December 6, 2013

How to Crack a Case Competition. What to do and what not to do.

I arrived in Cleveland in August 2013, with all the anxiety and fears that an international student inevitably has. It was just my first week, I was getting used to the new life, new city, new people, and classes when Carlos Bustamante (MBA 2014) came up to me and said, “hey, I know that you have a good background in finance, we are competing in the NSHMBA case competition, would you want to join?”. I had some doubts at first because I had just arrived but I have always liked these kinds of the challenges so I said yes. The group was also made up of Dominique Vargas (MBA 2014)  and Luis Contreras (MS Finance 2014).

NSHMBA Cleveland '13 Winners
Dominique Vargas (MBA '14), Sergio De Ilzarbe (MBA '15),
Luis Contreras (MSF '14), Carlos Bustamante (MBA '14)
The case was not simple, it was a minority owned company in the heavy construction industry that wanted to expand. They had just started a venture with a bigger firm and did not want to lose their brand. So where to go? How to expand? What industry to aim for? What was going to be the marketing strategy?
We started strongly, setting up meetings and working through the case. We had a meeting with Professor Simon Peck who helped us aim our efforts correctly but according to the rules was not able to have much more impact on the work. We had our first talk with the company owner, who was a bit vague about the information he gave us, we felt a little lost in that situation but still tried to put the work together. That is when we made our first mistake. We all had a lot of class presentations to prepare for and soon we only had 20 days to go until our case presentation with only a draft.

We met on a Saturday morning, and separated the idea in 2 main parts, Corporate Strategy and Marketing Strategy which were the main goals of the case. Luis and I took care of the Corporate Strategy and Dominique and Carlos took charge of the marketing.
From a Corporate Strategy Standpoint, we had to decide on what industry the company going to sell to, having in mind that they did not want to move out of Cleveland and had good experience selling Sewer projects to the government. Considering the growing LNG industry was quite straightforward and proving that bigger companies in the industry were doing that was also easy. The hardest part here was investigating specifics about the market.

The marketing strategy had already been put together but we could not estimate costs or sale prices without specific data. Here I got some outside help. We were able to compute our cash flows, costs and sales estimates according to a very good estimation of the market size.
With our work and presentation put together we had a preliminary presentation with the Greater Cleveland Partnership. There we received good feedback, good answers and more information on where to improve the project. I have to say, at that moment, I was not confident at all.
We came back from this presentation knowing what to change and had a new meeting with Simon to see what his view was on this too. 
We went back to work, changed the presentation and the paper according to the feedback we received.

Presentation Day
After that, it was just waiting a couple of days for the final presentation. I have to say I was very nervous, but I was a little more confident than I was after the first presentation. We had put a lot of work together and we all knew what we were going to explain during the presentation.
We presented in front of members of the 3 different companies analyzed, 4 judges, a key manager at KeyBank, JumpStart and the Cleveland International FundI was nervous until the moment that I had to talk, I was so confident in what I was talking about that all that nervousness just dissipated.
After the competition we participated in the year end celebration of the NSHMBA Cleveland Chapter and had the chance to listen to a great speaker  and had excellent networking opportunities.

Our Top Tips
  1. Never let time consume you, we won, but we could have done better if we had not let time consume us.
  2. Divide the work by leveraging the members' strengths and capabilities.
  3. Before the presentation, practice, practice, and practice. The only way to beat nervousness if it is the first time you present is by being 110% sure in what you are going to say.
  4. Case competitions are also great opportunities to do networking; no matter the final result.
  5. Enjoy! All of these experiences are what make an MBA the best investment of your life. GO FOR THEM!
Sergio De Ilzarbe, MBA '15
International Student from Argentina
NSHMBA Case Competition Winner

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