Auckland, New Zealand

Friday, June 12, 2020

Having graduated officially from university three days ago, it seems befitting to reflect on how I spent my undergraduate life. Truth be told, I entered business school without much interest for the corporate world, and wanted to complete my business degree as soon as possible before focusing on my communications one, something that brought me more joy. Yet, even as I spent the majority of my final year attending classes over at the faculty of arts and social sciences, there was one thing that continued to pull me back to the snazzy business school building - case competitions. 

Big shout out to the very first senior who saw potential in me when I was a second-year student: she did not take issue with my only internship experiences being journalism and editorial-related ones, but even saw that as a strength, believing that being able to survive a newsroom environment made me well-placed to work under high-stress case competition situations. I daresay that my consideration and eventual decision to pursue marketing as a career (at least for the next couple of years) can be attributed to in part to the experiences I got being in this consulting club, considering that I didn't even specialize in marketing. 

With all that said, ever since I became acquainted with the international circuit, my dream competition has always been the Champions Trophy, organised by the University of Auckland. Not only was it deemed as the pinnacle of undergraduate business case competitions, the format was unique. No PowerPoint, no computers, no Internet - just five hours, a stack of white paper, and some markers. While it may not be the best simulation of a real-world consulting environment, it makes for an exciting challenge. 

And I'm so thankful to have been able to participate in this year's edition in late January, with an amazing team. We flew to New Zealand on the night of the first day of Chinese New Year - was the pineapple tart sacrifice on my end worth it? For sure. 

Precautions being taken in the early stages of the virus hitting our shores - who knew this would be the last time I'll be heading overseas in a long, long time. 

This competition is by far my favourite international case competition out of the five I've gone on. Perhaps I'm biased, but New Zealand is a beautiful country in itself, and not having to go without sleep for insane 24 or 36-hour stretches at a time just to solve cases makes these competitions a lot more fun. The first three days of the Champions Trophy were all social activities and touring Auckland, followed by three or four (depending on whether teams make the finals) consecutive days of case cracking. 

Before I recap the competition in chronological order, most/ all of the photographs in this post are  not mine, but were provided by the organizers - big thanks! 

Day 1

Once we touched down, we had to rush to our hotel, get changed and head to the business school for the opening ceremony. We were greeted by a traditional Māori welcome, called a pōwhiri, which was pretty eye-opening. It's always interesting to see how indigenous land and traditions were respected in places like New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. 

Afterwards, we went for a welcome dinner at Dr Rudi's, and left a bit early to stroll by the harbour and back to the hotel to rest - we were really tired from the long flight there. 

Day 2

The second day started off with a race around the city in different groups, separated from our team. We were made to mingle and complete a bunch of photo challenges. Honestly, it wasn't too bad this time around for introverted me - perhaps I'm now more accustomed to socializing. 

I believe one of the tasks was to take a photo with a "dog". 

We then proceeded to take a ferry to Devonport, described as a seaside village, where the adventurous went wharf jumping. Team NUS stayed dry. 

Following that, we made our ascend to the peak of Mt. Victoria to have lunch, which turned out to be the perfect spot for everyone else to dry themselves under the hot sun. Meanwhile, I took out my umbrella for some much-needed shade. 

Everyone at the peak! Posing behind a toadstool - spot us in the front row, middle. 

For the next part of the programme, we got to choose from a bunch of activities offered by AJ Hackett to spend our afternoon. Being the coward that I was, I chose the mildest bridge climb across the Auckland Harbour Bridge with Prof while the rest of the team bungy-jumped from the same bridge. 

The bridge climb was more exciting than I thought it'd be - it was thrilling standing 200 feet above the water and watching the cars zoom past far below us. The views were amazing from way up there too. Some of the drivers spotted us and would give a couple of honks, which was pretty cute. 

Meanwhile, my team mates were being real brave souls! 

Thankfully, the rest of the day was less adrenaline-filled. We spent an evening lawn-bowling, with a food truck just beside that served up the best Vietnamese-inspired rice bowls that came with amazing pork belly, fried chicken and even vegan options. I believe the truck is called "Nom Nom". 

Unassuming but so good - by far the best meal I had throughout the competition. 

Day 3

We kicked off the third day of socials with a water balloon fight - apparently a Champions Trophy tradition - before taking a ferry to Waiheke Island. The first stop was Goldie Estate, a vineyard, where we got to taste a bunch of wines, an experience that got lost on me since I can't/ don't know how to appreciate the taste of wines.

Taking a tour around the grape vines. 

 We're in the front row again - right side this time! 

Following that, we headed to the Palm Beach, where our greatest achievement was dipping our toes into the sea - everyone else had a lot of fun though, and spirits weren't dampened by the slight but persistent drizzle. 

Not entirely sure what I was trying to achieve here.

And that marked the end of social activities for the competition - we headed back to the business school soon after for the competition briefing and the division draw. Our division for the next three rounds of the competition consisted of us, Indiana University and The University of Hong Kong. All three rounds had equal weightages, and the top team in each division (there were four) would proceed to the finals. Videos of the presentations of all teams in your division were also made available at the end of every day, which meant that strategizing in hotel rooms were probably the norm. 

Day 4

Finally time for my favourite part of case competitions! While visiting new countries is always fun and a real blessing, I prefer the parts where I hang out the most with my team, coming together and cracking a case. The five-hour time limit for Champions Trophy really makes for an intense heart-pounding time, but we've trained under such circumstances and just needed to deliver. 

The first case company was a local New Zealand chocolate manufacturer, The Remarkable Chocolate Co., which needed a strategy to scale up its operations. Out of all the cases we did throughout the competition, this one was by far the most straightforward one, which made for a good warm-up for the upcoming, more challenging rounds. We came in first place in our division. 

Day 5

My outfit of a black dress and a black blazer looks like it should belong at a funeral rather than a case competition, which could explain our poor results for the second round. We came in third (i.e. last) in our division for the case on Emirates Team New Zealand, the country's sailing team. The sporting industry is undoubtedly something that we don't have a good grasp on, so this defeat served to put us in place. 

Check out these amazing ticket drawings though, complete with bar codes on the side. 

Getting feedback from the judges - at this point, the division results weren't made known to us, though we probably could vaguely figure out from the feedback we were receiving.

Day 6

Day six marked the last round of the competition prior to the finals - could this be our last day case-cracking as a team? The third case company was Mainfreight, a logistics and transport company, which wanted to unlock new growth opportunities and solve human resource constraints. While technical cases like these are known to be our strength, the five-hour case cracking period proved to be a huge challenge this time - we spent way too much time discussing our strategies and ended up entering the presentation room without having practiced at all. We clearly looked nervous, some of the presentation slides were mixed up, and our time management during the presentation was not great. 

We ended up placing second, which meant that we were second overall in our division across all three days. Indiana University proceeded to the finals, while we were given another chance in the wildcard round. The wildcard round saw all the second-placed teams in each division re-present their Mainfreight recommendations. As our first presentation didn't do justice to any of our solutions that we were pretty confident in, this was a real chance at redemption. 

We presented first for the wildcard round - and this was open for everyone else to watch.

After a nerve-wrecking and exhausting day, we were announced to have won the wildcard round, against the University of New South Wales, the Copenhagen School of Business, and The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and were the fifth team to proceed to the finals the next day. It was such a huge relief for us, and I couldn't be more proud that we made it this far.

 Day 7

By the seventh day of the competition, we were completely beat. And judging by the types of companies that we've analysed over the past couple of days, the finals case was likely to be a non-profit organisation. This was an area that we aren't particularly good at, but had to try our best no less. Indeed, it was LandSAR New Zealand, also known as the Land Search & Rescue organisation of the country - and we had to come up with strategies to raise awareness for what they do, recruit volunteers, and raise funds on a sustainable level. 

This time round, we made sure to leave some time before the five-hour mark to run through all the slides together to ensure that our presentation would be smooth - there wasn't going to be a re-run again.

Thankfully, our presentation proceeded without a hitch. Unlike the first round on the previous day, we delivered something we were satisfied with and would have no regrets no matter the outcome. Afterall, making it to the finals was already a pleasant surprise. 

The final handshakes are always the most satisfying - it's finally all over! 

The closing dinner was held at the Maritime Room, a beautiful location at the Princes Wharf Viaduct Harbour, in the middle of the Auckland CBD. At this point, all of us probably wanted to relax - we just needed to get the results announcement over and done with so we could enjoy the rest of the night. 

And we placed! We came in third, which was more than I could've ever asked for. While we didn't defend our championship title from last year, participating in this competition was already a dream come true for me - not to mention making it to the finals and bringing back a trophy to Singapore!

Huge congratulations to The University of Florida (US) and Queen's University (Canada) for coming in first and second place respectively. Of course, major props to The American University of Beirut  (Lebanon) for clinching the People's Choice Award.  

Also, I have nothing but gratitude towards Prof, for all the guidance and support she's given our team, choosing some of the best and most interesting cases for us to train with. She's advised me throughout the past three case competitions I've been on and while I'm sad to leave, it's heartening to know that future students will undoubtedly be impacted by her dedication. 

Ending off this post with a cute photo taken with one of the organisers of the competition from the University of Auckland, whom we met just a couple of months ago while competing against each other at the AUBCC in Brisbane. In some ways, it perfectly encapsulates how these case competitions have been for me - being able to meet amazing students from all over the world, gaining new perspectives and becoming a lot more open. I've also somehow managed to keep in touch with some of them, sometimes even hosting them when they come to visit our sunny island (I've done that twice so far)! 

But above all, thank you team. I cannot be more grateful that I got to spend my last ever case competition with you three - not only talented at what you all do, but also at constantly trash talking to make ourselves feel better. It has been an absolute joy to work with you guys (evident from all my laughter) and I cannot be more proud of us for fighting for our lives in the wildcard round and emerging so strong. Case cracking never feels like a chore with the right company. 

It's bittersweet graduating knowing that I wouldn't be able to have such experiences anymore but am also immensely thankful that I even landed such opportunities in the first place. From not expecting to get into the club in my second year to leading it in my final year, it's been one heck of a wild ride. While the current global situation might put a pause on such events taking place for my juniors, I sincerely hope that these international exchanges resume as soon as they are safe to, because they have significantly contributed to my growth over the past four years and I do hope that others can be similarly nurtured. 

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