Canada Bound: Preparing to Represent UCD Michael Smurfit at the John Molson International Case Study Competition

The UCD Smurfit Molson Team. L-R: Declan Walsh, Anne Marie Barcoe, Derek Anderson, Tanya Kenny, Catherine O’Brien. Picture Jason Clarke.
The UCD Smurfit Molson Team. L-R: Declan Walsh, Anne Marie Barcoe, Derek Anderson, Tanya Kenny, Catherine O’Brien. Picture Jason Clarke.

Sunday 18th of December and it is two days after the end of some of the busiest weeks of the Executive MBA to date. With Semester 1 of Year 2 complete, most students could be found making up for lost time with family and friends, Christmas shopping, or simply enjoying their freedom again. All except for our team of five daring Executive MBA students who traded Dundrum Shopping Centre for a small meeting room in The Radisson St Helens Hotel. Acting as a team of consultants, we were challenged to dissect a case on McDonald’s proposed global turn-around strategy within three hours, followed by a 25 minute presentation outlining our proposed strategy and rationale. Armed with the knowledge gleaned from the MBA to date, we set to work confident we could solve McDonald’s strategy dilemma. The Smurfit MBA team’s preparations for the John Molson International Case Study Competition 2017 were truly in full swing.

The journey began on October 11th when the second year Executive MBAs were invited to participate in ‘trials’ to establish the UCD team that would travel to Montreal to participate in the competition. Organised by John Molson School of Business at Concordia University in Montreal, the competition is the largest and longest established business case competition of its kind in the world. It takes place in Montreal every January and is a round-robin tournament consisting of seven rounds of unpublished business cases over five days. A total of 36 international universities will be represented in 2017 including teams from Canada, America, Australia, Brazil, China, Mexico, Chile, Sweden and Germany.

The UCD team was selected following individually prepared presentations on a sample case on microfinancing in rural India. We were informed by Smurfit School that we would receive all the support we required and determined to make the most out of this opportunity, we set about  honing our strategy and presentation skills.

First up was an intense session on strategy analysis with Professor Pat Gibbons. Pat is the team’s coach and will travel to Montreal to provide guidance and support throughout the competition.

Next up, Paul Slattery took the team for a master class on how to present, prepare Power Point slides and communicate effectively with an audience, in this case the local business executives who will act as judges in Montreal. For anyone who has had a class with Paul Slattery, they will appreciate how valuable a session in such a small group proved to be. The evening with Paul was challenging but thoroughly enjoyable, provoking more than a few laughs from the group along the way as we perfected the art of corporate story telling amongst other skills.

With our foundation sessions complete, it was agreed that real life practice cases would be the best way to develop our skills. Our first practice case revealed to us the scale of the challenge we were facing within a tight three hour preparation window. It highlighted many areas for development; we lacked structure, time efficiency and a clear direction. This led to a sense of panic during our preparations as the clock ticked down and this was apparent to Pat from our rapidly cobbled together presentation slides. However, we surprised ourselves in getting through the presentation fluidly. Whilst we had some doubts about the arduous challenge facing us, they were quickly eradicated at this point as we knew we could only improve with practice.

Over the next few weeks we worked rigorously to evolve as an effective team under time pressure and developed a clear process for tackling case studies. Our rate of improvement as a team has been incredible and has only been matched by the rate of learning as individuals. Speed reading, effective group brain storming, clear communications, strong Power-Point slides and strategic thinking have all been key takeaways for the group.

The preparations are now complete and all that is left for us is to execute our plan. The team travel to Canada confident that our committed preparations will bear fruit as we represent UCD on the world stage. In reality, we are unsure of what to expect from our competitors but ultimately; win, lose or draw we are satisfied that we have already learnt more about strategy, presenting and most importantly team-work than would ever be possible in a classroom. It has truly been a fantastic experience to date, and we look forward to jetting off to Montreal to put our MBA skills to the test.

We would like to express our sincere gratitude to Professor Pat Gibbons for the huge amount of time and advice he has given, Paul Slattery for his guidance on presentation skills and finally Ro Downing and all at Smurfit School for facilitating this invaluable experience and providing all the support we could have wished for.

The competition runs from the 1st – 6th January and a further blog post will follow in relation to our experience in Montreal. Hopefully we will be talking about the first UCD team to win the John Molson International Case Study Competition. One has to believe to achieve.

Declan Walsh ~ Executive MBA, Year 2

On behalf of: Derek Anderson, Anne Marie Barcoe, Tanya Kenny and Catherine O’Brien

PROBLEM STATEMENT: How do we get from Dublin to Montreal?

The Smurfit MBA Molson Team. L-R – James Owens, Cormac Kelleher, David Cashman & Conor Connolly

While the bags may have been packed, the airline certainly was not ready to let us go. The beep of a phone at 5.03am on January 2nd casually notified us that our flight was cancelled due to ‘aircraft maintenance’ – no other information provided! For the Smurfit Molson team, this was the first challenge – how do we get to the competition? A quick scan of the airline’s site indicated that all flights that day were full (…well of course they were, it was the 2nd of January after all!). Undeterred, data analysis revealed alternative routes via Heathrow / Paris / Schiphol / Madrid as potential alternatives. Two issues were apparent …time wise it would be tight, but more importantly, could we talk our way into getting those four seats? What ensued was a masterclass in strategy, supply chain management, and flattery (hello to Francine in United) …or at least that is what Cormac is contending. However, he must have done something right as we did manage to secure the seats andthe Smurfit Molson team were off!

How we traveled to Montreal in the end!
How we traveled to Montreal in the end!

The Molson MBA Case Competition is an international case competition organised by students, for students. It involves analysing cases in a time pressured environment, offering students an opportunity to put into practice newly acquired skills and competencies learned during the MBA curriculum. Students are further required to draft recommendations and implementation plans which are then challenged by senior panel of judges. A hectic week exposed us to real life and current business issues from various multinational companies. Our recommended strategies drew from our supply chain, HR, finance, strategy, marketing, and OB learnings. Indeed, the closing ceremony seemed the most apt when ‘learning by doing’ was referenced. The event is most certainly a great opportunity for students considering a career in consulting or anyone keen to get some Capstone practice in early!

The highlight of the week, without a doubt, was the live case study when students were presented with a board of directors of a new venture seeking a growth strategy. The board was comprised of the owners of a large well known luxury cosmetics brand, one of the largest fruit producers in Spain and a tech company who had been instrumental in launching the internet in Holland. These directors had recently launched the next generation in cosmetics – functional beauty products in a drinkable form. Packed with macro-antioxidants, BEAUTY & GO’s products are positioned as having a positive effect on your body via a selection of ingredients extracted from fruit skins. The company were looking to the Molson participants to advise them on their expansion strategy and how they should go-to-market with their products. Clearly the live case presented something of a conundrum for the Smurfit team … four Irish fellas advising on a beauty care strategy! Despite our initial apprehension, the team drew from ‘surprising’ hidden depths of SME knowledge with Conor’s slogan ‘From Skin to Skin’ getting a special mention from the judges.

The week was far from all work, as we also enjoyed an equally active social diary. Strong networking opportunities were afforded during the week with a particular emphasis on integration between the schools and meeting fellow participants. Throughout the week, we attended great events including an ice hockey game, a comedy gig, and a fancy dress party which were all equally excellent. We are happy to report that the Smurfit team’s creativity in the fancy dress party was widely acknowledged and appreciated! Also a special thanks to the UCD Alumni Association in Montreal who kindly hosted a reception for us in the Irish Embassy Pub & Grill.

After an uneventful return flight back to Dublin, there has been much reflection and discussion in relation to the trip. Are we glad we did it? Would we recommend it? The answer to these questions is a resounding yes. The competition itself provided immense practical experience and was a super opportunity to ground and pull together all our key learnings from the past three semesters. As a group we found the experience to be invaluable, and one that really illustrates the values of hard-work, teamwork and the spirit of collaboration.

We would like to thank:

  • The John Molson School of Business for hosting such a fantastic event;
  • Pat Gibbons, our coach, for all his help and guidance over the week;
  • Paul Loftus who organised the UCD Alumni reception in Montreal;
  • The UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School for offering us the wonderful opportunity to take part in such a prestigious event.

James Owens, Cormac Kelleher, David Cashman & Conor Connolly ~ Executive MBA