Top MBA students match wits in game of corporate manoeuvring

[img_assist|nid=709|title=|desc=Frank Bartel (left), a judge, talks to students Walter Posiewko, Judy Cameron. (photo: Tedd Church, Gazette)|link=none|align=center|width=587|height=640]
by JAN RAVENSBERGEN of The Gazette

High-pressure corporate manoeuvring ‚Äî in both of Canada’s official languages ‚Äî is the name of the game today and tomorrow at Concordia University.

Some of the brightest business students in the land are competing in the university’s fourth annual Masters of Business Administration Case Competition.

Four-student teams from 16 Canadian universities with MBA programs are wrapping their minds around some pretty challenging business problems. Equipped only with a thick case study, calculators, office supplies and their analytical talents, they have four hours to generate written recommendations.

Then comes a 35-minute oral presentation — followed by a grilling from some of the approximately 75 local business executives acting as judges for the competition. The presentations, at the Henry F. Hall Building, are open to the public.

The three finalist teams will be chosen tonight, after two days of gruelling work. The winning team will be determined Saturday after taking a crack at a fourth case.

“Today is the worst day,” ex-Montrealer Judy Cameron, a member of the team from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, remarked yesterday. “First you present, then you work and then you present again.” But she looked like she was enjoying every minute of it.

Yesterday’s leadoff case was the Imasco Ltd. decision whether to buy Burger Chef Systems Inc., a U.S. fast-food chain that a unit of the Montreal conglomerate picked up in 1981 for about $44 million U.S.

One judge, Frank Bartel, chief financial officer of Hoechst Canada Inc. of Montreal, said: “It’s a learning experience for us as well as for the students.”

“Our principal objective is to have fun,” said Concordia team member Bill Kaldis, “although we might slip a resume under the place settings of some of the judges.”

He was only half joking; it certainly doesn’t hurt career prospects to mingle over lunch, dinner and drinks with heavy-duty business executives when you’re facing graduation in the spring.

In fact, “a lot of team members and also organizers have been snapped up” during the past several years by judges impressed with their capabilities, noted Cleveland Patterson, chairman of Concordia’s Finance Department. He’s faculty adviser to the main competition organizers, MBA students Danielle Assayag, Sabine Altier and Elisa Klein.

“It’s a tremendous learning experience for them .., real crisis management,” added Patterson.

“Few job interviews provide the depth of insight into a person’s character and abilities that the competition provides,” said Robert Normand, vice-president for Canadian commercial banking at Bank of Montreal.

The university has about 600 MBA students, roughly half of them part-time.

Team members from Concordia obtain academic credit for their participation. Those from Dalhousie don’t.

Patterson said the university has budgeted roughly $25,000 for the event. Large firms sponsor specific meals. Bank of Montreal is kicking in $2,000 of scholarship cash to be split among members of the winning team.

Last year, the winner was the team from L’Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales, with Concordia and Laval as runners-up.