Running an international athletic footwear company as an undergrad might seem like an impossible challenge—unless you’re a Bryant International Business (IB) student. Through the global Business Strategy Game (BSG), teams of Bryant IB majors shepherd their own virtual shoe companies through a complex simulation that challenges them at every turn—and sees them square off against thousands of other teams from around the world.
It's a tough job, but the University’s junior executives have a history of rising to the challenge. In both of the last two semesters Bryant teams have tied for first place globally and earned multiple global rankings throughout the simulation.
That record of success extends beyond the game. "Being able to create your own business and control your own destiny like you do in the Business Strategy Game, is, I think, a very special experience,” says International Business major Alejandro Vaquerano ’23. Vaquerano led team “Plutus,” named for the Roman god of luxury, to global success in the fall semester. "It's a great opportunity to grow and it really prepares you for your career as well," he says.
Taking on the world
Bryant's International Business program, ranked #18 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, immerses students in their field, ensuring they have the experience to contribute to global organizations on day one, During their junior year, all Bryant IB students take “Integrated Block,” a unique, interdisciplinary, and interconnected course experience that includes classes in international finance, international marketing, international management, and international accounting. The common element across these courses is participation in the Business Strategy Game, a simulation played by undergraduate and graduate business students worldwide.
“The Business Strategy Game is designed to help students see how the entire system works together. They have to understand the larger picture and how all of the factors influence each other.”
“The Business Strategy Game is a very integrative experience in that students must apply not only what they are currently learning but everything they have learned thus far in their other classes as well,” notes International Business Program Director and Lecturer of Management Jacqueline Saslawski, JD. “Through the simulation, they see that what they're learning matters, how it applies to the real world, and how it all comes together,” she says.
It’s also a chance to benchmark yourself against other great business students. “Through Integrated Block, you learn all sorts of different skills across so many different areas—you're learning about marketing, you're learning about operations, you're learning about finance, you're learning about accounting,” Vaquerano says. “The Business Strategy Game helps you put everything you've learned to the test.”
Making key decisions
In the BSG, company operations parallel those of actual athletic footwear companies. Students make decisions in nearly every aspect of corporate governance, including marketing, distribution, finance, cash flow, even whether to bring in celebrities to endorse their products. Each area affects every other in the simulation—a change in worker compensation would affect finance, for instance, or a change in marketing would require new products and resources to be moved to new areas.
“The Business Strategy Game is designed to help students see how the entire system works together,” says Professor of Marketing Srdan Zdravkovic, Ph.D., who teaches in the Integrated Block and has mentored numerous BSG teams. “They have to understand the larger picture and how all of the factors influence each other.”
“Taking part in the Business Strategy Game certainly caused me to see business operations in a new light. It allows students to experience the many moving parts of a business which helps them visualize the importance of each individual decision and helps change their way of thinking.”
Just as in the real-world, the student companies compete in a global market arena, selling branded and private-label athletic footwear in four geographic regions—Europe-Africa, North America, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America. That international footprint requires the students to both consider the details that make doing business in a specific country unique and think across borders.
The BSG’s wide-reaching, interdisciplinary nature makes it a perfect fit for the IB program and the Integrated Block, says Zdravkovic. “In the IB program, we are not teaching them marketing in a vacuum, or finance, or management, or accounting. That is not how the world works.” One of the key strengths of the program, he says, is the diversity in expertise of the IB faculty, who act as resources for the students throughout the simulation. While they are available to answer questions, though, they require the students to make their own decisions.
“Taking part in the Business Strategy Game certainly caused me to see business operations in a new light,” says Brianna Catino ’23, a member of the same Business Strategy Game team as Vaquerano. “It allows students to experience the many moving parts of a business which helps them visualize the importance of each individual decision and helps change their way of thinking.”
“You have to trust your teammates and keep an open mind to everyone's ideas because we all can have an impact.”
The students’ decisions and performance are judged weekly according to a range of metrics, including Earnings, Return on Investment, Return on Equity, Credit Rating, and Image, and their results and rankings are posted to all competitors. “It provides tangible real-time feedback,” Zdravkovic notes. “The students can evaluate and appreciate from week to week the work they have done, what worked and what did not. We learn a lot from our successes but sometimes we learn even more from our mistakes and failures.”
"Being part of the Business Strategy Game helps prepare you to be adaptable and adjust to whatever comes your way,” Vaquerano agrees. “Some weeks we weren't as successful as others, and it helps you learn how to adjust to that."
A hands-on, experiential learning exercise, the simulation helps students bring new context to their studies and aids them in developing their analytical and decision-making skills. It also teaches them to work as a team; while every student picks a position and specialty area, from CFO to director of marketing, they must work together to be successful. “You have to trust your teammates and keep an open mind to everyone's ideas because we all can have an impact,” Vaquerano states.
Catino says that the lessons she learned from her team’s collaborative work are a key benefit of the BSG. “I believe that the skills I learned from working in a group of people will be the most helpful takeaway for me going forward because my career will certainly involve working with people, which is not always as straightforward and simple as it may seem,” she says.
“The simulation can be a huge confidence builder. When our students go for job interviews, the people who interview them are frequently very impressed with what they have accomplished.”
In fact, she notes that Bryant’s emphasis on teamwork gives students an advantage in the BSG—and in their future careers. “Our Bryant University education is heavily focused on both group work and professionalism,” she reflects. “I believe that our prior exposure to intensive group work—and the teamwork and confidence we gain from it—prepares students for success in the Business Strategy Game.”
Regardless of how the students rank in the games, Saslawski says, they come away with invaluable experience. “They gain a new understanding of what they’re doing and how it can lead to success, and it helps them develop important professional skills as they move on and begin their professional careers,” she states.
“The simulation can be a huge confidence builder,” Zdravkovic adds. “When our students go for job interviews, the people who interview them are frequently very impressed with what they have accomplished.”