Thirty-five students participated in this year’s MBA Opening Residency program, with Richmond-based Markel Corporation as the featured case company. 

“Markel got involved in the Opening Residency Program as a result of an invitation from President Ed Ayers and Senior Associate Dean Richard Coughlan,” said Bruce Kay, Vice President at Markel Corporation who is an MBA graduate himself.

Kay sees Opening Residency as a venue for Markel to gain insight into a business issue they are actually considering. “The strength of the program we think is [that] it’s an opportunity for Markel to take something that we’re interested in looking at in more depth but somehow never find the time to look into,” Kay said.

Students spent an entire weekend at The Jefferson Hotel listening to a proposal that Markel is considering.  They heard presentations not just from Markel, but also from MBA faculty and other specialists who analyzed the case.  All 35 students were divided into groups and were given one week to analyze Markel’s proposed action.

Matt Hannay, MBA candidate, said of his experience: “[In] working with my group, we continually challenged each other to get better.  Everything that we put up on our slides for our final presentation…we ended up debating over every single little point.”

Students were also pleased with the diversity of their teams and felt it aided them in their case presentation.  Kendree Thieringer (who works in marketing) said that her group consisted of a submarine officer in the Navy, a Chinese exchange student, an accountant, and a student who works in construction. 

“Everybody’s ideas coming together in such a different way and then putting it all together is just interesting and a great experience that you don’t really get to have in any other environment,” Kendree said of her group’s dynamic.

During the second weekend of Opening Residency, each team gave their presentations to selected faculty members who then chose three teams to advance and present in front of their peers and representatives from Markel Corporation.   

“The thing that is most interesting about the case study is that it pertains to a real-life situation.  It gives the folks that are part of the MBA program the ability to do research and try to find a solution when an answer doesn’t already exist,” said Jeremy Noble, Assistant Corporate Controller at Markel. 

Apart from the valuable experience the students gained, they also got to know each other and form bonds before starting classes.

Jeremy Crumley, MBA candidate said, “I think the biggest thing that I’ll get from Opening Residency is the network of other MBA students.”

Hannay agreed: “Looking back on it, I see why you have an Opening Residency program.  Dr. Coughlan talked about a lot of times an MBA class may just go to their first class, meet each other, may socialize a little bit and then leave.  I think that after Opening Residency, looking back, the bonds that a lot of people have made in this are really going to last for years.”

Overall, Coughlan was proud of this year’s Opening Residency and the way the students worked together.  “I was very pleased with this year’s Opening Residency, especially the very strong bonds that were built among the incoming students during this intense ten-day period,” he said.

The dialogue and interaction between these students made a lasting impression on Coughlan. “The richness of the conversation is what stands out for me.  They were already demanding much of one another.  I know they will accomplish a tremendous amount individually and collectively during their time in the MBA program.”