WashU Olin team nabs top spot in family business case competition

  • March 4, 2024
  • By WashU Olin Business School
  • 3 minute read

Three WashU Olin students met a weeklong deadline, survived a presentation and faced another marathon overnight strategy session recently to win a national case competition sponsored by the business school at Cornell University.

Organizers staged the "Cornell Case Competition for Family Ownership" on February 16-17. The Olin students—Jessica Timerman, MBA/MSW 2024, and Michael Roytburd and Samuel Berger, both MBA 2024—worked with coach Peter Boumgarden to prevail over five other teams that were invited to the event.

The case involved SmugMug—which describes itself as a "business partner, sales assistant and photo lab all in one"—which owns the longtime photo sharing platform Flickr. Timerman and Boumgarden, director of the Koch Center for Family Enterprise, answered a few questions about the competition for the Olin Blog.

Can you tell us a little about the case you had to tackle?

Timerman: What sets family ownership cases apart is the need to address both the business objectives and the values objectives of the owners. In this case, the owners valued the historical importance of Flickr and making the world a better place through photography.

They are willing to sacrifice short-term gains for that long-term objective.  

Jessica Timerman

What was your solution? How did you differentiate yourselves from other teams?

Timerman, Roytburd and Berger accept the award for winning the Cornell case competition. Photo here and at top by Dann Van Der Vliet.

Timerman: We deeply listened to our client (the owners) to understand what motivates them to get out of bed every day and build SmugMug + Flickr, an inherently risky endeavor for their family. We told a compelling story of how Flickr can target new customers utilizing partnerships in a way that aligns with their values and motivations for impact.

What was the most challenging part of this exercise for you as a team?

Timerman: The most challenging aspect of this case was the overnight "hackathon" style component. We received the second part of the case around 7 p.m. Friday night and needed to submit our second presentation the next morning at 8 a.m. We were a bit sleep deprived delivering our presentation the next day.

What were your takeaways from going through this competition?

Timerman: The presence of the Evergreen owners was invaluable to learn from their experience, get feedback on our ideas, and be inspired by their commitment to their mission. Having diverse skillsets and perspectives was essential.

How did WashU got involved?

Boumgarden: I have the honor of serving on the academic advisory council of the Tugboat Institute, of which Cornell is a fellow member. Tugboat is a group of more than 250 companies brought together by their desire to stay private. In that way, our respective family business centers, including another partner at Northwestern, make for a natural fit. A few years back, Dann Van Der Vliet (Boumgarden's counterpart at the Cornell business school) suggested a case competition on a family firm, and I knew WashU had to be a part of it. We took second place last year but were honored to land the top prize this year.

What was your role as coach? In what ways were you able to provide guidance or direction to the WashU team?

Boumgarden: These are team-led endeavors. That said, for an hour on the Friday night of the competition, I had an opportunity to coach the team on how to potentially approach the client's recommendation. I knew a bit about the Flickr story and the challenges they faced both around ownership and the market more broadly, so it was fun to work with the team for over an hour, helping them think about how to break down the program and identify a cohesive story moving forward. My role throughout really is more support than anything, as the core of these ideas were directly made by our fantastic team.

About the Author

Washington University in Saint Louis

WashU Olin Business School

Firmly established at the Gateway to the West, Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis stands as the gateway to something far grander in scale. The education we deliver prepares our students to thoughtfully make difficult decisions—the kind that can change the world.

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