Students win big in international business ethics competition

Photo courtesy of Sarah McCool ’18  Professor Thomas White, Simi Esan ’18, Sarah McCool ’18 and Tracy Keya ’18 pose with their IBECC trophy.

Photo courtesy of Sarah McCool ’18

Professor Thomas White, Simi Esan ’18, Sarah McCool ’18 and Tracy Keya ’18 pose with their IBECC trophy.


Three Mount Holyoke students became global champions last weekend when their team received first place in the 22nd Annual International Business Ethics Case Competition (IBECC) that was held in Boston from April 18-20. 

Sarah McCool ’18, Simi Esan ’18 and Tracy Keya ’18 competed as one of 40 qualifying teams from colleges and universities around the world who came together to present on ethical issues facing businesses today. Each team gave three presentations over the course of the three-day event: one full-length 25-minute presentation, one 10-minute presentation, and one 90-second presentation. McCool, Esan and Keya won first place for their 90-second presentation and placed second in the 10-minute presentation. The team was judged on their ability to incorporate the legal, financial and ethical aspects of their case, as well as their overall persuasiveness and presentation skills. 

“It felt good to know that our passion resonated through our presentation, and [we] appreciated this acknowledgment,” Keya said. “At first we felt anxious, but it was a good networking opportunity to meet other individuals from different countries and backgrounds. My teammates are confident individuals who made the presentation look like a piece of cake. Regardless, we practiced a number of times.”

All three students are enrolled in Ethics of Business and Entrepreneurship, a course taught by Visiting Professor Thomas White, who is the founder and executive director of the IBECC. As part of the curriculum in White’s course, all enrolled students, as well as some participants from outside the class, prepared business ethics presentations which they exhibited to IBECC judges at Mount Holyoke on March 23. The judges selected McCool, Esan and Keya to advance to the finals in Boston.

Their winning presentation was entitled “The Human Cost of Innovation: Apple, Cobalt and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” and focused on human rights abuses that result from increased demand for cobalt from the DRC that Apple uses in the manufacturing of smartphones, according to McCool.

“The DRC is very politically unstable, and Apple is capitalizing off the lack of state control in order to make a larger profit from their products,” McCool explained. “A lot of the miners in the Congo are artisanal miners which means they dig the cobalt out by hand, with no protection and no reinforcement to the mine, so the mines collapse a lot. It’s a big issue.” 

“Most of our work went into ensuring we were giving recommendations based on factual, up-to-date information,” Keya said. “It felt rewarding to know that our team, among many other great teams, was able to smoothly navigate the topic with all its complexities and clearly outline the ethical issues associated with it.”

Thomas White was asked to join Mount Holyoke in 2016 to teach a business ethics course in the newly created Entrepreneurship, Organizations and Society (EOS) program at Mount Holyoke. The Mount Holyoke team participated in the IBECC for the first time in 2017.

“Participation in the Mount Holyoke intramural competition to select a team for IBECC was optional that year, but things went extremely well,” White said. The 2017 team, who travelled to Santa Monica to compete, placed second in the 25- and 10-minute presentations, and fourth in the 90-second presentation. 

“The most important thing is how hard they work to prepare,” White said. “[Mount Holyoke] students are very good at this, and also at working with feedback aimed to help them improve. I think it is important for [Mount Holyoke] students to feel comfortable speaking in front of an audience, and this is a good excuse to develop those skills.”