Sunday, 15 April 2007

European Business Schools Case Challenge 2007

It was an unlikely crew that stepped onto the train to Fontainebleau on 12th April. Ramyani Basu, Greg Davis, Fumi Ota, Henry Zhang and Alex Guest were simply picked out of the hat to participate in the ECCH European Business Schools Case Challenge. Some of the other schools, which included IESE, INSEAD and LBS, had gone through rigorous selection procedures and one or two of the teams spent half their time on the road at other inter-school challenges. Well, rumour had it that our classmates’ expectation of success were low.

We had lunch a few weeks beforehand with Benoit Leleux, MBA programme director, to get some advice on preparing for the competition. We were thinking about extra case study sessions in our ‘spare time’. His advice: “don’t prepare. Enjoy it. Be creative.” We took this fully to heart.

Getting to Fontainebleau around 11.30pm, we chose to walk to our hotel rather than wait for a taxi to pass, with Ramyani telling us how much she enjoyed walking. So a short trip took forever as Ramyani tottered along refusing to give up her amazingly heavy luggage to any of her companions.

We missed the class’s session at the UN on Friday. Instead, we were presented with a long case about one man’s dream to turn the car industry on its head. Hugo Spowers, who worked at Morgan, had come up with a concept for the ‘OSCar’, designed around a hydrogen fuel cell, with a much reduced weight compared with current vehicles, far fewer components, sold on a lease basis. All the time, the design was to be ‘open source’. We were to imagine that we were a group of investors with €1m to invest. How much would we invest in this enterprise?

While other teams spent hours working on NPV calculations 30 years hence, we debated at length about whether there was anything in fact to invest in. No spreadsheets from us, then. We just kept talking and talking, writing things up on the flipchart. With 45 minutes to go, we got started on our long report, sharing out sections amongst us all. We’d decided that we wouldn’t touch OSCar with a bargepole, unless some massive changes were made, including a new CEO. We didn’t know that we’d be meeting Mr Spowers the following day.

Saturday morning, up early and into the auditorium for a case teaching. Everyone’s heart was beating a little faster in anticipation of the short-listing at lunchtime. We’d have happily spent the afternoon relaxing before the evening’s party but IMD was called to the next round. Having shot the OSCar concept to pieces in our investor report, we now had to play the part of the OSCar senior management. In typical MBA class style, we had just 1 hour to prepare a press conference in response to a new (fictitious) EC Directive. This time we were all enthusiastic about the emissions regulations and Greg delivered a great tub-thumping speech.

Dinner at a chateau. Beautiful setting, champagne, canap├ęs, exquisite dinner. Yet at the back of our minds, the whole time, was the result. Having put in the effort all the way to the end, it would be nice to get on the podium. That feeling would not abate while the photographer, the ECCH staff and some of the other teams kept telling us they reckoned we were on to a winner. The third prize went to Otto Beisheim School of Management, Germany and we began to doubt our chances. The second to Smurfit, Dublin. So that was it, then. Until we heard first place to IMD!

We can’t say how proud we are to be the first IMD team to win the competition. We know that we were lucky to be part of the team that went there and we feel as though our success was that of the whole class against all the other schools.