A team of four MBA students – Peter Konefal, Connie Chang, Farzian Aminuddin and Arjun Maruthi – traveled to Toronto during the weekend of November 18th to 20th to represent the Beedie School of Business at the TATA Cup Sustainability Case Competition. Founded by Mr. Mukesh Gupta, Director of Strategic Relations at Tata Consultancy Services (a subsidiary of the Tata Group, a multi-national corporate giant based in India), the competition was designed with the intention of providing MBA students with the opportunity to practice incorporating corporate social responsibility practices into their strategic planning processes.
The team arrived in Toronto on the late afternoon of Friday and attended a reception held at the Ted Rogers School of Management building, located in the core of downtown Toronto. The reception served as an exceptional networking venue for students from twelve MBA programs across North America (primarily from Canada). At this introductory gathering, the contest format and details were introduced by Dale Carl, Director of Graduate Students at Ryerson University – the winning school for last year’s TATA Cup. Carl closed off the reception with a final tip on the topic of the next day’s case, identifying that the topic would be on a man-made international catastrophe that occurred in the most recent year or two. After the reception, the team went off to brainstorm ideas on potential topics and we unanimously agreed that the man-made British Petroleum (BP) oil spill that occurred in April 2010, which caused severe economic, social and environmental damage to the Gulf Coast, was the likely candidate. We worked late into the night running a practice simulation on this topic and then went to bed feeling satisfied having undertaken our due diligence.
We woke up early the next morning, feeling refreshed and confident from our practice session. We opened the case package as soon as we arrived to our designated room and were slightly taken by surprise when we learned that the case was in fact the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that took place in March 2011. In retrospect, the selection of this topic was just as likely as the BP oil spill and the team would have benefitted by exploring and researching a number of potential topics. However, as one teammate pointed out, we made the mistake of over-focusing on the technicality that the Fukushima event was caused by a tsunami – a natural disaster – even though the extent of the damage was primarily due to the nearby man-made nuclear power facilities. The lesson learned? When faced with preparing for potential topics in case competitions and in other situations, it is useful to brainstorm a wide range of possibilities and spend a bit of time preparing for the most likely subjects before narrowing down to a single topic.
We swiftly moved on from our disappointment that the topic wasn’t the one that we had prepared for and worked through the case as we normally would have. We were diligent in ensuring that our case preparation was well under the three hour time limit and we prepared clean and informative presentation slides with a focus on solving the issue using a triple-bottom line approach. We had a little less than an hour to practice our presentation and we were able to provide pointers to one another on how to add clarity and the personal touch through stories and examples. It was evident that we worked well as a team and trusted one another – a team trait that is so critical, especially when working under time pressure and in preparing for the judges’ question period – a process that is best if every team member is able to step up and represent the team in their response.
In our opinion, our final presentation to the panel of judges was a success and for some of us, it was a personal best. We stayed well in tune with our role-playing efforts as consultants presenting to the TEPCO Board of Directors, starting off the session with a cultural Japanese bow and speaking clearly and confidently both during the presentation and the question period. However, we recognize that there were two main downfalls to our presentation which serve as lessons learned for the future:
1.) It is critical to allow for extra time to practice the presentation to perfect the timing of each component. Our team fell short of the allotted 20 minutes and therefore lost our opportunity to discuss some important points in a greater level of detail.
2.) It is useful to review the judging criteria sheet once more just prior to practicing the presentation to ensure that each major topic is sufficiently covered. Our team focused too heavily on ensuring the flow of the presentation and on our strategy’s implementation plan, which led to less coverage of other major components.
When all the presentations were over, we were served lunch and the results were announced – the three schools who made it into the final round were University of Ottawa, Queen’s University and University of Alberta (in order of final ranking). All MBA students were given the opportunity to see the presentations that made it to the finals, which were tweaked with an extra piece of information given solely to the finalists. The competition was exciting to watch and we were able to learn from the quality presentations given by the finalists. In the end, Ottawa took home the gold, while every participant of the Tata Cup were given participation plaques, Starbucks gift cards, as well as introductory job interviews by Tata Consultancy Services.
Overall, this was a fascinating event and a great opportunity for MBA students to develop professionally – both as an individual and as part of a team. We were put in an uncomfortable situation and overcame the challenge with the company of like-minded individuals, and emerged as stronger business professionals at the end. Based on these experiences and through our discussions with other MBA students, we also took home valuable lessons of how Beedie can administer new case competition initiatives to improve their role in providing future opportunities for our MBA students.