On Friday, February 16, a team of four QUT students boarded an international flight to swap Brisbane’s heatwave for the Montreal snow. Brodie Wilson, Bec Colbrook, Elliott Flowers and myself were set to represent QUT at the John Molson Undergraduate Case Competition (JMUCC), hosted by Concordia University, Montreal.
JMUCC is the largest business case competition for university students, with 24 renowned business schools from 16 countries competing in the week-long competition. JMUCC is also characterised by its particularly grueling program, jam-packed with five cases (including one completed pre-departure), and vibrant social events. Needless to say, this week was unlike any I have experienced.
The opening ceremony on Sunday evening was an excellent opportunity to meet our Team Ambassador from Concordia University, Rudy, and network with the other teams. We also found out the divisions we would be competing in for the week, as each team’s name was drawn out of a box. Out of six divisions of four teams, we were drawn in division B, competing against Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences (The Netherlands), Dublin Institute of Technology (Ireland), and Chinese University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong).
Monday to Wednesday was filled with three 3-hour cases in the mornings, and networking cocktail events in the evenings. During the 3-hour cases, teams were not permitted access to the internet and were provided with only two laptops between the four of us. Teams were given 20 minutes to present their solution to a panel of judges and spectators, with an additional 10 minutes for Q&A from the judging panel. For each of the three cases, we were head-to-head with one of the other universities in our divisions, with the judges allocating 15 points between both teams.
For the first case, we were head-to-head with Rotterdam University. The case focussed on how to ensure the sustainability of B2B tech services company, Necando Solutions, beyond their IBM partnership. Our solution suggested targeting specific industries with a need for Necando’s technology, and procuring new clients by partnering with a cloud computing company, enabling Necando to leverage this partner’s existing industry networks, and provide a holistic infrastructure, logistics and data management service. Much to our delight, QUT achieved our first win of the competition, scoring 10-5 against Rotterdam.
For the second case, QUT was up against Chinese University of Hong Kong. The case looked at how a market-leading Public Relations firm, Avenir Global, could improve its awards and bonuses scheme to ensure employees are rewarded appropriately. Our solution involved allocating funds for bonuses to each team based on division-specific productivity, and introducing a coaching system whereby employees set goals with their ‘coach’ who directly oversees their progress and bases bonuses on this. QUT came out on top again, with a score of 9-6 against CUHK.
For the last of the three-hour cases, QUT was up against the Dublin Institute of Technology, who were leading the division by one point after the first two cases. This final case asked teams to recommend a new target market for the Montreal tech start-up, Mindset, to target with their smart headphones that improve the user’s concentration. We proposed targeting the online gaming and E-Sports communities, and the judges were extremely pleased with our creative ideas. Again, QUT emerged winners, with a score of 10-5 against DIT.
With Thursday as a much-needed rest-day, Wednesday night was social night, involving a trip up Mount Royal (the mountain in the middle of Montreal) and an evening at a bar. This was a wonderful opportunity to meet the other teams in a more casual setting. To make the most of our final hours of freedom ahead of the 24-hour case, our Team Ambassador, Rudy, took us to a National Hockey League game on Thursday night, which was a first for all four of us!
The 24-Hour Case
Friday morning: the much-anticipated 24-hour case was finally upon us. In contrast to the fast-paced 3-hour cases, the 24-hour placed emphasis on research abilities and required a well-supported and detailed strategy, as teams were allowed access to internet and existing materials. Teams would be ranked from 1-4 within their division, with specific points allocated for each ranking. Despite leading the division by 4 points, we still had to win the 24-hour case to make it to the finals.
The case was on retail giant Walmart Canada, and asked teams to recommend a strategy which would increase in-store foot traffic, as well as transform the checkout experience by developing a ‘Front-End of the Future’.
After significant research, plenty of caffeine and just one hour of sleep, we were ready to present our solution at 8.30am Saturday morning. We proposed a strategy comprising three tactics:
- Experts: Walmart should partner with a Canadian celebrity chef and hire several chefs at a local level to lead in-store cooking classes at select stores.
- Experience: Walmart should install smart mirrors in their fashion and cosmetics sections to allow customers to see how certain outfits and makeup styles would look on them, without having to try it on first.
- Efficiency: Walmart should create the ‘Front-End of the Future’ by completely automating the checkout process. Customers could use the Walmart app to scan products as they walk around the store and pay automatically through the app, while robots in the back area of the store collect and assemble the customer’s shopping to avoid checkout queues.
Our innovative strategy earned us first place in our division, sending us through to the finals with six other teams: University of Toronto, American University of Beirut, University of South Carolina, University of Munster, Chulalongkorn University, and Dublin Institute of Technology. Fortunately, we presented first of the seven finalists, delivering another confident presentation which was only improved by the couple hours’ nap we got in the holding room beforehand.
After listening to three and a half hours of finals presentations, the judges awarded QUT second place, with Chulalongkorn University coming first, and University of South Carolina placing third. One of our very own team members, Brodie Wilson, was also awarded Best Male Speaker at the competition, giving us a lot to celebrate that evening.
JMUCC was one of the most challenging and exciting weeks of my young life. The competition was fantastically organised by the student-run committee, the cases were creative and cutting-edge, and the volunteers and competitors were enthusiastic and engaged, both academically and socially. Of course, all of this would not be possible without QUT’s ongoing support of the International Case Competition program, and the dedicated advisors, Bill Proud, Larry Neale, Ingrid Larkin, Bernd Irmer, and especially Andrew Paltridge, who travelled with our team and coached us through the competition.