been following our previous posts and would like to learn more about The Associate, you can do so by clicking here or here.