Months of intense preparation and coaching, facilitated by UCD Smurfit, had prepared us for this moment. As we took our places on stage in front of 200 plus people, we were totally in sync, a true team. We knew we could win if we made this the best show of our weeklong adventure at the John Molson MBA International Case Competition, the world’s largest business case competition for MBAs. And so, after a slow and measured breath, we assumed our temporary roles as Smurfit Consulting and dared the audience to buy into our unconventional pitch.
Exactly 3 hours and 10 minutes earlier, we had been given an unpublished case and locked in a room with no internet access, robbed of our phones, smartwatches and anything to connect us to the outside world. The challenge: How was Wal-Mart’s e-retail business to survive in the face of the ever powerful Amazon? Just as we had practiced, we methodically analysed Wal-Mart’s core competencies and opportunities, with each of the four team members developing a particular part of the analysis, solution or proposed implementation strategy. The 20 minutes of allotted time for group debate were, as always, the most intense. But with everything riding on our solution to this case, today was a flurry of ideas in which we debated the future of retail, the internet and even basic human needs for interaction. Finally, we settled on a plan and with 2 hours of furious scribbling, calculating and putting together a power point, we were ready.
2 minutes in to the presentation, we witnessed an abundance of raised eyebrows and sideways glances in the audience asking “how could they be proposing that?” As time progressed, quizzical looks changed to heads nodding in agreement, even a few smiles. At the end of our 25 minute presentation and 15 minutes of grilling from the judges, we exited the stage to resounding applause knowing that we had sold our plan. If this wasn’t going to win the competition, well, it just wasn’t meant to be.
The moment of truth: despite our knowledge that we had given it our all, we had watched a number of the other 35 teams present during the week and knew that the competition was formidable. They were, after all, some of the brightest and most engaging students from many of the world’s top business schools. By the time Smurfit was announced as the winner of the 37th annual competition at the formal dinner on Saturday evening, we had lost track for the first time that week of the slow count of breathing in and out, instead holding our breaths in anticipation. Collecting the Concordia cup on stage, it finally sunk in that all the Sundays we spent pouring over cases and being drilled on presentation skills had paid off. Indeed, we will certainly remember that moment every time in the future when we take a deep breath and pitch a crazy, innovative idea in a boardroom whose occupants aren’t quite prepared for what they are about to hear.
How did UCD Smurfit’s team solve the Wal-Mart case? Find the video recording here (third finalist presenters): https://mbacasecomp.com/media/videos-2/.
Maria Barry, Paul Donnelly, Andrew Gebelin, Ruth Lalor, and Gearóid O’Briain travelled together with coach Professor Patrick Gibbons to compete in the 2018 John Molson International Case Competition in Montreal, Canada. Professor Gibbons and Paul Slattery deserve many thanks for coaching the team
Andrew Gebelin, EMBA 2016-2018 and Ruth Lalor, EMBA 2016-2018