How does a team from a small Jesuit business school such as John Carroll University reach the Americas’ semifinal round of the global CFA Institute Research Challenge? How does it outshine rivals such as Ohio State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison to advance and compete against schools from the US, Canada and Latin America?

It turns out, somewhat unwittingly. 

When five Boler College of Business seniors met for the first time in November 2021, they admit that they were thinking mostly about the free pizza that they had been promised.

“At first, we really didn’t understand the work involved,” says senior Brett Cloe, a finance and economics major from the northern Chicago suburbs. After several late-night working sessions at the Boler Analytics Lab — where they tapped into new technologies and software — the team began to click as a unit.

“Early on we underestimated the need for group cohesion,” says Kevin Gartner, an accounting and finance double major from North Canton, Ohio. Gartner and the other CFA team members credit teammate Michael Fedeli, a senior majoring in finance and wealth management, with recognizing that better communication and relationships would solidify the team and its work.

The group had spent time together in class lectures but would have to learn how their distinct personalities and skill sets meshed. “Mike made the point that we should get to know each other before we get down to business,” says Senior and team captain Gavin Martik, an economics and finance major from Pittsburgh. “That helped us learn our strengths.”

Fedeli, a double major in Finance and Wealth Management from Cleveland, adds: “You learn a lot about yourself when you’re trying to function as a team. Several of us have played sports, but this teamwork requires a different kind of give and take.”

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Each year, the CFA Institute Research Challenge manages to convince teams from more than 1,000 colleges (representing 90 countries) to spend months researching and reporting on a single, publicly traded company.

The competition is pitched as a chance for finance and accounting undergraduates to assume the role of research analyst, applying their best thinking and research tools to dissect one company, its market valuation, stock price and outlook for growth.

John Carroll University and the other schools from the Northern Ohio Region were assigned the J. M. Smucker Co., maker of consumer products across three categories: people food, pet food, and coffee. With popular brands such as Jif peanut butter, Dunkin, Milk Bone and Smucker's Uncrustables, Smucker ranks 378 on the Fortune 500, with an estimated 2021 market value of $13.9 billion.

Madeline Rowe, a senior from the Hermitage and Mercer area of Pennsylvania,  did the industry analysis, including the multifaceted impact of the pandemic, supply chain issues and inflationary forces on consumer behavior, price and competition. “Stay-at-home had a big impact,” Rowe said. According to the National Peanut Board,  US per capita peanut consumption climbed to an all-time high of 7.6 pounds in 2020, up 3.2% from 2019.”

Rowe and her teammates underscored that the nature of Smucker as a predominantly US company that’s grown more by acquisition than through organic growth sets it apart from global brands such as Nestle.

The team’s five-part analysis of the company required plenty of collaboration and nuance, according to Martik. “Maddie did the industry analysis. Mike did financial analysis. Brett did risk. Kevin and I did the valuation. We slowly learned to balance each data point with the larger meaning that we were trying to communicate. We had to guard against any one piece of information from tipping us into a hard buy or hard sell recommendation.”

The team gives props to Gartner for rebuilding the visual argument and presentation from scratch for the second round. “We were trying to reuse slides from past years,” Gartner says. “We realized that the case we were making needed a more refined set of slides.”

As the group looks ahead to graduation, each credits the CFA Challenge experience with deepening their commitment to a career in some aspect of finance. “Every day, we learn that the world of finance is far bigger and more multifaceted than any of us can fully grasp,” Fedeli says.

“John Carroll is one of 41 teams still standing in this global competition.” says faculty advisor Dr. Jisok Kang, the team’s faculty advisor. “I think that each team member has already earned the title champion. We are all very proud.”

In the Americas’ semi-final, John Carroll University will compete with HEC Montreal, Johns Hopkins University, Universidad Torcuato De Tella, University of Colorado at Boulder, and University of Oklahoma.