University Relations and Communications

MSU Billings student wins international business competition

May 5, 2011


Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — Anyone who has done it for any length of time will tell you that running a business is far from easy. Inventory, cash flow, marketing strategies and personnel decisions can be challenging. 


Success depends on making hard decisions and perseverance.


A Montana State University Billings student recently found out that running a simulated business is just as difficult. And calculated choices, hard decisions and perseverance can pay off.


Zoe with professor Pat HolmanZoe McRae, who will completing her work as a senior this fall in the MSU Billings College of Business, recently topped a field of business students from around North America to win the 2011 Capsim Spring Challenge International Business Simulation competition. It was an experience that took her through a variety of real-life business decisions against top students from around the country. It was also the fourth time in a decade that MSU Billings has had the No. 1 finisher in the competition.


“It was pretty challenging,” she said. “I had actually practiced making some of my decisions within an hour allotted in the competition. It’s a challenge.”


An immersive exploration of core business processes, the Capsim simulation experience is designed to teach all the essential elements of running a business: finance, the cause and effect relationship between functional areas, satisfying customer demands and competitive analysis.


The competition is done online and participants take the reins of a $40 million company that has no clear direction and poor financial results.  The task is to build the business, adding products and focusing the management decisions from every key department on the company’s goals.


In the scenario, the overall industry has two market segments: low tech and high tech. Each company in the industry begins with one product, but can develop a portfolio of up to five. From five to eight years, each simulated in one round, the management team shapes the company’s future via decisions on Research and Development, Marketing, Finance and Production. In later rounds, modules on Human Resources and Total Quality Management can be added.


Each “company” in the simulation competes for sales, profits, and market share while participants learn to read and understand financial statements, allocate resources and balance competing demands. Students can see the decisions made by their competitors after each round and adjust accordingly after computerized calculations are revealed.


Points are awarded for positive cash flow, market share and other elements and students are rewarded when they keep the company moving forward.


“I was the only one (in the competition) not to have to get an emergency loan,” McRae said.


Pat Holman, who teaches a business class that uses the simulation concept among teams, said it has been impressive to see the continued success of MSU Billings students in the international competition. McRae bested competitors from The King’s College in New York, Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada and Baylor University in Texas.


“It’s pretty exciting,” Holman said.


Holman says the success comes from talking a holistic view of running a business, not just one aspect. Students in her classes learn that in the world of business, life is sometimes unfair and good things don’t always come to those who wait. In short, business is not for the timid or meek.


Holman uses those lessons in a junior-level Applied Business Decisions class that she teaches each semester using the Foundation model. Students are expected to make decisions and move forward. They are expected to work as a team to solve problems. And they are expected to make investors happy; i.e., make money.


Holman, who operated her own business for years, said the course teaches students how to deal with situations as they arise. And the students respond.


They each have their own methods to help them succeed. An accounting major who helps run her family ranch near Jordan, McRae said her strength was in evaluating formulas and applying those formulas to spreadsheets that helped her make the best decision possible. 

“Anything that had to with production or forecasting, I was worried,” she said with a smile, admitting she kept a close eye on results over the two-day competition.


After completing her studies this fall, McRae said she plans on finding an internship with a local accounting firm and “branching out from there.”


Few will doubt her perseverance.


For more information on programs at the MSU Billings College of Business, go to or call 657-2888.


PHOTO ABOVE: Zoey McRae, center, recently took first-place honors in the 2011 Capsim Spring Challenge International Business Simulation competition. McRae, a senior accounting major from Billings, competed against other students from around North America. McRae is the fourth MSU Billings College of Business student in the past decade to win first place in the finals. With McRae in this photo is Pat Holman, an adjunct assistant professor in the College of Business, who use the Capsim simulation in her classes.


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