Yesterday, I helped judge the Wharton business case competition. This is a program put on by the Wharton Technology Club, in which MBA students analyze a business problem presented by a real company. This year’s sponsor was Lucent, which asked the students to recommend a strategic initiative for the company. Several Lucent executives also served as judges.
It was fascinating to hear what the studentss came up with, and how the Lucent folks reacted. One of the challenges in a fast-changing industry like telecom is that it’s relatively easy to identify high-level trends (the move to voice over IP, wireless substitution, convergence, etc.), but hard to pinpoint how an established company can realign itself to catch those trends. Lucent has tremendous assets, including relationships with most of the largest telecom carriers, but they are coming out of a rocky period following the dizzying heights of the telecom bubble. They realize they must reposition themselves as the market shifts. It was refreshing to listen to a series of proposals that wrestled with the challenges Lucent faces.
Interestingly, two of the teams came up with the same recommendation — acquiring a particular technology company in the unlicensed wireless space. I don’t think I’m allowed to reveal details, but it helped clarify my own thinking about how the telecom equipment world could evolve with the growth of WiFi, WiMax, and other unlicensed wireless technologies.