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WORLD BUSINESS

Fast lane to success

MBA students compete for real-world prizes

By Peter Walker for CNN

story.cadillac.gi.jpg
Marketing luxury: MBA students prepared briefs for Cadillac.

FACT BOX

FT's Executive MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Hong Kong UST, China
3. London Business School, UK
4. Instituto de Empresa, Spain
5. Fuqua, Duke, U.S.
6. Chicago GSB, U.S.
7. Columbia, U.S.
8. Kellogg, U.S.
9. Stern, NY, U.S.
10. Cass, City University, UK
Source: Financial Times 2006

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EMBA SNAPSHOT

Executives taking the top EMBA courses in the U.S., Europe and Asia have average salaries of around $130,000 to $200,000.

A typical EMBA student is likely to be aged in the early 30s, with 6-10 years of working experience.

A top EMBA course can cost $100,000. Customized courses start at a few thousand dollars.

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Schools

(CNN) -- MBA courses are meant to prepare students for their return to the real world of business, but increasing numbers of them are never really leaving it thanks to competitions designed to test their skills.

Later this month the winner of a contest to devise a new marketing strategy for US luxury car brand Cadillac will be announced, with judges having sifted through dozens of submissions from MBA students.

The Cadillac Case Study Competition, now in its third year and with a separate category for undergraduate students, gives would-be marketing gurus a highly specific brief -- this year to investigate attitudes towards the brand held by women aged 35 and older.

In 2005, competitors were tasked with working out how Cadillac could best appeal to the "baby boomer" generation, the often affluent section of society born in the immediate aftermath of World War II

After carrying out their research, teams comprising up to five students and a professor had to submit a professional-standard Powerpoint presentation outlining their pitch for the business -- "any and all" ideas are considered, Cadillac says.

On May 25, the two MBA teams whose submissions were considered the best this year have the daunting task of going to the Cadillac headquarters in Detroit, Michigan, to make a face-to-face pitch to executives from the firm, as well as from leading advertising agency Leo Burnett.

One of this year's top two MBA schools is from the Anderson School of Management at the University of New Mexico, who used a national online study to carry out market research and say they plan to grab the attention of the target audience with communication tools "above and beyond the traditional advertising."

"The Cadillac competition gave our students the unique opportunity to conduct, analyze and interpret this research to solve a real-world marketing challenge," said Assistant Professor Catherine Roster, who has assisted the students.

The winners not only get a $3,000 first prize but also the chance of an internship at Leo Burnett, handed to the most impressive single student from any of the top two MBA or undergraduate teams.

Marketing plan

Other MBA courses offer similar real-world marketing experience in an attempt to help students cement the theoretical skills they are learning.

MBA students at George Washington University in Washington DC competed among themselves earlier this month to devise the best marketing plan for another auto firm, car dealership Prestige Volvo, based in New Jersey.

Again, teams of students followed months of research and brainstorming with a pitch to company bosses -- with the added incentive of seeing the best ideas actually used in the dealership's next advertising campaign, with a budget of $136,000.

"These students are working professionals. This competition is cut-throat," said Prestige Volvo general manager Matthew Haiken, himself a recent graduate of the same MBA course.

Cadillac, perhaps understandably, isn't promising to use the ideas generated through its competition in a real advertising campaign. But equally, the firm is not about to turn down a stroke of marketing genius, especially if it comes for free.

"Your submission and ideas will become the property of Cadillac. It is possible that Cadillac may decide to implement your ideas in their national campaigns," warns the small print of the rules.

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