By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—IU Southeast MBA students Robert Blizard, Alex McClure and Stephen Self have won the 2022 CFA Institute Research Challenge regionals at the renowned Pendennis Club in Louisville, Ky.
This marks the fifth time IU Southeast has won the event, which brought together teams from the University of Evansville, the University of Louisville, and the University of Kentucky.
The CFA Institute Research Challenge is an annual event organized by the CFA Institute, a global association of investment professionals that sets the standard for excellence in the industry for chartered financial analysts (CFAs).
The Research Challenge gathers students, investment industry professionals, publicly traded companies, and corporate sponsors together locally, regionally, and globally for a real-world competition, according to the Institute website.
Over the course of four months, student teams dissect a corporation and deliver an investment recommendation based on their exhaustive research into its corporate structure and performance and best valuation practices.
In the real world, such recommendations help investors decide whether or not to purchase stock in a company, a decision that can make or lose fortunes for both parties.
This year’s focus was Kroger, the supermarket giant employing a staggering 465,000 people, with 2,742 stores in 35 states and an annual revenue of nearly $7.6 billion.
After its comprehensive examination, the IU Southeast team recommended that investors buy stock in Kroger.
“Our recommendation is based on Kroger’s accelerating digital growth, emerging alternative profit streams, and operational efficiency initiatives,” the team wrote.
The IU Southeast team was advised by Elizabeth Reisz, lecturer in finance and mentored by industry veteran Jeff Hoskins, CFA at River Road Asset Management in Louisville, Kentucky.
While Reisz helped the students sharpen their focus and pointed them to supporting research for their recommendation, Hoskins provided expert feedback on their arguments.
“This team is amazing,” Reisz said. “They submitted the best paper I have seen from an IU Southeast team, and I consider that high bar.”
On the strength of their accomplished written report, the team entered the final presentation round in first place.
They held on to that lead during the presentation and defense before the panel of experts from the CFA Society Louisville.
The win was gratifying for the teammates, who had pored over a massive amount of research, made the effort to meet regularly to discuss their analysis, and successfully balanced he demands of the competition with those of full family lives.
“This team did well by following their curiosity, extensive research and excellent feedback and teamwork,” Reisz said.
Those qualities were necessary as none of the teammates had any experience in finance.
For Alex McClure, a former project manager in manufacturing from Louisville, the sheer amount of research that was required meant balancing nights and weekends at the grad center with the responsibilities of a stay-at-home dad.
“To be able to take on a financial project like this and create the output that we did, learning as we went along, speaks to our commitment and the hard work we put in,” McClure said.
Steven Self, a Louisville native with experience as an account manager with Grainger Industrial Supply, echoes that sentiment.
“We all came at this with an understanding of what we had gotten into,” Self said. “We knew we’d have to give it everything we had to represent Elizabeth [Reisz], Jeff [Hoskins] and IU Southeast.”
That meant a steep learning curve in new areas. Self’s experience is in consultative sales, but he came away with a deeper understanding of financials through his work on the business description and competitive industry overview.
He also came away with a profound respect for Kroger’s strategic use of data, which has enabled the company to punch above its weight class against competitors such as Target and Walmart.
Robert Blizard, a theater arts teacher at South Oldham Middle School in Oldham County, Kentucky, also had no business or finance background. But he does have the courage to embrace the unknown–like the MBA program–and to try out for the team. Once aboard, he dove into what he does best: research.
The research led him to some discoveries that made the project more personal. He was surprised by Kroger’s alignment with the United Nations goal of ending hunger by 2030, and by its contribution to over 300 food banks nationwide.
For Blizard, who has become conscious of food waste in his own school, the information gave the project a relevance beyond the numbers.
Rather than divide the different aspects of the report into areas of individual concentration, the team decided that, given the uncertainty caused by the pandemic–and Blizard did in fact miss several weeks due to Covid–,each of them would need to know everything.
That bolstered their expertise and made for a seamless understanding of the whole.
It also brought them together as colleagues and as people.
“It was truly an honor to work with these gentlemen,” Self said.
Homepage photo: The IU Southeast CFA team members (l-r) Robert Blizard, Steven Self, Alex McClure.