Case Competition Coach: This is how I prepare the teams

By Lanna Maarouf-Petersen

CBS is one of the universities in Denmark with the highest number of students that participate in case competitions. The university participates in many case competitions during the year and the number of competitions is increasing. But what makes the teams so good and what preparations lie behind it? Meet Stephanie Hadler who is one of the main figures behind the case competition scene at CBS.

Stephanie Hadler has coached CBS students for 17 years. “We received the first invitation in 1998, we won our first competition in 1999, and it’s expanded hugely since then”.

Stephanie’s job consists of choosing students and putting them together in teams with the purpose of training them in international business strategy analysis, presentation skills, reasoning, the trick of being able to think on your feet when questioned, take them out of the role of student in a classroom and put them in the very different role of a business consultant in the boardroom, and last but not least, how to communicate effectively. As Stephanie says; “You can have the best idea in the world, but if you can’t get the message across, it won’t be understood and “bought” at the end of the day.”

Working with the teams

Stephanie Hadler explains that when she first started as a case completion coach, she initially worked with the teams alone. She usually gave the teams a Havard Business Case and 24 hours to work on it. After the 24 hours they would present the case and do a Q&A session with Stephanie. As Stephanie’s past students got out in the business community, she used these alumnis, via their company, to give the new teams workshops and a case to work with. Finally the teams present to a group of consultants with a Q&A afterwards;

“The training goes on for seven very intense weeks: It starts with an introduction by me and two case cracks with me. Then I use five consulting houses in the following five weeks. The students prefer to see the big names, and I use, therefore, McKinsey, BCG, Bain, Quartz+Co, PA, for example. It’s a win-win. The consulting houses get to see the best students at CBS, I get training for the students that doesn’t all just come from me, and the students get to experience the various houses first hand.”

Case Competition is a way of branding

According to Stephanie, case competitions are a good way for CBS to showcase what its students can do and establish and maintain a strong reputation and brand. There is a challenge though, in getting CBS students to a high level of comfort when presenting in English. Stephanie explains that CBS academic degree programs (unlike other schools around the world) have not found it necessary to add courses in presentation skills to the curriculum, and this affects the students when presenting. Training for and participating in case competitions add this valuable skill to the student’s resume and personal qualifications.

The perfect team consists of different backgrounds

Unfortunately, not as many female students apply to case competitions as male students, which means that the male students often are overrepresented. Stephanie’s perfect team consists of two female students and two male students. Another factor that defines the perfect team is also background. Stephanie explains:

“The two predominant studies at the undergraduate level are the BSc in International Business and the BSc in International Business and Politics. These are obviously a good background to have, but some of the best students I find come from HA Almen with their depth of knowledge. Also I love to be able to put a philosophy or psychology student on a team. When you have students who have not all had the same courses and textbooks, they can come up with a much broader and deeper business insight.”

Challenges with the theoretical mindset

One of the greatest challenges in the coaching process is to get the students out of their “theoretical clouds”. The students are used to using theories and models to justify their answers, which is important for the analysis itself. But when it comes to making recommendations to a company, the students need to be able to bring it all down to earth and think about how their strategy can be implemented.

The social aspect of case competition

Other than gaining the ability to present ideas and strategies, the students that participate in case competitions also learn how to filter out irrelevant data from relevant data and how to apply this to real business. Stephanie explains that one of the other important factors is that CBS attends only competitions that have a strong social element. It gives the students an invaluable international network that they can gain from now and in their future business life.

Tendencies in the future

Stephanie explains that competitions now use live cases, which means that real companies are the basis for a case with real issues that the company wants some suggestions for. This means that the recommendations that the students come up with actually can help the company to grow or adapt. Another tendency is that the competitions are starting to have more than just one case, instead giving the teams a series of shorter cases. This gives the teams more than just one chance to prove their ability.

Stephanie’s advices for students that want to participate in a case competition

  • It’s good to be prepared and have had a good course in industry analysis before applying.
  • It’s extremely important to know how critical people are in business.  It is always possible to make something look good on paper with stellar financials, but business is conducted by people.
  • Know the balanced triple bottom line is almost always the best way: finances, the environment (internally and externally) and the people (internally and externally) can be balanced, and this is still unique Danish advantage!

The undergraduate team for the CBS Case Competition, Spring 2015. Left to right: Emil Dalgård (BScIB), Marianne Skovgaard Sørensen (HA Almen), Nanna Laursen (team host), Stephanie Hadler, Kai Naujoks (BScIB) and Mikkel Sundø (BScIB).