Undergrad students solve global business challenges

Textbook theory meets real-world business problems in the Australian Undergraduate Business Case Competition (AUBCC). Bachelor of Commerce student, Laura Foo was at the most recent event, held in Sydney, to watch problems tackled, leadership lessons learned, and global networks hatched.

At one end of the foyer, huddled groups of suit jackets and blazers are waiting to present the business case they have been working on for the last 12 hours. They murmur, deep in concentration, and oblivious to the audible elation of the teams on the other side of the room. There are beaming smiles, excited air punches and laughter – a well-deserved but brief reprieve before the next round of competition. It is these infectious highs that make case competitions so unforgettable for the student competitors, and that make the blood, sweat and tears of preparation worth every moment.

Case competitions are a unique opportunity for the brightest, most innovative young business minds from throughout the world to gather in one city. In just a week, they analyse and present solutions to real business problems amid gruelling competition, applying textbook theory to current business cases.

University of Melbourne students compete globally through the International Case Competition program, with Faculty of Business and Economics students competing in Belgrade, Copenhagen, Bangkok, Florida, Vancouver and Oslo in recent years. In November it will be the University of Melbourne’s turn to host the Australian Undergraduate Business Case Competition.

Typically, a case competition consists of two or three rounds conducted under strict time pressure. Preparation times vary between cases, and can be six, 12 or even 30 hours long, with teams concentrating intently to rehearse and perfect their presentations.

In text image_students talking
Laura Foo (far right) discusses strategy for AUBCC 2016 with the Marketing and Communications Team

Dean Lee, a member of the 2015 University of Melbourne team Iceberg Consulting, describes it as a concentrated peek into the world of consulting.

“I definitely learnt a lot about my own weaknesses through the process,” says Lee. “We put ourselves through this trial of doing case after case and it’s exciting, but really challenging at the same time.”

Between presentations, teams get to know each other and form friendships at social days.

Lee and his team mates, Jenny Luu, Edward Spence and Patrick Coleman, all Bachelor of Commerce students, placed an admirable second out of 16 teams in the 2015 AUBCC hosted by the University of New South Wales.

The competing teams presented creative business solutions to cases including Telstra’s potential expansion into South East Asia and funding for The Smith Family’s Australian numeracy program. In providing solutions, many different facets of the business are analysed – from financials, to production methods, to marketing – and recommendations are made.

The top four teams presented their recommendations to The Smith Family in front of a judging panel that included senior consultants, industry experts, and The Smith Family CEO Lisa O’Brien. It is this special focus on Australian businesses that differentiates AUBCC from other competitions.

Iceberg Consulting gained valuable insight into the business world, forged lasting business connections and friendships, and learned to work as a team with a single shared objective. They agree that AUBCC was one of the steepest learning curves they have experienced, but it is a challenge they would eagerly take on again.

“The most enjoyable part of the experience at AUBCC was getting to meet and interact with other teams, which I wasn’t expecting,” says Spence.

“We all share the experience, the ups and downs, the travel – it’s not just about the case and solving the problems.”

Among the myriad skills developed, Lee’s biggest takeaway from the process was learning to adapt to a team scenario. “In the end, you learn how to self-reflect and adapt to get the most out of the team.”

For Coleman, the training before the competition was the best part of the experience. “It gave us, as a team, an opportunity to bond, which ultimately benefits the way we work together, both during and post-case,” he says.

Students also get a quick lesson in leadership, learning how to leverage team members’ strengths in a highly pressurised situation. “I met so many like-minded people at AUBCC,” says Spence, “people who are driven, and want to challenge themselves in a way that isn’t mandatory for uni. People opt in to the experience. It’s completely different to anything else I’ve ever done at uni. That’s what makes it so great.”


Laura Foo is Director of Marketing and Communications for the AUBCC 2016 event at the University of Melbourne, which will be held from November 27 to December 2.