Students represent U.S. at L’Oréal competition in Paris

Faced with the challenge of drafting a proposal to produce millions of cosmetic products, a group of Carnegie Mellon engineering majors flew to Paris in late January to present their ideas.

The Carnegie Mellon team, consisting of junior Alexandra Gutschick, junior Daron Colflesh, and sophomore Kevin Anderson, represented the United States in the 2006 L’Oréal Ingenius Contest.

L’Oréal asked teams from around the world to present proposals for creating a supply chain of 280 million units. In organizing and dimensioning the supply chain, teams had to consider everything from raw materials to packaging to machinery. Creativity and costliness were also factors.

It was a challenge that surprised the Carnegie Mellon team at first. “Why are we doing this?” Colflesh initially wondered. “This is business, not engineering.”

According to Anderson, the problem was really about problem solving. The team had to figure out everything from product amount, to sizes and types of products, to the number of mixing vats needed. Anderson was in charge of creating the team’s chemistry-themed catalog.

Looking back, Colflesh recalled how difficult it was to come up with a creative proposal with so little to work with. “We kept thinking that there must be something lost in translation,” she said, pointing to the case study that had been translated from French into English.

To give the team a better grasp on the case, coach and L’Oréal employee Marc Genco gave the team a tour of his plant in Cleveland, Ohio. “It was definitely helpful to see the magnitude,” Colflesh said.

Designing the plant was the most concrete part of the project, she added.

The team proposed creating a new L’Oréal product line. A new supply chain of 280 million products wasn’t going to come out of anywhere, Anderson explained, so a new product line seemed like the best answer.

“We’re going to make our lives simple as possible,” said Gutschick, explaining the team’s rationale.
It was a plan that won them the national competition in New York and three plane tickets to the international competition in Paris, France.

In Paris, teams from Brazil, China, France, Germany, Mexico, and the United States competed for the first-place prize — the opportunity to attend a L’Oréal international training session.

“You [didn’t] know what to expect,” said Gutschick, speaking about various teams’ presentations. Gutschick noted that some proposals were flashy while theirs was more technical. “[Each team] had their strengths and they each had their weaknesses.”

Although the Carnegie Mellon team didn’t place, the experience was worth it for the team. According to Anderson, the study’s open-endedness made the experience more rewarding because the team had created something.

“I was impressed with how much I felt like I belonged there, both as a part of L’Oréal and in Paris,” said Anderson, who had never considered L’Oréal prior to this experience.

“It’s the experience...” Colflesh said, “not the project itself.”