General Motors asked students across the world a question, “How do we cut costs in a top-selling automobile, without cutting quality, particularly with the seats?”

A team of Weber State University Supply Chain Management students took the challenge and competed with 24 teams from the top supply-chain programs in the world, including No.1 ranked Michigan State University, No. 4 ranked The Ohio State University along with international contenders from Mexico and China.

Joseph VanWagoner, Griffin Dobes, Christian Farr,
professor Stan Fawcett (back), Russell Bingham, Chandell Noorlander

Following a month of preparation, Weber State’s team arrived in Detroit on Oct. 4 for the two-day case competition hosted by General Motors and Wayne State University.

 WSU supply chain students, Joseph VanWagoner, Chandell Noorlander, Griffin Dobbes, Christian Farr and alternate teammate Russell Bingham felt prepared for the format because the Supply Chain Case Analysis, Logic and Presentation class they had taken together the previous semester had required them to analyze real-life case studies on a weekly basis for months.

VanWagoner described their strategy for the General Motors case, “Chandell, she’s a numbers person, Christian, he’s great at presenting and telling stories.” VanWagoner said “We each had our strengths, and we worked together to highlight those strengths and shore up our weaknesses.”

WSU’s supply chain management students are educated to analyze and think critically under stressful situations and to have the poise and presentation skills to compete.

They built their case around a simple business idea: get the right people on the team, and use all their strengths.

“The judges from GM really liked how our decision making was based around relationships,” VanWagoner said.

WSU’s had their response 75 percent complete when they landed in Detroit although they admitted later, it was intimidating entering a competition with more seasoned teams.

After an on-site General Motors plant tour, which included time for detailed questions and answers, WSU team members refined a few points but were confident as they made their first presentation.

When the final-round teams were announced the next day, WSU was in the elite top five. The competitors were then given another twist, a hypothetical complication that every computer chip in every seat in production, storage and shipping was infected with ransomware. The students had two hours to create a proposal to mitigate the risk, contain the problem and move forward. Then they made their 30-minute presentation with another 10 minutes for questions and answers.

Judges noted the first and second-place teams were incredibly close. In the end, Weber State placed second and Western Michigan State took home first.

“Being able to hold our own and excel made us realize how applicable our education is and how outstanding the program is,” VanWagoner said. “This really built my confidence, having just competed against some of the best supply chain students in the world, coming in second was amazing.”