International business case competitions: A win-win-win for all involved

Each year, students from the International Business and International Business Economics bachelors programmes are invited to apply to join the case competition squad: a commitment that can demand up to 30 hours a week at the peak, but one that students who have participated say is completely worth it.

At the helm of the programme are SBE’s three case competition squad advisors: Drs. Bas van Diepen from the Department of Organization & Strategy and Prof. Dr. Hans Kasper and Pieter Verhallen from the Department of Marketing & Supply Chain Management. Together, they train 16 second-year bachelor students each year to compete in rigorous and prestigious international case competitions in their third year of study. UM has been representing the Netherlands at the highest league of case competitions around the world since 2005.

“We build a squad each year of 16 students and each typically goes to two competitions a year,” Verhallen explains. “We train the second-year students and then in their third year, they are sent to compete.”

SBE won second runner-up at the Belgrade Business International Case Competition hosted by the University of Belgrade. Left to right: Marijn Schneider, Steve Goossens, Pieter Verhallen, Chakana Arokiyanathar, and Margus Ülper.

SBE won second runner-up at the Belgrade Business International Case Competition hosted by the University of Belgrade. Left to right: Marijn Schneider, Steve Goossens, Pieter Verhallen, Chakana Arokiyanathar, and Margus Ülper.

Based on GPA and other criteria, students are invited to apply for a place on the squad and are then trained in how to advise on real-world cases, pertaining to real companies around the world.

Competitions are hosted by top business schools around the globe, and the competition at such events is fierce. Teams of four students are isolated—without their phones and sometimes without Internet access—in hotel rooms for anywhere from 3 to 48 hours to crack a case.

They then present their recommendations to a panel mostly consisting , of executives from the company presenting the case and industry professionals. The teams present their strategies and then go through a very intensive Q and A. Based on this, they are rated and can move on to finals or be eliminated.

Steve Goossens, currently working towards his masters in finance at SBE, participated in two case competitions during his bachelors studies at UM. “The cases can vary from a Fortune 500 company to a local startup,” he says. “It can be anything from a company having issues to one just presenting their current situation and asking for general advice on how to proceed, how to grow. Usually, there is a real specific problem that you can expect.”

And according to both Goossens and Verhallen, everybody benefits. “In terms of student development, in terms of international relationship building across universities around the globe, and in terms of creating value-added strategies for industry partners, it’s a win-win-win,” Verhallen says. “It has strengthened our relationship to schools with whom we have exchange programmes. It’s great for the companies and for student development. We routinely get emails from students who have participated and gone on to reflect on their study time and think wow, the case competition programme was really the highlight of my bachelors programme.”

SBE won first place at the Scotiabank International Case Competition hosted by the Ivey Business School in London, Canada. From second left to right: Ranim Helwani, Marijn Schneider, Maxi Buttinger and Susanne Bischoff.

SBE won first place at the Scotiabank International Case Competition hosted by the Ivey Business School in London, Canada. From second left to right: Ranim Helwani, Marijn Schneider, Maxi Buttinger and Susanne Bischoff.

One such email came from Kai Klasen, an SBE alum who is currently Head of Business Development & Sales at GreenGurus GmbH. He calls his participation in the case competition programme “the greatest learning experience I had at SBE, both professionally and personally.” He recalls presenting ideas to a panel of top managers and getting the chance to have an impact on a multinational business as an incredible but rare experience.

“To conceive of a great case solution is one thing,” he wrote to Verhallen. “But delivering a convincing presentation to a room full of top managers is a skill that cannot be taught in any classroom.”

SBE has participated in case competitions internationally since 2005, and has hosted its own competition, International Case Competition at Maastricht (ICC@M) for 7 years. “We score very well on the global scene despite other schools having longer-running programmes , having 4 year bachelor programmes and having teams with students who have participated in close to ten competitions each,” Verhallen says. “It’s so competitive, that some schools have asked students to postpone graduation in order to continue their participation in their school’s programme.”

Goossens says the experience, while challenging, was totally worthwhile. “I was shocked by how much detail we had to go into, and the judges were pretty harsh,” he says. “It was eye opening. But I’m now doing a masters in finance and I definitely think the experience paid off. It gave me a head start.”

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