April 12, 2013

What to expect from your first case competition

Undergoing your first case competition is a unique experience and surely the most educational. You aren't really sure what to expect. There are times you think you can win, and other times when you’re sure you will be at the bottom of the pack. Last November, Deborah Bibb, Senior Admissions Director at Weatherhead (center of image), sent out an email recruiting students to participate in KeyBank’s Minority Case Competition. Three of us first-year MBA students ultimately formed a team: Larremy Gray, Dominique Vargas, and me, Jessica Lehmann.

Beginning the case
We first received the case in January and had a month to work on it before the February competition. J.B. Silvers, a Weatherhead professor who researches financial management and health services, kindly agreed to come on as our faculty adviser. After receiving the case, we sat down on a Friday night to go through it…four hours later, we felt like we had been in an intense class: we learned about the economic state of multifamily housing in the US; we learned about Commercial Mortgage-Backed Securities (CMBS); we learned about the challenges facing retail banking; and we learned about the never-ending regulations that face banks. We left with a divide-and-conquer strategy. The following week, we met with Professor Silvers and proceeded to ask the many questions we had devised from our marathon session: “What is the financial model of a hospital?” “What is your gut feeling on the future of the multifamily housing market?” “What do you think will happen with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae?” “What is an approved third party with respect to the Dodd-Frank Act?” In his generous fashion, Professor Silvers proceeded to answer our questions for about two straight hours.

Finishing the case...at the last minute

We decided to pitch healthcare as an area KeyBank should consider expanding its commercial mortgage offerings to. Deb Bibb continued to be her amazing self and set up a practice presentation for us with herself, J.B. Silvers and a Weatherhead alum from the healthcare industry. After the practice presentation, it was pretty scarily clear that we had not impressed them. Key indicators were questions like: “This isn’t the final presentation, right?” and “Are you sure you've done enough research on economic trends?” We left the meeting feeling like we would definitely be placing 20 out of 20 the next week. In true MBA fashion (with a seven-course workload), we polished and revised our presentation the day before it was due. It was due at 5 pm, and we finished the last version at 3 pm!

The competition

Once a final presentation is submitted you can’t revise it. So after we submitted our case, we decided to enjoy the onset of perks of competing in case competition: we checked into our complimentary hotel rooms; picked up some schwag including bags, shirts, etc.; we enjoyed appetizers and networked with KeyBank higher-ups and employees; and we enjoyed three free meals a day. That night we pulled a token for our presentation slot time, and thankfully, I pulled the 10:30 am presentation time for the next morning. (The earliest one was 7:45 am!!) When we practiced that night, it was not very smooth…we stumbled over our words and omitted key pieces of information. We're not all natural public speakers, and we realized that presenting would be a struggle for a couple of us. We went back to our hotel rooms and practiced until around midnight before deciding it would be more fruitful for us to sleep for a bit, then wake up at 6 am and practice more. By 6:30 am, we were back in the swing of it and tried to stay calm. We each had our own spiel and went through it together just a couple of times before actually going down to the conference room to present.

There were five judges in the room and someone keeping time. We went through our presentation and overall, it went pretty well. Dominique performed especially well during the Q&A round, giving well-spoken and comprehensive answers to the judges. Around noon, we convened for lunch and the announcement of each bracket’s winner. We were slightly surprised to find that we were the winner of our bracket and would advance to the final round!

It is truly amazing how your expectations of yourself change (the Pygmalion effect is real) as soon as others’ expectations of you change. While we had begun the competition stating that we were expecting not to do very well, all of a sudden, we found ourselves stating things like, “You know, I think we have a chance at second at least!” We were first to present in the final round, and there was an audience of about sixty people in addition to five new judges and a time keeper. The presentation also went pretty well, but not as well as the first time around. We later found out that the judges actually disapproved of us not using the full amount of time allotted, whereas we thought we had simply been succinct. We stayed in the hotel bar until around 4 pm, interacting with other teams that did not make it to the final round, waiting for the final announcements. Deb joined us at dinner to hear the winners announced. We took 4th place and won $1,000 for our entire team, and Dominique won an award for best Q&A presenter from our bracket (we totally called it!).

Will we do it again?
Overall, we had a pretty great first case competition experience: to actually place, to do better than we thought we were going to do, to all be first-years and still have it go well…we left pretty happy. Sine this first experience, Dominique has already competed in other case competitions and Larremy and I assuredly will in the future, likely repeating the same team for KeyBank’s case competition next year.

Jessica Lehmann, with Larremy Gray and Dominique Vargas
KeyBank Minority Case Competition team 2013
Weatherhead School of Management
Case Western Reserve University
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