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Eller students win national accounting competition

Courtesy of Eller College of Management
Courtesy of Eller College of Management

Four Eller College of Management students rang in the new year by winning the national PricewaterhouseCoopers Accounting case competition, scoring $10,000.

The team, composed of Drew Finsterwald, Spencer Shugrue, Derek Haboush and Ryan Mendoza, was selected to advance to the semifinals out of 11 other UA teams.

The competition saw a total of 2,200 students in 500 teams from 43 universities participating.
PwC holds the national case competition each year, according to Finsterwald, an accounting and management information systems senior.

“They give you a different business plan of a certain industry. Like, this year it was biofuel, and you’re supposed to recommend whether they should go through with the business plan and invest in this company, or if they should not, or you can come up with a different solution, an alternative business plan,” Finsterwald said.

Once the team was selected to move on, a video of its performance was submitted anonymously to the national office for PwC. From the pool of 43 semifinalists, Finsterwald’s team was chosen as one of five finalists. The competition finals were held in New York from Jan. 2-3, where the teams were asked to present their business recommendations in front of a panel of judges ­— and faced a surprise twist, according to Finsterwald.

“The big curveball that came in was that five minutes before presentation, they came and gave us new information. … We were supposed to change our financial statements in the five minutes before we walked in,” Finsterwald said.

According to the members of the team, it was confidence that helped them succeed.

“We had the mindset that we’re not leaving without winning,” said Haboush, a finance sophomore. “We came out of the school [competition] doing fist pumps.”

The team’s faculty adviser, Joe Fonte, shared the students’ conviction.

“I was absolutely sure that they were going to win,” Fonte said. “I have never seen a group of students who were so determined to win a competition and win it in a manner where they had every base covered and where every one of the team members knew everything about the case. … They were seamless in their presentation.”

What made the victory even sweeter for the team members was how their opponents had underestimated them, Haboush said.

“They kind of looked down on us, and we could definitely tell that they weren’t threatened by us,” Haboush said of the team’s competition: Villanova University, the University of Washington, Wake Forest University and the University of Illinois.

Fonte said the team’s victory should serve to bolster the reputation of Eller College and the UA.

The recognition has led to opportunities for the students as well. Finsterwald was offered an internship with PwC as a result of the team’s victory.

“Winning something like this can kind of leverage your way into an Ivy League school. … It’s very big,” Finsterwald said.

Fonte said he was proud of the students’ efforts and that it was a good representation of Eller College.

“The team was, I think, indicative of the quality of the students that we have here at the business school,” Fonte said. “They’re just outstanding students and outstanding people.”

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