MIT Sloan students to present business plan to top American Express officials

First Year Challenge winners to meet with Chairman and CEO Kenneth Chenault

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., May 12, 2005 — A team of MIT Sloan students will travel from their Cambridge classroom to American Express headquarters in New York Monday to personally present their prize-winning global strategic business plan to American Express Chairman and CEO Kenneth Chenault and other top company officials.

The students earned their May 16 trip to corporate headquarters by winning MIT Sloan's second annual First Year Challenge, in which teams of first-year MBAs develop business strategies to address a significant issue presented by a sponsoring company. For this year's challenge, American Express asked the MIT Sloan class to consider new opportunities for the company's international business. While American Express already has a strong global presence, it asked the students to evaluate a range of strategic issues and business building initiatives in key markets.

“What we got from these students were some very intelligent, independent and analytic approaches,” said David House, Global President for American Express Establishment Services and a judge of the competition, which was held on April 25. “It's a great advantage to us as a company to get such a fresh look at realistic situations we have been dealing with for some time.”

The First Year Challenge involves all 360 first-year MBAs at MIT Sloan, who spent the spring semester working on the challenges posed by American Express. Student teams who wish to do so then participate in the First Year Challenge. Five finalist teams made their presentations before the judges, who included prominent MIT Sloan alumni, faculty, and others.

“There is nothing theoretical about the challenge we presented to these students,” said American Express Senior Vice President for Strategic Planning and Business Development Alpesh Chokshi, who also served as a judge. “The students raised at least two or three things that I'll be asking our people in New York about. For example, they proposed we re-evaluate some of our traditional approaches to consumers in countries where the majority of the population is of a very young age.”
MIT Sloan Dean Richard Schmalensee, who was also a judge, said teaching students how to assess and respond to such real-world issues is at the core of the First Year Challenge concept.

“These are real, big business problems they had to consider and it required them to take a multi-disciplinary approach, putting together individual accounting, management, finance and other course areas,” he said. “The competition itself gave students the invaluable experience of making complicated presentations under time and other pressures.”

Schmalensee praised American Express' deep involvement in the MIT Sloan challenge, which included classroom appearances by House and Chokshi as well as extensive materials to assist students. “American Express really jumped into this with both feet,” he said.

MIT Sloan Professor Dimitris Bertsimas, who taught the First Year Challenge and also served as a judge, added that the students also learned real lessons in how to work as a team. Few if any other business schools present students with such a learning experience, Bertsimas said. “This is a very unique program.”

Sung-Dae Hong, one of seven students on the winning team, said the judges “appreciated that we understood how American Express runs its business and the models it employs.” Hong, who worked as a management consultant for Bain & Co. for five years before attending MIT Sloan, is looking especially forward to the New York trip.

“Any management consultant would give anything to be able to spend time with Ken Chenault,” he said. “It will be a great opportunity for all of us.”

In addition to House, Chokshi, and Schmalensee, this year's judges included Vertical Group Chairman Edward Giles, SM '59; Elizabeth Monrad, SM '80, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of TIAA-CREF; Polaris Venture Partners Managing General Partner Alan Spoon, SB '73, SM '73; Michael Baer, SF '92, former Head of Private Banking for Bank Julius Baer & Co.; and John Erdman of M.E. Zuckerman & Co, SM '73.

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