John Molson International Case Competition: The Moment of Truth!

molson-pic1Months 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Exactly 3 hours and 10 minutes earlier, we had been given an unpublished case and locked in a room with no internet access, robbed of our phones, smartwatches and anything to connect us to the outside world.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):

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

Smurfit MBA Team Represent Ireland In Yale Integrated Leadership Case Competition & Take Home ‘Best Team Dynamic Award’

Pic Paul Sharp/SHARPPIX

How do you determine a company’s future strategy in only 7.5 hours? Simple. Put a team together, enter the Yale Integrated Leadership Case Competition (ILCC), get nominated to represent UCD Smurfit Business School, and then fly to New Haven and proudly do just that!

On Saturday morning on April 11th 2015, four full time MBAs, Cian (marketing) Collins, Peter (selfie) MacMahon, Enda (HJ) Power and Cathal (thumbs up) Small donned suits, UCD ties and pins, and entered the impressive Yale SOM (School of Management) building in New Haven, Connecticut at 7am to get to work on the case and do battle against 14 other business schools from around the globe. We were given no indication of the case content,  but weeks of practice and help from the Smurfit School had greatly helped our preparation and our confidence to ably compete. Doing the MBA program hadn’t hurt either!


Prior to the competition, our team met every Friday morning for about two months to discuss previous raw Yale cases and to figure out who would play which role on the day. We had a diverse mix of skillsets on the team – Cathal is a strategy-focused accountant, Peter is an engineer, Enda is a project manager and Cian’s background is in Human Resources. We had all worked across multiple industries and businesses, both indigenous and global, so between us we also brought a lot of collective yet diverse work experience.


We came to discover that the team that tells the most compelling, articulate and concise story of their strategic recommendation would emerge victorious on the day. This meant that having a killer market strategy and a well prepared slide deck  counted for little without a great presentation. Thanks to Michael McDonnell, Nxtgen’s Paul Slattery was engaged to coach us on everything that would help us get our compelling story across to the judges.

The case each of the teams had to present on related to a Mexican food producer that had been underperforming for many years. The owner needed recommendations on future strategic direction. Seven hours to determine a new strategy passes very quickly when presented with so much information but thanks to great teamwork, we formed a strong solution, created a comprehensive deck of slides and at 3pm stood in front of the judges and gave our presentation.  Only one team from each group of five qualified for Sunday’s final – from our group, HKUST (Hong Kong) qualified and went on to win the competition. The overall standard of competition was excellent – we were delighted to have come through the process and hold our own. We thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of implementing all of our MBA module learnings into a single case.


We were also chuffed to win the ‘Best Team Dynamic’ award at Sunday’s closing ceremony. Each team had been individually observed during the pressurised 7.5 hour process to observe team leadership skills. The judges advised that our team demonstrated the highest level of distributed leadership, clear communication, and collective decision-making. They also observed it was clear we were enjoying the process without letting the pressure get to us.  Prior to going to Yale, we’d had a cracking night out and a day sightseeing in New York (Bryant Park anyone? haha) and this may have helped! To be recognised as the best performing team out of all fifteen competing teams was a great achievement for us and for everyone who had helped us in our preparation for the competition – we were delighted as it capped off a truly memorable weekend.

In hindsight, the highlight of the competition was in the people we met – a great diverse mix of students from all over the world. Everything from how the competition was run and organised by the Yale MBA students, to the facility and  the judges (one of whom took us playing football with him and his mates the next day) was top class. It was a definite highlight of the MBA so far and we hope that a Smurfit team can again qualify in 2016 and have as good an experience as we did!

Cian Collins, Peter MacMahon, Cathal Small & Enda Power ~ Full-Time MBA