#3 Winter 2015

Top tips from MBA Olympians

GSB Team in New York
IMAGE: The 2015 GSB team in New York. The team was coached by GSB lecturer, Johannes Schüler (centre) and consisted (from left to right) of Christopher Human, Caryn Jeenes, Robyn Moore and Ralph Thomas.
The GSB team claimed six victories and clinched the Division A title at the John Molson International Competition in January.

The John Molson International Case Competition, founded in 1981, is the oldest and largest event of its kind. Known as the MBA Olympics, the competition is open to top business schools worldwide, of which 36 are selected to participate in Montreal each year. The 2015 competition welcomed MBA students from a total of six continents and 14 countries. Among them was South Africa, once again represented by the UCT Graduate School of Business – making its third appearance at this prestigious competition.

The purpose of the week-long competition is to bridge the gap between corporate and business school environments and to connect students from different MBA programmes around the world. According to GSB coach and senior lecturer at the school, Johannes Schüler, the event provides an excellent platform for students to hone the skills they learn in their respective MBA programmes and showcase their ability and agility – as well as their school’s areas of expertise.

GSB teams have always left a positive impression and in their three years have brought healthy disruption to the competition, says Schüler. Here are the 2015 team’s top tips for what it takes to stand out at the MBA Olympics.

1. Approach every case from the owner’s point of view

Schüler’s catch phrase for 2015 was OC or ‘owner’s conundrum’. The idea was for the team to stamp out ‘consulting think’ and ‘consulting speak’ and approach cases from the owner’s point of view (founder, shareholder or otherwise). Team member Robyn Moore agrees that committing to this approach, while not always the easiest option, forces the group to dig deep, critically evaluate why decisions are being made and compose the best alternatives and solutions.

2. Focus on your points of difference

The GSB teams have always brought their own trademark South African senses of humour to Montreal and this has worked in the GSB’s favour. For team member Chris Human, the GSB’s emphasis on emerging market leadership and innovative thinking was also a clear advantage: “developing markets are increasingly on the radar in global business context and the ICC is no exception, our roots and understanding of environments such as South Africa’s allowed us to come forward with pragmatic and innovative solutions that often didn’t occur to other teams”. The judges see a lot of cases during that week in Montreal; if you don’t stand out, you won’t win hearts and minds.

3. Understand and play to each other’s strengths and weaknesses

The internal selection process at the GSB to choose a team to go to Montreal is continually being refined, with great emphasis placed on the synergies of the individual team members, good attitudes and a positive, natural fit. In order to do well, it’s essential that the team members understand each other’s weaknesses and intuitively leverage their strengths, all the while remaining calm under pressure to articulate the solution with confidence and clarity. There’s no room for individual egos. In the words of team member Ralph Thomas, the secret to the 2015’s team performance was a solid, balanced team with good team cohesion: “Throughout the entire process, we maintained good team spirit and enthusiasm – that was a big part of our success”.

4. Realise that you are part of a bigger picture

The John Molson International Case Competition is a unique experience, enriching the lives of not only the students, coaches and judges, but all those who will be impacted by the value they add in the future. Through the theme of this year’s competition, sustainability, the GSB team was able to contribute meaningful solutions, which may well influence the way participating firms conduct their business in future.

“This is not just a competition, it’s an incredible learning experience where you’ll be pushed beyond your limits, forge friendships with truly great people and develop leadership capacities that will allow you to make a real difference in your career,” concludes Moore.

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