Haas takes First Place at National Energy Finance Challenge

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By Marie Thompson

What happens when you mix five full-time MBA first years from four different countries and completely different backgrounds with an energy case competition early in the year? For us, the answer was a winning recommendation and a first-place finish.

Pablo Jimenez, Ethan Doyle, David Navarro, Rahul Bajaj and I, joined forces for the National Energy Finance Challenge at the end of September. The NEFC, hosted by the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, challenges teams from the country’s top MBA programs to address real-world finance issues relevant to today’s dynamic energy industry. Contestants present their solutions to panels of senior executives, representing multiple facets of the energy finance landscape. Teams were allowed only five members, and each team had to include at least three first years. This year, we competed against McCombs, Wharton, Booth, Yale, Darden, Tuck, Jones, Johnson, Kenan-Flagler, Cox and Krannert.

The case changes every year, and this year it was a thirty-page gem written by Chevron, who was also one of the main sponsors. Our case protagonist was recently sent to her company’s northeast business unit focused on dry gas in the Marcellus, and tasked with developing five key strategies for the next three years: upstream, midstream, finance, hedging and environmental. To come to a solution, teams had to develop a market view, deal with capital constraints, benchmark operational and financial assumptions, figure out how to design wells to drill, and make decisions on the midstream component all at the same time. And, the model, set of recommendations and presentation, had to be delivered within 72 hours.

After working away at Haas for several days, we submitted our case and rejoined the rest of our class for Career Week. A few days later, we flew to Austin, Texas for the first round of presentations on the morning of October 20th. We presented our recommendations, and fielded very tough questions from an extremely knowledgeable panel of judges. When the organizers announced the finalists, we were very excited to have made it, but the surprises weren’t over. We had a new scenario.

During the second presentation, we stuck to our course of action and used all of the communication skills we had learned in leadership communication, including some improvisation when the questions got tricky, to deliver our final set of recommendations.

Afterwards, the judges complimented us on the depth of our understanding of the case, our explanations of assumptions and methodology, our creativity on the lightning final round, and on our professionalism during the Q&A.

At the final reception, we were announced the winners. But, there was still one more surprise for us that day. Pablo said, “After the organizers announced the winners, one of the judges introduced himself as the real-life inspiration for the protagonist of the case: Dwight Crabtree, a Haas alum from 2010, who has been working for Chevron since he graduated. Given our school names were withheld during entire competition, he had no idea that we were the Haas team. It is great to find people from Berkeley Haas in leadership positions, even in unexpected places, and share our experiences.. I guess this is something that will repeat over the course of my career in the future.”

A huge thank-you to McCombs for organizing and running such a great event, to all of the judges who took time out of their day to make this experience incredibly valuable, and to my friends who graciously let us stay at their home during our visit. We all worked hard, learned a lot and are thrilled to bring back a first-place finish to Haas!