JMSB Gets Down to Business

Michaëlle Jean, Bombardier President Highlight 33rd Edition of World’s Oldest Case Competition

Beside competition organizer Hanaa Badaoui, Case competition winners from the University of Minnesota hoist high the Concordia Cup. Photo Andrew Brennan

In the real world, there are no do-overs. In the world of case competitions, there aren’t either—but a company won’t go out of business if things go wrong.

The annual John Molson MBA International Case Competition returned last week for its 33rd edition. The world’s oldest and largest case competition saw Concordia’s John Molson School of Business play host to 35 of the world’s most elite business schools for six days.

Although JMSB did not win the competition—the University of Minnesota came away with first place—it still managed to break ground.

“We are the first [case competition] ever to have a customized IT system to run the whole competition, from registration of volunteers and judges to calculating results and integrating results,” said organizer Leila Mosalaeepour.

It may not sound like a huge leap forward, but fellow organizer Elliott Altilia says the change was like bringing case competitions from the 19th century to the present.

Even the use of digital tools like PowerPoint presentations were not welcomed warmly at first by all competition participants this year, added Altilia, who coordinated volunteers and cases.

JMSB and 35 other teams were challenged over the course of the week in several cases—true-to-life business scenarios presented by past competition winners and companies.

Over five days, 216 students competed for a $10,000 cash prize in hopes of taking home the Concordia Cup.

Former Canadian governor general Michaëlle Jean presented this year’s live case, a real-life situation unveiled at the same time to all 36 teams.
Jean’s appearance prompted the organizers to adjust the live-case format.

“Usually, the presenter of the case is not announced until the day of the competition. This year, because of the notoriety of our presenter, we decided to disclose that Michaëlle Jean would be this year’s presenter,” said Altilia.

The live case centred around the privatizing of Haiti’s power grid, something that is in the process of being debated right now in the Caribbean nation.

According to Altilia, the real-world implications of the case gave teams the chance to offer solutions that could be used in Haiti in the future. Atilia explained that the case’s presenters, which included Jean and Haiti’s minister of energy security, René Jean-Jumeau, received each presentation on a USB stick with the hope that the information collected could provide new ideas for possible solutions.

“I think you will be making such a difference for Haiti, this gathering is timely like you can’t imagine, it’s great,” said Jean,
UNESCO’s special envoy for Haiti, in her opening address to students on Monday.

Real-World Partnerships

Canada’s former governor general wasn’t the only high profile speaker present at the competition. A tradition of case competitions is to introduce businesses to upcoming talent, and at the competition banquet it was Michel Ouellette, Bombardier’s president of customer services and specialized and amphibious aircraft, who gave the closing keynote address.

In an interview with The Link, Ouellette said the case competition allows Bombardier and others to pitch their worth as a company and find potential future leaders among the competition’s participants—and at JMSB in general.

“The same way we’re such innovators in terms of what we do in everything we’ve put out in past years, the same openness exists within the company for leadership,” Ouellette said.

“So if you’re ready to transform yourself as a leader and grow, Bombardier’s a company that’s going to listen to that and give you the chances.”

According to Ouellette, case competitions are important practice, preparing students for the real risks involved in business and making them ready to embrace last-minute change.

“One thing that really resonated with me is [when] I went to shake hands with the winning team […] one of their players did not make it in time, they had to have a replacement,” he continued.

“And you wonder—one person is out, one person replaced—how do you win? And actually, it becomes an advantage. Through change came a great opportunity.”

By allowing important lessons to be learned through a simulation, Ouellette said he believes the experience becomes invaluable to a future in business management.

“No one loses, because if you participate in this thing, you’re bound to be with people of great mind and energy and that’s going to bring you something,” said Ouellette.

“You learn different things about leadership throughout the years, but one of the key things is being in an environment that is stimulating, so coming to the case competition, that’s what it’s going to give you.”

Despite not making it past the opening round, Ridge Foster of the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business said the experience itself produced its own rewards.

“Such a diverse range of talent, minds and ideas in one area, I think, is amazing and really speaks to the breadth and depth of John Molson and its international case competition,” he said.

But there’s more to it than that, he added.

“Beyond the ideas, beyond the competition, it’s just a lot of fun,” he continued.

“It’s been a ride—the nerves, the competition, everything—there’s a lot of great things happening here.”