Three UHV students from Katy win top prize at MBA Conference

Christopher McAlee, left, Seth Thomas and Daniel Simmons pose for a photo after taking first place at the University of Houston-Victoria Master of Business Administration Conference Saturday at UH Sugar Land. Mike Campbell, left, GEICO senior vice president and chief financial officer, displays an award of appreciation given to him by Farhang Niroomand, dean of the UHV School of Business Administration, after Campbell delivered the keynote speech at the MBA Conference.

SUGAR LAND – The Google toolbar on Seth Thomas’ computer received quite a workout the past few months with his frequent searches about Apache..

Thomas, a University of Houston-Victoria Master of Business Administration student, and his teammates, Christopher McAlee and Daniel Simmons, all of Katy, scoured the Internet for anything they could find to help them understand business strategies of the multinational oil and gas corporation headquartered in Houston.

That familiarity with Apache and the ability to present a real-world recommendation helped Thomas, McAlee and Simmons take first place at the MBA Conference Saturday in Sugar Land

“We really tore into Apache’s annual report,” Thomas said. “At first, we tried to re-create the wheel by trying to find something outside the box. What eventually clicked for us was looking at what Apache is doing now. We determined what their strengths are, and then we tried to exploit those. We figured the company would be more likely to buy our recommendation if it was in tune with their values and direction.”

Since 2003, the conference has been the culmination of the UHV School of Business Administration’s MBA program. Held at UH Sugar Land, where UHV offers many of the degree programs, the event also featured a luncheon and keynote address by Mike Campbell, GEICO senior vice president and CFO.

Competing in the conference were 83 students on 22 teams from the MBA capstone course “Seminar in Strategic Management.” The teams each presented an analysis about Apache to a panel of judges.

Winning team members received a certificate and will be invited to participate as panelists at future competitions. Their names also will appear on a plaque in the UHV School of Business Administration main office in Victoria.

Other teams placing in the competition were:

  • Second Place – Nirali Gandhi of Katy, Oscar Grisales of Sugar Land, James Latimer of San Antonio and Jameshia Walker of Houston.
  • Third Place – Marcus Mendoza of Houston, Chris Nevils of Katy and Jayne Ogunye of The Woodlands.

“Panelists told me that the students were very well prepared,” said Jeff Blodgett, associate dean of the UHV School of Business Administration. “Their analyses were on target, and their presentation skills were top-notch.”

Thomas, a project manager for Trans Core, a company that builds and maintains toll roads, said he began to think his team had a chance to win two weeks before the conference. The team still put in extra time to shore up the delivery and make sure it was ready for questions.

“At first, it was a real struggle to come up with a quantifiable recommendation that was going to be quality enough to win,” Thomas said. “We would meet for three or four hours at one of our houses or the school,” he said. “The last week, we met four of the five days. It was a lot of pizza and practice.”

The team ended up recommending Apache divest a portion of its interest in Egypt to free up cash for an acquisition in the Eagle Ford Shale. This recommendation coincides with Apache’s North American strategy.

“We found a real-world solution,” McAlee said. “We turned over every stone and looked at every possibility. The time and hard work we spent on research got us ready for the judges.”

An insurance professional with Farmers Insurance in Katy, McAlee will graduate Saturday with an MBA concentration in finance.

“Having to put all this together to present a winning case showed me I have obtained much more than just three letters that go on the end of my name,” McAlee said. “This degree will help me through my entire career. My team applied every skill we learned at UHV to come up with solutions.”

As someone who works in the insurance industry, McAlee enjoyed Campbell’s speech to the MBA students.

“He was very informative and knowledgeable,” McAlee said. “Hearing about GEICO’s strategy was interesting. I asked about market segmentation. It turns out GEICO doesn’t segment the market. It was a great learning opportunity.”

Campbell joined GEICO in 1982 as manager of corporate financial reporting and was promoted to director of corporate financial reporting in 1985. He became associate controller in 1986 and was named vice president in 2003. Campbell was elected to the GEICO board of directors in 2005 and has been CFO since 2009.

Farhang Niroomand, dean of the UHV School of Business Administration, thanked Campbell for making the trip from Washington D.C. to speak at the conference.

“He was kind enough to attend a couple presentations and observe the performance of our students,” Niroomand said. “I am grateful for his participation and contributions. GEICO has actively recruited on our campus and has hired several of our recent graduates. We are looking forward to a long-term relationship with GEICO.”

The conference concluded with a career fair. GEICO, Northwestern Mutual and HCSS – Innovative Software for the Construction Industry were seeking employees.

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Jeremy Shapiro