Cambridge Case Competition

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While studying at a worldwide top ten university such as Imperial College London, one would expect so many opportunities to take advantage of, maybe even more as a Business School student. However, this was clearly not one of those I had planned upon, back in September 2018, when I joined the MSc Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Management programme.

This programme is the third Master’s degree I am pursuing following a Master’s in Business Law from La Sorbonne in Paris as well as an MSc Management from emlyon Business School. This cross-curricular background resulted in a six-month digital strategy consulting internship at Capgemini Consulting in Paris. Even though I declined my penultimate-round interview at McKinsey London to start a full-time position at Facebook Europe upon graduation, I never gave up enjoying strategic case-solving, quite the contrary.

Fun fact: I actually heard about the Global Case Competition (GCC) on Facebook. For those unaware of such business games, the concept is gathering the top students from the world’s best universities who will try to solve corporate strategy cases. Hence, the GCC is one of the most prestigious contests held every year at the University of Cambridge’s St John’s College by the Cambridge Consulting Network and ETH Zurich’s Graduate Consulting Club. Participants need to form a team of four people in order to apply.

Forming the team: a winning combination

Fun fact number two: I decided to take a shot at the competition the day before the deadline, which means forming a team was quite a challenge in itself, not to mention that I was not part of any consulting club at Imperial. But the MSc programme I am enrolled in is all about innovating, therefore I could not miss such an occasion of applying concepts in the field.

I was lucky enough to get full support from one of my closest classmates on MSc Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Management, Edward Vernon, who I have been working with since October as part of our programme’s groupwork. I could notice his very strong business acumen on top of his flawless team playing skills along the way, which made him an obvious partner in such a challenge. He told me about another classmate Simon Jensen, with whom Edward used to practice consulting case studies for interviews, making him a solid addition. Finally, I thought of a fellow student Charles Jalali-Farhani, who is pursuing MSc Economics & Strategy for Business. As President of Imperial’s VC Talks society, I noted his sharp mind and collaborative attitude when it came to working together on business-related topics, and he also used to practice consulting case studies during his BSc in Economics at LSE.

Day one: the competition begins

The competition started on Saturday January 12. During the afternoon, all the teams worked on a case about the healthcare industry. We had two hours to make a recommendation about whether an Argentina-based medical hardware manufacturer called Conexia should enter the US market or not. During this round of the competition, all teams needed to feature their recommendation in a maximum of four slides. Needless to say, the two-hour challenge felt quite tricky for an 11-page case. On top of it, we were not supposed to present our conclusions, which meant our entire thinking process should fit into these four slides.

Beyond the sole hurdles of the case, we were immediately struck by the devastating effects of these hard time constraints. None of us had any specific knowledge of such a niche market, which led us to analyse the case for about half an hour before even starting to discuss it together. We then struggled to settle on an efficient structure which could be both clear and extensive. It took us about another hour to get to this point, while we had not started producing any content by this time. As soon as we agreed on content, there were only 15 minutes left to design our presentation’s layout, which translated into hardly anything. Witnessing the flawless workflow of some of the world’s best talent around us was not helping either. In a nutshell, we ended the day not convinced of our deliverable at all, disappointed with our overall performance.

Cambridge Dinner

A spectacular dinner, straight out of Hogwarts

Nevertheless, we did not get that much time to process or improve what he had done given that one of the best parts of the weekend was about to happen. All teams attended a private formal dinner held in St John’s College Great Hall. It was a great opportunity to network and engage in friendly conversations with the different teams, participants, as well as staff and jury members in an incredible place. Our team got to talk with one of the two Cambridge teams as well as the ETH Zurich team made up of brilliant PhD Engineering students who seemed to be enjoying the moment as much as we were. Getting involved in such intelligent discussions with bright minds from all over the world, while surrounded by century-old historical paintings, almost felt like a scene straight out of Hogwarts. Thereafter, we headed towards St John’s College Bar where we shared a few drinks before going back home in order to get in shape for the day after.

The final day of the competition

The competition’s next and last round was held on Sunday morning. Before beginning work on a new case, the staff made us aware of Saturday’s general ranking. Suffice to say, we were expecting the worst, which happened. Overall, we earned the second lowest grade. However, none of us gave up aiming for the top three. Such a mindset was all the more important in light of Sunday’s rules. As a matter of fact, Sunday’s score would count twice as much as Saturday’s towards the final average score since teams had three hours instead of two to solve the case before introducing their recommendations to the jury in an eight-minute presentation and Q&A session.

Sunday’s case was about WorldLabs, a London-based startup developing an online platform that connects the innovation ecosystem’s stakeholders in order to foster innovative ideas through funding, resources, collaborations and support. Thanks to the hardships our team went through the day before, we immediately agreed on a structure so that each of us could work separately while providing content which could be directly featured in the presentation; which I started working on 15 minutes after the round began. Although we felt more familiar with an innovation-related case, our refined approach to communication, productivity and time-efficiency was key to the overall quality of what we delivered as a team. We then had barely 15 minutes to rehearse our oral presentation and make sure our public-speaking strategy was as impactful as our slides.

Announcing the winners

Sunday’s jury comprised of WorldLabs’ CEO and COO as well as strategy consultants from LEK. Once all teams finished their presentations and Q&A sessions, the jury was out for about half an hour before we could know the final results from the competition. Quite frankly, even though our second performance felt solid, we truly believed that the first one would prevent us from taking anything beyond the third spot. This is why our hopes got dashed when the latter was awarded to the ETH Zurich team, who were already brilliantly ranked first following Saturday’s round. Further to this announcement, second prize was awarded to another team composed of engineering students from Imperial College London, who delivered tremendous work throughout the weekend.

Then came the announcement of the competition’s overall winners. It would be an understatement in the extreme to say that we did not expect to hear our team’s name, nor did we overflow with happiness after realising we won first prize. Being French, I especially felt like I achieved one of my oldest and most rewarding dreams that started fulfilling itself with my admission to Imperial and consisted in earning the best award amongst all the world’s best British universities. I would like to extend heartfelt thanks to my teammates Charles, Edward and Simon for their stellar contribution, both in terms of quantitative processing abilities and emotional intelligence, their trust in my endeavour as well as the enlightening and unforgettable human experience we have been through as a team.

In retrospect, I assume that our story shed an even brighter light on Imperial College Business School’s motto: Imperial means intelligent business. It strengthened what I already believed in as well as what we are constantly provided in class. Sometimes, the most cliché catchwords are also the most genuine, especially when it comes to competing for success globally: never give up on your goals, ramp up your strengths while overcoming your weaknesses. At the end of our journey, we were honoured to represent Imperial with such values in mind, and even prouder to be able to make our university stand out thanks to the spirit it fosters every day.

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About Benoit Dubief