Organizers are on the Case

Competition attracts students from around the world


The student organizers of Concordia’s International Master’s of Business Administration Case Competition put in hundreds of hours to make sure the five-day event, now in progress at the Chateau Champlain Hotel, goes off without a hitch.

The competition has grown dramatically since 1981, when students Annette Wilde and Nora Kelly organized the first competition between Concordia and four other Montreal universities. It was a success, and 16 universities participated in the next one in 1983.

Now the competition attracts 27 teams from business schools across North America, as well as teams from Finland, Sweden and New Zealand.

The event is set up to challenge the brightest MBA students from Canada and around the world by giving them real-life business problems which they must solve, in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a time limit and team competition. At the same time, the organizers want to encourage social and professional relationships between the academic and business communities.

Claire de Passillé, Sabina Kuepper and Ari Papas have been working on the Case Competition since last May, when they registered to organize and manage it as part of their degree requirements.

“[The course] is more work than usual,” said Papas, “but it is also more practical. There is always a lot of research to do, so you are always on the steep end of the learning curve.”

De Passillé hopes that this year’s introduction of European cases and American judges will add to the international flavour of the event. “It was something that we thought was important to make the competition truly international,” de Passillé said.

The Case Competition organizers acquired the cases from individual case authors as well as the World Association of Case Research and Analysis and the National Association of Case Research and Analysis. The case authors agree not to publish their cases in financial journals until the competition is over.

Raising funds is naturally the most difficult obstacle to overcome. The competition boasts an operating budget of over $120,000. Most of that is made up of donations from business.

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Searched for sponsors

“The bigger it gets, the more it costs. Last year there were 30 teams and there are 30 again this year.” So this time, the organizing team has persuaded companies to sponsor whole events such as the opening ceremonies and dinners, in addition to providing services such as translators and photocopying.

The competition has grown in the past five years from 18 participating teams to 30. Rather than work to make the competition bigger, Papas said they are trying to make it more efficient. The first step was to upgrade their computer and system software, and to use e-mail to keep in touch with more than 750 contacts from businesses and schools.
With this approach, Papas and de Passillé hope to solve problems before they arise. Last year, the University of Western Ontario wase liminated after qualifying for the finals because of a discrepancy in the rules over tie-breaking.

But the organizers aren’t working alone. Once a month, they meet with a group of permanent advisors from business to bounce ideas. ‘These are individuals who have been involved with the competition for a number of years,” de Passillé explained. “It is the one element of continuity in the competition. They often say that an idea won’t work because the organizers five years ago tried it and it didn’t go. So really, we have 14 years of experience.” The advisors include senior executives from Teleglobe Canada, Noranda Minerals and Bombardier-Canada.

Concordia’s team has not been chosen yet. Four team members chosen from a class that analyzes cases and prepares for the competition will be picked in the next couple of weeks.
“We are all really positive about this,” de Passillé said. “It has been very exciting to see everything come together.”