USU Students Forge New Connections at USU's First International Leadership Case Competition

The Stephen R. Covey Leadership Center at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University hosted the first virtual International Executive Challenge (IEC), on March 19, 2021, bringing together student teams from six countries.

The event was one of the first of its kind at USU to connect students from around the globe through a robust learning experience, while also filling a void in student life caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A Harvard Medical School study found that young adults are experiencing higher levels of loneliness and depression amid the pandemic,” said Weston Hyde, program coordinator for the Covey Leadership Center at the Huntsman School. “The IEC provided an opportunity for students to safely build new relationships and develop as leaders in a competitive arena. Prior to COVID-19, virtual case competitions or networking events were rare, but sometimes adversity is the greatest catalyst for innovation.”

As a virtual leadership case competition, the IEC gave students from around the world the chance to develop their leadership skills, expand their network internationally, and compete for $2,000. The event included student teams from Stellenbosch University (Cape Town, South Africa), Erasmus University (Rotterdam, Netherlands), University of Zürich (Zürich, Switzerland), the University of Manchester (Manchester, England), Kühne Logistics University (Hamburg, Germany), the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and Utah State University.

Planning for the international event had been in the works for the past year, after Hyde, his team at the Covey Leadership Center, and some trailblazing students salvaged their own local case study competition during the early stages of the pandemic by making it a virtual event.

“At the time, we were initially hesitant to make the format virtual, considering the possibility that the quality would drop significantly, but contrary to our worries the event was a huge success,” said Dr. Bret Crane, assistant professor of Management at the Huntsman School and associate director of the Covey Leadership Center. “Students put in great effort to prepare and delivered excellent solutions in their presentations. As a result, the judges were impressed, and some students were even offered job interviews at the conclusion of the event.”

Building on the success of last year’s virtual event, the Covey Leadership Center was able to scale its case competition to other countries. Other universities were eager to participate, and the roster of case study contestants filled up quickly.

To compete, 12 teams of four students each were given one week to create a 10-minute presentation based on a leadership themed case study. In the first round, teams were divided into three virtual rooms and delivered their presentations to a panel of judges. In the second round, the three finalist teams were given a twist in the case and one additional hour to adjust their presentations. Following the final presentations, the winners were selected and awarded prize money.

This year’s judges were comprised of political, business, and education leaders from around the world, including The House of Lords of the United Kingdom, FedEx Corporation, John Deere, Acumen Learning, Align Technology, AlignOrg Solutions, Conservice, Zerorez Franchising Systems, McOmber Capital, and SMCOVEY.

The first and second place teams in the 2021 IEC were both from Erasmus University. Third place was claimed by USU. A networking event following the competition further developed the participants’ relationships with one another and gave the students a chance to network with the judges.

“The International Executive Challenge was a very intense but extremely rewarding experience through which we were able to develop ourselves as a team and as future leaders,” said Robin Hijzen, a student from the second place Erasmus team.

The event also extended the mission of the Covey Leadership Center – which is to develop leaders of character and competence who elevate society – to a global network. A survey taken following the event showed that 81% of participants felt they were more confident in their ability to lead because of the IEC, 77% felt more self-aware, and 72% saw themselves more as a leader.

“We plan to continue to host the IEC annually following the success of our inaugural event,” said Hyde. “In a time of great emotional and educational challenge for many, this event provided an innovative way to challenge our students and help them create interesting and lasting connections.”

To learn more about the event and watch the winning team’s presentation, visit

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