My experience in a case competition

04/03/2013

Case competitions are more of an underground thing in Kauppis. Few really know what they consist of, how can one apply and, ultimately, is it even worth finding out all this?

First time I heard about the case competitions was in the army. A friend of mine, Tomi, told me on the phone they were going to Citibank’s International Case Competition in Hong Kong for roughly a week to compete against the best schools of the Pacific. I told him I was about to spend the next two weeks in a nearby forest fighting against imaginary enemies. Even though I seriously enjoyed the army, the mentioning of this case competition stuck in my mind and I decided to apply once the army would release me back to the aquarium like study rooms of Arcadia building’s basement in Kauppis.

Back at school I discussed more about the competitions with Tomi (Fyrqvist), Jukka (Leponen) and Eetu (Isto) who had just been to Hong Kong. Consequently, my other friends and me formed a team of four members and contacted Anna Gasiorowska, director of case studies at Aalto University School of Business. Ms Gasiorowska then invited us to an interview that lasted for mere 3.5 hours. During the interview I was supposed to be on a lunch break from work. This I dared not to tell Ms Gasiorowska as she appeared rather authorative to me; compared to her the lieutenants in the army were like uncertain teddy bears. Well, almost at least. You see the thing is that Ms Gasiorowska really knows her stuff. She is the kind of person you don’t want to upset during the first meeting. Nonetheless she has a vivid humor and a sparkling personality.

Few days after the interview, Ms Gasiorowska let us know that we had been chosen as Aalto’s team for the Hong Kong competition. She also informed us that this was the point where all the hard work would only begin

Ms Gasiorowska was not kidding. We were all in for a treat of 16 x 6h case sessions. Fortunately Ms Gasiorowska was flexible in terms of scheduling these sessions. Hereby we ended up meeting on Friday evenings, Saturday afternoons; whenever all of us had six hours of free time. During the sessions we did cases. Four hours were allocated to the actual work with the case and to the preparation of our recommendation on the case. Then we would present it, have a Q&A session and finally feedback from Ms Gasiorowska. Cases differed a lot from each other (from finance related to marketing based) and Ms Gasiorowska also alternated the format of these sessions. There was also the possibility that we would find e.g. one of our professors with Ms Gasiorowska when it was time for us to present our recommendation on the case problem.

Luckily all this hard work paid itself back sooner than we expected. We all felt we had learnt quickly a solid way of how to approach different types of case problems, create a feasible recommendation and, most importantly, how to present it in a practical manner. One could instantly sense all the potential occasions where these skills could be put into use in working life. The link to consulting was more than obvious but most of the e.g. presentation skills learnt were so practical in their nature that we knew they could be used in everyday situations as well. All in all, we were excited when we saw each other progress and this motivated us to push ourselves forward.

Citibank’s International Case Competition in Hong Kong lasted for about a week. This was still possible to fit in our calendars. In terms of the costs of the trip we had to pay only some meals here and there and all else, accommodation, flights etc. were covered for us. I want to stress that in most other countries the students have to pay for both accommodation and flights.

The competition included only one case. Though it was more like a several day project, maybe comparable to a minisize consulting project. We visited the company the case was about and discussed with its board of directors. We were supposed to give our recommendation on a problem they had been struggling with for long and they wanted to have fresh, professional views on it followed by potential solutions.

This case introduction lasted for a few days and then we were given the actual case which we had to finish in 24 hours. The level of the competition was truly high and most of the other teams had even had more practice than us. Accordingly their devotion and enthusiasm was inspiring to say the least. One could also easily sense the competitive spirit. In our division we had Berkeley competing and this seemed to give a motivational boost to all other teams of the division. Lastly, one of the best part of the competition was meeting interesting people from around the world and to share the experience with them.

I suppose I could go on and write a full length novel of this one competition but mercifully I’m discrete enough to spare you from that. All I have to say is that if you feel even a bit intrigued by case competitions, you should definitely apply. It’s one of the greatest and most motivating experiences school can offer you! Additionally it gives you something to differentiate yourself with when it comes to applying for a job. For now, the person you should contact in case you are interested in case competitions, is Anna Gasiorowska (e-mail: anna.gasiorowska@aalto.fi, tel: +358 50 350 8206). You can also ask me questions if you feel like it (olli.nieminen@aalto.fi). Finally, I will provide more info on how to apply case competitions here on KY Finance’s FB site in the coming weeks so stay tuned!

Best,
Olli

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