While studying at Imperial College London, one of the top ten universities in the world, one would expect to be faced with many opportunities take advantage of, perhaps even more so as a Business School student. However, the Global Case Competition was not one I had expected upon arrival, back in September 2018, as part of the MSc in Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Management.
This programme is the third Master’s degree I am pursuing, after being enrolled in a Master’s in Business Law from La Sorbonne in Paris as well as an MSc in Management from a French grande école called EMLyon Business School. As a former entrepreneur in the first years of my undergraduate law studies, I have always been interested in solving today’s digital-related strategy issues and this cross-curricular background resulted in a six-month digital strategy consulting internship at Capgemini Consulting (now called Capgemini Invent) in Paris. Even though I declined my penultimate-round interview at McKinsey London to start a full-time position at Facebook Europe upon graduation and, after experiencing an amazing summer internship there, I have never stopped enjoying strategic case-solving; quite the contrary.
Fun fact: I actually heard about the Global Case Competition on Facebook. For those unaware of such business games, the concept is the following: gather the best students from the world’s best universities to try and solve whatever kind of corporate strategy cases they are given. Hence, the GCC is one of the most prestigious contests hosted by Cambridge Consulting Network and ETH Zurich’s Graduate Consulting Club every year at the University of Cambridge’s St John’s College. Participants are required to form a team of four in order to apply. Most of them are ideally selected among their university’s consulting club members so that each team stands the best chance of taking the top spot.
Fun fact number two: I decided to take a shot at the competition the day before the deadline, which means forming a team was quite a challenge in itself, not to mention that I was not part of any consulting club at Imperial. However, the MSc programme I am enrolled in is all about innovating, therefore I could not miss such an opportunity to apply concepts in the field.
Despite such starting conditions and several withdrawals from potential teammates due to the limited availability of students around mid-January, I was lucky enough to get full support from one of my closest classmates, Edward Vernon, who I had been working with since October as part of our course’s group work. I noticed his very strong business acumen on top of his flawless team playing skills along the way, which made him an obvious partner in such a challenge. He told me about another classmate Simon Jensen, with whom Edward used to practice consulting case studies for interviews, making him a solid addition. Finally, we were missing only one member to complete the team, and I thought of another fellow Business School student, Charles Jalali-Farhani, who is pursuing an MSc in Economics and Strategy for Business. As President of Imperial’s venture capital society, he previously reached out to me in December to help him create communication media to raise awareness about a VC Talks event gathering some of the world’s best VC firms such as Accel. Again, I noted his sharp mind and collaborative attitude when it came to working together on business-related topics. He also used to practice consulting case studies during his BSc in Economics at LSE. I felt he could be the right match for our team and he immediately accepted my offer to join.
Even though we were now a proper team, the online application portal still required our team’s name. Considering that the “Fabulous Four” and the “Fantastic Four” had already been taken by quite successful squads in the past, we needed to come up with something else. Then I remembered one of the coolest words I had read, thanks to my McKinsey buddy Nas Andriopoulos, Imperial alumnus and former President of the Union: “Imperialite” (as all Imperial students are known). As some of you may have guessed at this stage of the story, this is how we ended up officially applying as “The Imperialites”.
The competition started on Saturday, 12th January. During the afternoon, all the teams were required to work on a case about the healthcare industry. We had two hours in order to make a recommendation about whether an Argentina-based medical hardware manufacturer called Conexia should enter the U.S. market or not. Their main product was a real-time claims adjudication system which consisted of an IT solution allowing health insurance companies to pre-authorise medical services before they are rendered to patients by doctors. Even though Conexia was a strong leader in Argentina, the U.S. healthcare system was different and far more fragmented than its domestic market. During this round of the competition, all teams were required to feature whatever recommendation they came up with in a maximum of four slides. Needless to say, the 2-hour challenge felt quite tricky for an 11-page case. On top of it, we were not supposed to present our conclusions, which meant our entire thinking process had to fit into these four slides.
Beyond the sole hurdles of the case, we were immediately struck by the devastating effects of these hard time constraints. None of us had any specific knowledge of such a niche market, which led us to analyse the case for about half an hour before even starting to discuss it together. We then struggled to settle on an efficient structure which could be both clear and extensive. It took us about another hour to get to this point, while we still had not yet started producing any content. As soon as we agreed on content, there were only 15 minutes left to design our presentation’s layout, which translated into hardly anything. Witnessing the flawless workflow of some of the world’s best talent around us was not helping either. In a nutshell, we ended the day not convinced of our deliverable at all, quite disappointed with our overall performance.
Nevertheless, we did not get that much time to process or improve what we had done, given that one of the best parts of the weekend was about to happen. Indeed, all teams were invited to attend a private formal dinner held in the Great Hall of St John’s College. It was a great opportunity to network and engage in friendly conversations with the different teams and participants, as well as staff and jury members, in an incredible place. Our team got to talk with one of the two Cambridge teams as well as the ETH Zurich team, made up of brilliant Engineering PhD students who seemed to be enjoying the moment as much as we were. Getting involved in such intelligent discussions with bright minds from all over the world, while being surrounded by centuries-old historical paintings, almost felt like a scene straight out of Harry Potter. Thereafter, we headed towards St John’s College Bar where we shared a few drinks before going back home in order to get in shape for the next day.
The competition’s next and final round was held on Sunday morning. Before starting work on a new case, the staff made us aware of Saturday’s general ranking. Suffice to say, we were expecting the worst, which happened. Overall, we earned the second lowest grade. However, none of us gave up aiming for the top three. Such a mindset was all the more important in light of Sunday’s rules - Sunday’s score would count twice as much as Saturday’s towards the final average score. This is because teams were allocated three hours instead of two in order to solve the case, before introducing their recommendations to the jury with an 8-minute presentation followed by a Q&A session in the afternoon.
Sunday’s case was about WorldLabs, a London-based startup developing an online platform that connects the innovation ecosystem’s stakeholders in order to foster innovative ideas through funding, resources, collaborations and support. The venture’s management was looking to scale both their customer base and funding. Thanks to the hardships our team went through the day before, we immediately agreed on a splittable structure such that each of us could work separately while providing content which could be directly featured in the presentation that I had started working on just 15 minutes after the round had begun. Although we felt more familiar with such an innovation-related case, our refined approach to communication, productivity and time-efficiency was key to the overall quality of what we delivered as a team. We then had barely 15 minutes to rehearse our oral presentation and make sure our public-speaking strategy was as impactful as our slides.
Sunday’s jury was composed of WorldLabs’ CEO and COO as well as strategy consultants from LEK. We were the second team to present, given the descending order following Saturday’s ranking. Once all teams finished their presentations and Q&A sessions, the jury was out for about half an hour before we were given the final results from the competition. Quite frankly, even though our second performance felt solid, we truly believed that the first one would prevent us from taking anything beyond the third spot. This is why our hopes were dashed when that third spot was awarded to the ETH Zurich team, which had already been brilliantly ranked first following Saturday’s round. Further to this announcement, the pressure became increasingly difficult to take as second prize was awarded to another team composed of Master of Engineering students from Imperial College London, who delivered tremendous work throughout the weekend.
Then came the announcement of the competition’s overall winners. It would be an understatement in the extreme to say that we were not expecting to hear our team’s name, nor did we overflow with happiness after realising we had won first prize. I especially felt like I achieved one of my oldest and most rewarding dreams. A dream which started fulfilling itself with my admission to Imperial. I would like to extend heartfelt thanks to my teammates Edward, Charles and Simon for their stellar contribution, both in terms of quantitative processing abilities and emotional intelligence, their trust in my endeavour as well as the enlightening and unforgettable human experience we have been through as a team.
In retrospect, I assume that our story shed an even brighter light on Imperial College Business School’s motto: “Imperial means intelligent business”. It strengthened what I already believed in as well as what we are constantly provided with in class. Sometimes, the most cliché catchwords are also the most genuine, especially when it comes to competing for success globally: never give up on your goals, ramp up your strengths while overcoming your weaknesses. At the end of our journey, we were honoured to represent Imperial with such values in mind, and even prouder to be able make our university stand out thanks to the spirit it fosters every day.