How 2 Win the Case Competition

One of the hazards of being dean, is that you lose track of the academic calendar.  My job doesn’t have the cycle of classes starting and ending that the marks the passage of time for faculty and students.  One year, Spring Break passed and I didn’t even notice: Even the empty parking lots didn’t tip me off. But I have come to know when the Great Case Competition is at hand by the large number of students outside my office in suits nervously practicing their part of the team presentation just before entering class to pitch their ideas.

It has been a ritual in the College for some time now that every student’s last act before they graduate is to compete in the Great Case Competition.  This semester we will declare a winner on Friday. The preliminaries are already done and I suspect many teams got through the early rounds by having a novel idea and good platform skills.  As I have written before, whether you know it or not, everyone is in sales. Good platform skills gives you a leg up on the competition.

But the last two rounds of the case competition, especially the finals, is a bit of a different egg. Faculty, for the most part, are idea people.  They spend their whole lives looking for new and interesting ways to look at things.  Sometimes you can win over faculty judges with a novel, yet untested idea.  But the case competition finals are judged by business people.  They favor  numbers over ideas: after all it’s about making money, stupid.  They also favor simplicity over complexity.  I am reminded of an article several years ago by the President of Pixar who noted that he believed an average idea that was well executed was much better than a great idea with so-so execution.

Take heed contests. To win the competition, you will need to speak the language of seasoned business people. So don’t tell them what you “feel” the company should do. Show the judges that the numbers tell you that your proposal is a good investment: this is an exercise in data-driven decision-making.  And then show them how easy your proposed plan is to implement.  The simpler it is to implement the plan, the more likely the company will reap the numbers you project.  The simplest plan with the most appealing financials is the one most likely to win the competition.

Good luck to all the teams as they prepare this week.  It is your last chance to shine here at UCF before you shake my hand as you walk across that stage and into your career.

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