It is comforting to know we have such incredible ESG business leaders coming up. - Margaret Mondlane
The Business Ethics Case Competition (BECC) run by CESR engages undergraduate students from Leeds in business decisions that navigate the complex realities of the contemporary workplace.
BECC takes place in two rounds, held a week apart.
In this year’s case, students were asked to address the question of vaccine mandates in an international company as it navigated varied local cultures and a competitive business environment. Teams grappled with the ethics of creating a mandate, and the implications of choosing not to, as well as considering how to message and implement their approach to minimize risks to the business.
Underlying the decision on how to proceed was the question of how to justify their recommendations. The case offered four ways to consider the issue: the financial costs of one decision over another, how to best align policies with corporate values, how to balance fairness with autonomy and risk, and what the majority of employees would choose to do.
Under-scoring the timeliness and importance of this case, in the week between the Preliminary and Final Rounds, Boulder County Public Health announced that they would be removing their mask mandate leaving it up to individual businesses to set their own policies.
The Preliminary Round
Seven teams competed in the Preliminary Round. Faculty members Elmer Ramos, Salma Shukri and Zack Donohew served as judges for the Preliminary Round. During deliberations, judges noted that the most successful teams were persuasive, courageous in pushing boundaries, and creative in turning challenges into opportunities.
The Final Round
Four teams advanced to the Final Round a week later and were asked to respond to a twist in the case. In this twist, a vaccine mandate had been approved by the Board. Soon after, a group of SVPs met with the CEO to discuss carving out exceptions or retention strategies for high performers who were opposed to the mandate. Students were asked to consider whether the company should make any exceptions, and if not, how they would mitigate the risk of losing these employees.
Judges for the Final Round included Alexis Gordon, Margaret Mondlane, Karen Gibbs and Zhenghua “Z” Yang (BS ‘14). In selecting the winning team, judges debated which team was the most persuasive, did the best to ensure their solutions were grounded in research, and most consistently based their approach on the company’s strategy and corporate values.
In announcing the winning team, Zhenghua acknowledged that it “was a really tough choice. Everyone did a phenomenal job. Leeds has a strong pool of talent. As an alum myself I am proud of everything I heard today.”
The winning team included Caitlin O'Neill (‘22), Payton Coakley (‘25) and Anant Gupta (‘24). As Z noted in awarding first place, the team excelled in both their presentation and their research. “There were a number of clean and crisp ways you presented information,” Zhenghua said. “Your analysis was on point and you went above and beyond in looking at competition and comparing their policies to justify your proposals.”
The judges also appreciated that ethics came through in multiple ways in their approach, and their focus on the long term impact of proposed solutions, beyond the immediate issues.
“This competition provides a great opportunity for students to combine creative problem solving, ethical reasoning and business skills,” said Julie Waggoner, Director of Operations at CESR. “I’m always impressed with the way the teams weave together the needs of various stakeholders along with financial and operational realities to come up with innovative solutions.”
Participants were vocal in their appreciation for this experience, including the students who did not place or win. Anant Gupta, a member of the winning team, said, “the competition resembled a real-world situation where we worked to solve problems without all the answers. It was a great way to experience aspects of my future career!”
Caitlin O’Neill, also on the winning team agreed with her teammate.“This case comp was a blast,” she said. “The case was interesting, my teammates were hilarious, and the judges gave such valuable feedback. I would recommend this to anyone considering it!”