King’s Business Students Make History at Capsim Challenge Competition

Business strategy students win first place in the Capsim Challenge, recording the highest score in the competition's 12-year history.

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For the second year in a row, Professor of Business Dawn Fotopulos and her business strategy class took first place at the world Capsim Challenge competition on April 15, setting new records and beating 80-plus teams from around the world. Rising seniors Benjamin Cook (FIN ’20) and Jackson Fordyce (BUS ’20) acted as team leaders and CEOs of their simulated company, setting the highest score in the competition’s 12-year history.

The Capsim Challenge is a business strategy competition in which participants simulate running a $40 million publicly-traded company for eight rounds, representing an eight-year time span in the life of the business. During each round, teams make development, scaling, organizational, marketing, pricing, human resource, and production decisions based on more 300 variables. They are also beset by financial trials, including recessions and increasing competitive pressures. They must decide how to invest in their human capital to gain competitive advantage as they analyze the market and make tough trade-offs investing in their business to scale profitably. After competitors make their decisions, the simulation runs for one “year.” Then points are awarded based on 14 key performance metrics from Harvard Business School Professor Robert Kaplan’s Balanced Scorecard methodology.

Teams first compete against a computer, but those who advance to the semi-finals compete against other human teams. The King’s team, under Cook and Fordyce’s leadership, faced five others from the United States and one from Turkey. They achieved a record-breaking 852 points out of 1000, the highest score in this year’s finals competition and in the 12-year history of Capsim, surpassing the previous record of 844 and besting the second-place team by 81 points. Additionally, for the second year in a row, King’s was the only team that never went bankrupt during any of the eight rounds.

Cook and Fordyce acted as the CEOs of their business, with each of their teammates fulfilling supporting analytical roles. Olivia “Grace” Vlaha (BUS Dec. ’19), Caitlyn Berry (FIN ’19), Michel Wenzel (BUS ’20), and Andrew Knudsen (BUS ’20) comprised the executive team, which provided the analysis and recommendations in key areas of management like cash management, productivity improvements, capacity planning, and finance requirements for capital improvements. Fordyce and Cook attributed their success to the excellent team dynamics. Cook said,

I put our ability to succeed in this competition entirely on the team that Jackson and I chose. There was never a moment of panic during the competition (though there may have been some stress). Everyone knew what they needed to do and they did it consistently and brilliantly. Jackson and I may have been the leaders, but we could not have done it without the cool heads in the room.

Capsim is open to graduate students as well as undergraduates, which creates stiff competition, but the students from King’s were well-prepared after an entire semester of honing their business strategy skills. Fordyce thanked Fotopulos for her mentorship, and Cook said, “In a sense, we spent our entire semester preparing for the competition—we were tinkering with the simulation from the first week of class—so among the team there were hundreds of hours of preparation going into the finals. We spent the entire class learning about how different decisions affect how the business functions over time.”

The Capsim Challenge functions as a live case study, offering students a chance to test their business skills and build their credibility as employees. Provost Mark Hijleh said,

By this second Capsim win, with the highest score in competition history, through our new Meraki Honors Program in Finance launching this summer, and in so many other concrete outcomes, the King’s Business and Finance Program continues to lead the way in preparing students and graduates to shape and eventually to lead strategic for-profit and non-profit enterprises, transforming society by integrating the truths of Christianity and a biblical worldview into those arenas.

“Because we were uniquely positioned to succeed, we never trailed during the finals. From the first round, we led the rest of the teams to the best score in the competition’s history,” Cook enthused.

“It was a spectacular finish,” Fotopulos added. “Our students make history.”

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