As B-school students, we are all very well acquainted with case competitions. For some, it is a constructive way to spend time. For some others, it is a source of immense learning and rewards. For others, it is a recourse taken out of desperation. Whatever be the reason, we have all tried our hand at it. But what really makes a team win? I cannot claim to know the answer to that, as much as I would love to know. But definitely talking to consistent winners would give us some better understanding. So that is exactly what I set about to do.
I talked to Prakhar Sahu and Rupesh Ranjan about this. They are PGP 2 students of IIM Calcutta. Prakhar has now won 9 competitions while Rupesh has won 13 (these include positions at the college level also). They have both been in different teams so hopefully, that gives us different approaches. Let us see what they had to say about it -
Niranjan: Has it been a continuous streak of wins once you got the first win?
Prakhar: No, that is not the case. After reaching the campus finalist rounds of 4-5 competitions there was a lean period. We could not qualify in 3 competitions at a stretch.
N: How did you handle failure?
Rupesh: I have tried around 50 competitions totally. I had tried Amazon Ace in my first year. I found the case very interesting. At that time, I did not know how to make a PPT or present well. I tried to make something on my own. I similarly tried many other competitions in my first year. During my third term (first year), I got to know about some PGP 2 (second year) seniors who had done well in case competitions. I asked for their PPTs and tried to analyse how they presented material. I then again tried Amazon Ace in my second year. Again, I was unable to clear it. But I had put in so much effort that I was determined to win the next competition.
After a total of 8-10 cases, I finally made it to the campus rounds of a competition. That was conducted by Optum. But we were unable to win the campus finals. That hardened my determination to be a campus winner eventually. After that, I was able to clear campus finals but would stumble in the regional rounds. I responded to that with even more effort. I now have 2 upcoming national rounds to look forward to!
N: What is your motivation behind appearing for competitions?
P: I have taken part in all competitions where a PPI has been involved. So, my motivation is mainly a PPI and apart from that, it will definitely give you a lot of exposure to different industries. For example, right now I know a lot about the insurance industry. Also, about the different disruptions that are happening in the health insurance industry in the USA and India. So there are my 2 motivations.
N: What has been the value addition from such competitions?
R: I get to know the trends and megatrends in several industries. I get to know how the operations of different companies work and what kind of problems they are facing right now.
N: Do you think there are some specific skills needed to win case competitions in general?
P: There are different kinds of skills needed for different competitions. Finance ones have some requirements while marketing ones demand different skills. There are also strategy competitions. My observation is that, in marketing cases, they basically look for an idea which is not disruptive. They are looking for implementable and practical solutions. They mostly focus on the primary research done. Presentation skills are more valued here as compared to consulting case competitions. On the other hand, consulting case competitions totally look for a properly structured approach where everything is MECE (Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive).
My approach is to first do an industry analysis. Then, if the case mentions a problem statement, I will solve that problem. If on the other hand, it is an open-ended case, I will have a top-down approach. First, I will carry out the industry analysis - what are the major gaps in the value chain and where my idea can contribute. Then we will do a cost-benefit analysis or an ROI kind of thing for the best 2-3 ideas. Generally, we stick with the most impactful idea in the final round. In the initial rounds, companies generally look for multiple ideas. In the final rounds, the expectation usually is to work on one of those.
Rupesh: I spent most of the time analysing the case rather than approaching a solution. I read the case 4-5 times line by line and highlight the important parts. Seeing what has been asked where. Only then do I go for the solution. I think half of the problem is solved when you have a good understanding of what it is. For operations related competitions, you need to have skills in Excel. We need to get insights from the given data. Market entry or product launch cases need you to read documents to understand how the market is faring currently. Based on my experience, you can divide a case into 3 different parts. One is data analytics, one is the market research part and lastly, the strategy part.
N: How important is it to have the right team?
P: It is very important. So if you see my journey, I have a marketing background. The 2 other members of my team were from a consulting background. So we definitely lacked a fin part. We used to make it to the final round but not win there. But after a few such instances, I changed my team and included a finance person in our team. People play different roles in a team. Some people are good in secondary skills, they make PPTs very well. Some people give a proper structuring and some are good at handling the financials. Especially since we are from IIM Calcutta, every company expects proper financials.
R: Team is an important factor. My team is not fixed for cases.
That was certainly very helpful. Thanks to them for liberally sharing their approaches. It may not work for all but we are all the wiser for knowing it!