An unforgettable Kiwi adventure for SBE students

Every year in January, 12 top business schools from all over the world take part in the prestigious Champions Trophy at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

In order to participate, a business school must have won a prominent international case competition in the preceding year. Having won the Montreal case competition in 2012, Maastricht University was able to send a team consisting of SBE students Flora Zaalberg, Julia Merz, Philipp Loick and Dennis Schulz to the event.

The four students share their memories about their Kiwi adventure.

Maastricht University team, from left to right: Dennis Schulz, Philipp Loick, Julia Merz, Flora Zaalberg

A challenging environment

Our team realized that this would be a tough competition when the list of participating universities was announced: the University of California/Berkeley, Queensland University of Technology, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, to name just a few.

We decided to prepare ourselves extensively before for the competition by examining the economy of New Zealand and gathering information about the sponsors.

The competition format  was straightforward. Each team was first asked to prove its qualities during three preliminary cases. For each case, we were given a five-hour time slot to prepare a 10-minute presentation in front of a professional judging panel and a 10-minute Questions & Answers session.

Four divisions, consisting of three teams each, competed in the preliminary cases. The best team of each division would be able to proceed to the finals.

Maastricht University found itself in the same division as Queensland Insitute of Technology and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, both known as very strong and experienced candidates in international case competitions.

Preliminary phase

The three preliminary cases traditionally deal with a non-profit organization, a small/medium large organization and a large organization.

In the first case,  we were asked to help the non-profit organisation Coastguard New Zealand, in finding a solution for its major funding issues and in raising awareness to safety issues at sea.

During the preparation phase, we were given no access to the Internet or any other material and had to create our Powerpoint presentation from scratch. We were able to deal with the time pressure and finally presented our solution to a jury consisting of four business practitioners. We were able to convince the judges and to win the first place in our division.

On the second day, our challenge was to present a global market-entry and a marketing strategy to the management of MOA, a public-listed New Zealand beer company. MOA is positioned in the premium beer market and differentiates itself through a variety of beers, provocative marketing and unique ideas such as selling beer in champagne bottles.

The case description guided us towards the company’s two possible plans for expansion, namely either a market development strategy in South-East Asia or a continuation of its current plan to gain a major foothold in the United States.

Our team chose to plead for the further expansion into the US market, supported by an advertising campaign throught commercials highlighting the company’s provocative style in match with its budget.

Moreover, we came up with the idea to make use of the supply chain network of premium water companies to give MOA the means to easily reach high class restaurants and bars. We were very satisfied with our solution and reached the second place of our division.

After the second round, Queensland University and Maastricht had the same number of points, which meant the final round would be decisive for entry into the finals.

The last case in the preliminary knockout round dealt with the American company Triptrotting, a traveller portal comparable to couchsurfing. Triptrotting approached the participating teams with a request to investigate possibilities for alternative revenue streams and ways to increase its customer base.

We based our solution on a recommendation to update the company’s homepage by including more advanced information about destinations such as favourite restaurants, sightseeing places, housing possibilities. We also proposed to increase in the popularity of the portal by sponsoring chosen members of the community to festivals or spots around the world and allowing them to continously share their experiences.

Unfortunately, we were not able to convince the jury despite a satisfactory Q & A session and came in third in the last round. This meant that we lost the close race with Queensland University for the final round. Naturally, we were very disappointed.

We were, however, very satisfied with our team work. We did our utmost to find good and innovative solutions to the cases and represent Maastricht University in the best way we could.

“This is your solution”

Looking back, we can say that participating in the Champions Trophy was a unique adventure and that we have learned a lot from it. It also allowed us to gain a lot of country-specific knowledge ranging from Kiwi culture and the local business environment.

The most rewarding experience was to be part of a team who within a mere five hours was able to tackle a 40-page case, develop a strategy, set up an implementation plan, make a financial forecast, create a PowerPoint presentation from scratch and convince the jury.

Additionally, we learned to trust each other and to believe in our mutual skills. The intense case preparations helped us deepen our friendship.

We also felt proud to see that the educational level at UM allowed us to compete on an extremely high international level with worldclass universities such as Berkeley.

The case company for the final case was the main sponsor of the competition, the big New Zealand dairy cooperative Fonterra, who was looking for a strategy plan to enter the Indian market.   The winner was announced in the evening. It was Chulankorn University, followed by the University of British Columbia, Queensland University and Singapore National University.

Maastricht University team, from left to right:
SBE students Dennis Schulz, Julia Merz, Flora Zaalberg, 
Philipp Loick and their supervisor Sabine Janssen

Flora’s take on social activities

Although the competition itself was the motivation for our 35 hours travel to New Zealand, there was much more to the event, namely great activities, interesting talks and a lot of fun!

On the first day of the programme, one of the students of Auckland University said to me: “Well Flora, I’d love to go abroad for other case competitions, but the Champs (as they shortened the name of their own competition) will always be my favourite. Why? Because it’s famous for and the best in all its social activities.” One week later, we could only agree with that statement.

On the first day, we received our first warm welcome during a delicious dinner at the fish market near the harbor. It was an evening full of drinks, fun and socializing which set the trend for the following days.

Our second welcoming activity happened the next day with a real “powhiri”, the traditional Maori welcome ceremony.

For me, this was the start of my own Kiwi experience! And the start of a very exciting day…

After breaking some “unique” world records such as pulling on as many underpants in one minute and throwing paper planes as far as we could, it was time for the big activity of the day: bungee jumping! For those who could handle their nerves like myself or who just wanted to prove themselves to their teammates, a 40m jump from the Harbour Bridge had been organized. I absolutely loved it! After these exciting activities, the relaxing bowling night with pizza’s and beer was more than welcome.

With so many students from all around the world and a need for dinner every night, the International Food Night on the second day was very appreciated. Every team was invited to make a dish from their home country and take it to the buffet where we could taste each other’s culinary achievements.

After all these nice moments together, we could almost forget that these students were in fact our competitors…

However, from the moment we received our first case in the preparation room, our competitive focus was back. There was only one thing that counted at that point: winning!

Luckily, this competitive edge disappeared at night, when all the students had dinner together again. The atmosphere was especially good on Saturday night, when the winners were announced during the final dinner and all the students celebrated the competition together.

Since I had never been in New Zealand before and knew it as a great country in terms of landscape, people and lifestyle, I wanted to explore a bit more after the competition.

My teammates all went back home, but I continued my travel on my own for an additional week. I discovered the beauty of New Zealand’s sceneries, the breathtaking beaches, the impressive geyserland, the Maori culture and most of all, its friendly people.

Looking back at the whole competition, we were fascinated by the people we met and the inspiring week that we experienced. We will keep our Kiwi adventure among our best memories.

Kia Ora!

By Dennis Schulz, Philipp Loick, Julia Merz and Flora Zaalberg



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