UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


UNC case competition focuses on real estate development


In an intense yet rewarding competition, MBA students studying real estate at top business schools come together for UNC Kenan-Flagler’s annual Real Estate Development Case Challenge. Over two days, participating teams spend hours racing to compile the best data, draw detailed site plans and develop a comprehensive concept for the real estate case assigned. Combined with the opportunity to present to industry leaders serving as competition judges, students in the case challenge emerge having experienced the pressures of an actual real estate development situation.

For a grand prize of $10,000, the teams compete to present the best and most creative development plan for a real estate site, the details of which they receive just two days before pitching their concept to a panel of judges.

Teams designed a site plan for 140 acres of land close to downtown Houston, Texas, in the eighth annual competition held Feb. 14-15. The McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin won first place and Columbia University Business School took second. The Anderson School of Management at the University of California at Los Angeles and the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University tied for third.

Leonard Wood (MBA ’72), a founding member of Wood Partners LLC, donated the prize money for the competition.

UNC Kenan-Flagler team member Hampton Barclay (MBA ’13) says this case was particularly challenging because it left much open to interpretation for the teams, and was extremely flexible in terms of the different development plans the teams could pursue. “The goal is to use the site to its highest and best use,” he says. “With this one, there’s just so much you can do and so many different product types you can use.”

With only second-year MBA students in the real estate concentration allowed to participate for UNC Kenan-Flagler’s team, the case challenge represents a real-life learning experience that provides the culmination for two years of coursework in the concentration.

“It was definitely the most difficult thing I’ve done and such high pressure, but it was a great ending to my experience here at Kenan-Flagler,” Barclay says. Students have the opportunity to interact with and present to judges who are experts in the field of real estate development, in a format that closely resembles real development pitches they will encounter throughout their careers.

The experience was an incredible learning opportunity for Caitlin Leary (MBA ’12), a development associate at The JBG Companies who competed on the UNC Kenan-Flagler team last year. “You’ve come through the program at UNC, which is one of the best if not THE best, and this is an opportunity to showcase that to people,” she says. “It takes everything you learned in the classroom and forces you to apply it to the real world, so it’s a great capstone in that sense.”

The case competition and her education at UNC Kenan-Flagler poised Leary perfectly for her career goals. “I was able to secure a job in exactly what I went back to school for,” she says. “My boss is a UNC grad and there are a lot of other Kenan-Flagler folks here. I’m 100 percent certain that had it not been for UNC I wouldn’t have landed the job I did, and I’m really grateful for that.” Perhaps one of the greatest benefits students gain from participating in the challenge is the relationships they form with the judges, students from other programs and UNC Kenan-Flagler alumni, creating the networks that will prove invaluable throughout their careers.

“The real estate industry is heavily dependent on relationships, and both the real estate program and case challenge provide a great base of teachers, alumni and other teams for participants to interact with and learn from,” says Joe Cannon (MBA ’09), vice president of investments at Bell Partners Inc. who served on the UNC Kenan-Flagler team as a student. “You don’t have this kind of opportunity anywhere else.”

The Real Estate Development Case Challenge is just one facet of one of the most respected and comprehensive real estate development programs in the country, a field in which UNC Kenan-Flagler has long been a leader. “The program has done a great job of attracting bright students, and I think the curriculum prepares them well,” says Kevin Penn, chief strategy and administration officer for Highwoods Properties and a competition judge for the past five years. “I’m always impressed with the amount of work and thought that the students put in in such a short period of time. What they’re able to do in that time is amazing.”

Teams also were fielded by:

  • Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago
  • The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University
  • The Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University
  • London Business School
  • Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California
  • McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University
  • Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University
  • Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College
Read more about the invitation-only case competition at http://www.kenan-flagler.unc.edu/real-estate-development/real-estate-development-challenge.