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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

NIBS Competition

So, first progress report.
A reward after 15+ hours of
traveling: Our first European coffees
After our 43-hour day starting Friday in Nashville, taking us to NYC, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Brussels, and ending in our hotel late Saturday night - 2am Rotterdam time, we stayed in for the most part and caught up on some much-needed rest on Sunday.

Or, rather, my teammates caught up on some rest while I sat in the lobby studying all day for an exam I thought I would have to take online this week.  (As unpleasant as it might seem, three good things have actually come of that... 1) I met that really neat Dutch journalist while I was alone in the lobby, reading; 2) A lot of the principles in my strategic management book were solidified in my head, and have actually been quite useful in the case competition; and 3) My wonderful Strategic Management professor agreed to allow me to take the test when I return instead of online -- so I studied for several hours with the urgency of an impending test date and now find myself thinking about the material from time to time, letting it sink it, and feel that with some more revision I will be well prepared for the exam!)

The first day of the competition was stressful, especially since we didn't know quite what to expect, and it turns out that European case competitions are quite different from American ones in many ways. There is a huge emphasis here on the format and structure of the presentation, rather than the idea.  Judges want to see detailed implementation and contingency plans over everything else, and are less appreciative of creative, innovative solutions than their American counterparts. In the head-to-head rounds of this competition, the panel of judges has a total of 11 points to split between the two teams.  We lost our first round (3-8) to the best team here, who gave an incredible presentation. The positive side of this is that by watching them we immediately had a great example of excellence that my teammates and I were able to use in restructuring our own style and approach.

This first case was a particularly difficult one because of the genomics/bioinformatics industry it was set it. Terms like oglionucleotide synthesis were strewn throughout the case, and added to the confusion in evaluating a case that we found to be frankly ill-written. Tuesday's cases, however, were received by our with much more enthusiasm.

The first concerned a French athletic apparel company which was considering how to best increase online sales in China, including alternatives that would see them setting up their own online store and/or launching a social media strategy.  We earned huge points for cultural awareness, especially since we were able to work Maslow's pyramid of human needs, and an emphasis on Chinese consumers' need for the shopping experience to feel part of a process rather than a function, into the support for our recommendation that the company pursue a relationship-oriented marketing strategy.  We ended up winning this round 6-4.

Tuesday's second case called for a recommendation for the growth strategy of a social-responsibility-focused Lebanese food company with both profit-generating (organic food kitchen) and non-profit (farmer's market, school lunch, education, etc.) arms. Since one of our team members is from Jordan and another is from Pakistan, we were once again able to leverage our unique (to this competition) understanding of cultural/social/political context to formulate an innovative, entrepreneurial growth strategy which would build on local resources through franchising while maximizing positive community impact by empowering local food producers and encouraging accountability instead of creating dependency.  Coming up with the SWOT analysis, alternatives, recommendation, implementation timeline, contingency plan, as well as charts, graphs  and financials to back this up -- all within 3 hours -- was a feat in and of itself.  So we were a little disappointed when the European judges didn't fully appreciate our innovation and chided us on the fact that we didn't propose they pursue either of the two alternatives in the case (we actually did -- we chose one and  expanded on it), but nevertheless we were happy to walk out having won 6.5-4.5.

Wednesday's case involved the growth strategy of an Indian multinational auto manufacturing conglomerate which, after six years of importing to South Africa, was looking at four alternatives for expanding their presence in the South African market and other African countries.  These alternatives included 1) Wait & Watch  - a stability strategy rather than a growth strategy, 2) Use South Africa as a Hub to export to other countries, 3) Contract Assembly with other manufacturers in the country, and 4) Establish their own manufacturing plant in South Africa.  We chose option 3 (contract assembly) and, even though we lost one member to illness just one hour into the 3-hour prep period, went on to finish the case and present with a three-person team.  I am so proud of how we all stepped up to the plate to make it happen!  Another challenge arose when all the sudden the laptop (provided by the competition) we were using to do the financials blacked out, lost power, and some work.  We were granted 15 minutes extra prep time, to account for the 15 minutes lost to computer problems, and then we were ushered straight into the presentation room.  It was intense, but we were comfortable with our understanding of the case and the entire presentation came out very naturally.  Of course with just three people we didn't expect to win anything; we were just satisfied to have successfully completed and presented a solid recommendation. Imagine our surprise when we found out that we won that round, 6-5!

Like I mentioned before, we placed 5th when the standings were published tonight, so we don't move on to the semi-finals as one of the top four teams. But we are looking forward to an extra day that we now have to visit Amsterdam while the finalists are preparing their cases!  It's the best of both worlds: a little bit of success and a bit of cultural adventuring in a new city.

To close this report, let me share a few photos from our journey so far!

On the train from Amsterdam to Rotterdam with our
fearless leader, Dr. Velikova!
Delft. We got off too early and had to get back on to Rotterdam!
Rami & Jordan investigate the goose situation in downtown Rotterdam.

Belgian Waffles in Brussels!

Red Carpet Welcome to NIBS 2012
Dr. Velikova, Ayesha, Jordan, Me. Our "buddy" Naomi with her back to the camera.
Rotterdam University cafeteria
Naomi, our group's "buddy" has been so wonderful to us!
Dutch people eat french fries as a MEAL in and of itself!
For the first night, our generous hosts ordered an open-bar fry cart.
Giant fry cones with dollops of mayo for everyone!

Heading to the preparation room.
Picking our team numbers via lottery.
Dr. Velikova coaches us after a presentation.

Hanging out in the university's non-profit bar
with our favorite Dutch entrepreneur.
Shopping trip with our Dutch buddy Naomi.


  1. Sorry about your 5th place, but what a great learning experience! Thank you, as always, for sharing your photos. French fries for a meal? OMG, I'd be the size of a house... and those Belgian waffles... be still my heart. Good blog! xo

  2. GOOD LOOKING OUT, Girl!! I LOVE me some Frys in a cone with Mayo...Yummmm....


  3. I was skimming the internet for photos taken during the competition and found this, and it was a wonderful read. It is an interesting perspective you have between the European and American perspective when approaching business cases, and I am tempted to suggest that it was the judges' view more than anything. The Americans' format/formulaic approach I believe was powerful because it created 1.) consistency 2.) clarity within the story 3.) content heavy slides that allowed for judges to review 4.) many judges don't read the case completely, making point 3 and 2 stronger.

    This may be important when English is the second (third, fourth...) language. Creativity, although intuitive, may have a complex thought structure and thereby the words used may be a silent killer to the underlying message. I told you simplicity is the ingenious form of complexity, but only when the medium of communication is 'common'. Many times, due to the nature of peoples oscillating concentration, the presentation can only be as good as the weakest pillar that may give and let the whole topple. That can be the slide template (referring to a pillar), which should be a data warehouse for data visualization. I see this as the plausible solution for letting creativity take root in the receiver's mind.

    Anywho, a thought ;)
    -Adam Rixon of Sprott


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