MBA case competitions are a quintessential part of the MBA experience for many ambitious students. Eoin and I found a Case Competition titled ‘IBM Case Competition, The Challenges of Digital Strategy’. The final of which would take place in the McDonough School of Business part of Georgetown University in Washington D.C. USA. After a quick discussion about the suitability of the competition, we set about putting together a team of complementary skillsets, attributes and personalities, a team we felt could go to Georgetown and win- enter Huyen and Marcelo.
2018 was the seventh year of the IBM-Georgetown Case Competition. Each year a real case based on a U.S. government department is produced. In 2017 this was the Department of Defense, the 2018 case that we received was based on the problems facing the National Park Service (NPS).
For the first round we were required to submit a five minute video submission detailing our strategy to resolve a case study based on the real life problems facing the National Park Services, problems which included a $11.6 billion maintenance backlog. This was a challenging case with a deadline that clashed with our International Business Trips. The Friday before setting out on our respective adventures we filmed a segment together in Smurfit, as can be seen in the photograph below:
Karan Sonpar and Pat Gibbons were extremely generous with their time and gave the team fantastic support with the case throughout. With Karan and Pat helping us we began to wonder was destiny conspiring for us to advance to the second round in Georgetown. To produce a quality strategy to this difficult case, every spare minute was utilised by all team members on both sides of the Pacific Ocean with a major part of our round 1 solution being solved on the back of the buses which took us from the company visit to company visit. Our Global Virtual Team experience from semesters 1 and 2 was also put to good use with Skype calls taking place, not easily with a packed schedule and 12 hour time difference between Hanoi and Lima, but where there is a will, there is a way.
We decided that the theme of our video submission would be that we travelled the world searching for the best solutions to solve the NPS problems, below you can see photos at the various locations where we filmed.
Returning to Dublin on Friday 23rd March 2018, still jet-lagged we met up on Saturday to finish our submission, upload to the video on YouTube as per the case requirements and inform Georgetown. Twelve days later our belief that we had been produced a quality solution was vindicated when we were one of the 9th out of the 30 plus teams who entered to be chosen to compete in the finals in Georgetown. After an excited talk with the team and the MBA Programme Office we accepted our place in the final, little did we know then what we had let ourselves in for over the next 12 days!
For the following 12 days, we all had to step out of our comfort zones, further than any point so far in our MBA experience to date. The second round case built on the first round, however teams were allowed to build on what they had already produced in round 1 or tear up their existing strategy. As a team we decided that our strategy from the first round would not be good enough to win and so we essentially started again. The team dynamic was really good, we were all on a mission to produce a winning strategy for the NPS, apart from attending lectures all team members spend every minute of our time on the case. Two days prior to the competition, one day before flying to Washington D.C. we were pushed to the limit. We presented 3 times that day with an evolving presentation, receiving feedback from the MBA Programme Office, academics and our fellow classmates. That Wednesday night after 10 days of internal debate, external feedback and not enough sleep we settled on our presentation (well most of it anyway!).
Thursday morning we got to the airport and our 12:55 flight with United Airlines was cancelled! We go to the United Airlines desk, let them know that we can’t wait for the next flight which is tomorrow because of the competition and we were put on the 12:30 flight with Aer Lingus.
We arrive in Dulles International Airport at 15:30 EST and call an Uber to our hotel. After some shopping for essentials in a dollar shop and a fine meal in KFC, we return to practice for the following day’s competition, just after midnight and having been awake for over 24 hours we called it a night.
Friday morning we started the day right with Pancakes, butter, bacon and eggs, the breakfast of champions, except Marcelo who had cereal, toast and two cups of coffee! On the way to Georgetown we got excited when we drive past the Pentagon and spot the Washington Monument, which prior to the Eiffel Tower was the tallest structure in the world and is managed by the NPS, one of many NPS sites that we were set to visit over the weekend.
We arrived at Georgetown to a warm welcome from the competition committee. One thing I have not mentioned thus far is that all teams throughout rounds 1 and 2 had to remain anonymous until the final results were given, to prevent any potential bias from the judges. After registering, conversing with our competitors and a welcoming address from IBM and Georgetown, we were shown to our private room and told to make ourselves feel at home and that we would be called at 10:50, the countdown was on! For the most part we relaxed, did a small amount of practice got mentally prepared for the competition, 10:50 came and we were escorted to the lecture theatre, in front of us was 5 judges from IBM, the three teams who had presented already that morning and some Georgetown students, all keen to see what strategy the most culturally diverse team in the competition would propose to IBM and the NPS. Our 15 minute presentation was timed to perfection, we answered all the questions to the satisfaction of the judges and at 11:15 left the lecture hall to a round of applause. We were on cloud nine and slowly floated back to our room full adrenaline and the joy of performing to our ability under pressure.
In the afternoon we had lunch, networked, spoke to IBM’s HR/recruitment representative, and received a tour of the Georgetown campus. 15:20 the moment of truth arrived, IBM gave general feedback on the groups which was invaluable, given that we were all acting as IBM consultants in this round, then the top 3 were presented. Unfortunately we did not place in the top 3 but we were satisfied with our performance and extremely proud that we had gone to Georgetown to present a quality strategy to IBM on a real case and most importantly represented UCD and the Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School with pride and conviction.
After the event we retired to the Bulldog Tavern to share some refreshments with the IBM judges, the McDonough School Associate Dean and our fellow MBA competitors, who predominantly were attending business school in the U.S. but hailed from all over the world. After an entertaining evening with we set off for our Airbnb, exhausted we all fell asleep before 10 p.m. The next couple of days were amazing, the Mall in Washington and the museums which border it need to be experienced. Washington D.C. is a beautiful city and definitely worth including as part of a U.S. East coast trip.
As a team we must thank on an individual basis, Ro Downing, Agnieszka Wisniewska, Emma Mescall, Pat Gibbons, Karan Sonpar and Bob Brennan. We would also like to thank our classmates for their feedback on our presentations and for their support in general which meant a great deal to us.
To conclude everyone in the team pushed themselves to the limit for the IBM-Georgetown Case Competition. When the case was released two days before the International trip the easy thing would have been to say it can’t be done, but we said let’s have no regrets and give it our best effort. The lesson here is if there is something you want, don’t look for or accept excuses, keep trying, be brave, keep learning from your efforts, engage with the right people and you will get where you need to be, we promise you and you will be a better person for it.
James Kelly, MBA Full Time 2017/18