Charmian Kok
Wed, Jun 11, 2008
The Business Times
All in a day's (team)work

SHOWERING six to eight times a night, wiping out cups of cup noodles and cursing at each other - these were just some of the extreme measures that team Solution Lab resorted to to keep themselves awake during their 24-hour case competition.

'We even kept our luggage on the bed to stop ourselves from sleeping!' said Deeraj Karnani, 20, a fourth-year information systems student at the Singapore Management University (SMU).

CaseIT, the gruelling case competition organised by Simon Fraser University, is a test not only of business acumen and analytical skills, but also of the team's endurance. Having no prior experience in business case competitions like this, however, did not stop team Solution Lab from clinching the second prize.

The team from SMU, which also included Darren Toh and Yang Kang Wei, both 23, competed against 16 teams from universities in the United States, Europe, Africa and Hong Kong.

Held over four days, CaseIT adds a twist to the typical business case competition with its focus on management information systems. This year, teams had to come up with a proposal to help a Canadian online dating website break into the US market. And they had to do so in 24 hours.

'We were very motivated during the actual competition, but somehow the timeline we drew up did not materialise because there were delays here and there and the ideas were not flowing as quickly as we wanted,' explained Kang Wei, a third-year IS student.

'We were quite stressed about how to make our solution the winning solution. We wanted to do something different from the rest, and did not want to be conventional,' he continued, adding that the team came through for one another at the end because of the members' support and mutual understanding.

'When it comes to 24-hour case competitions, what's very important is to support one another and to understand one another, like when a team mate would get tired,' said Deeraj. All three team mates have had prior experience working together in school.

Team chemistry

According to the team, it was this closeness and mutual understanding that compensated for their lack of experience. Darren attributes the success of the team to their team chemistry.

'We were able to integrate each other's ideas in terms of the balance sheet, presentation and marketing. We have been working together for almost two years and we learned to understand and appreciate each other's ideas and build on them,' he said.

While other teams might get caught up fighting over whose ideas are better, team Solution Lab emphasises keeping an open mind to different ideas.

'It's through all these exchanges of thoughts and ideas that we learn and appreciate each other's working style, and that's what chemistry is all about,' shared Darren.

Sheer hard work and sacrifice also helped the team along since their first training session.

'For the first simulation training we had, our professor told us that our proposal would fail. We were very stressed,' said Deeraj with a laugh.

'We were all very concerned at the beginning because we really wanted to do it right; we were really motivated, but we didn't know how to show it,' added Kang Wei.

However, as the training progressed, the team started to get the hang of things. Full-day simulation exercises also helped them get accustomed to sleep deprivation and strengthened their endurance. Weekends were sacrificed for more training.

In the end, the team's hard work paid off with many judges and fellow competitors congratulating them for a job well done. Although the team wished they could have won the first prize, Kang Wei told BT that they were content and happy with the results. 'When the results were announced, we were happy but a bit disappointed as well because of the amount of congratulations we received from others. Having said that, we're still thankful that we were able to take the second prize.'

Besides their prized trophy and award, the team also walked away with an enriching experience and a clearer idea of which career paths to pursue. Kang Wei, who is currently interning at ABN Amro NV, said: 'Before we students enter the workforce, we should always try anything if given the opportunity, even if we initially feel we might not be prepared for it.'

'We entered this competition against all odds, as we had no experience. But as long as you're hungry for it, you should strive for it and be prepared to sacrifice a little. If you fail, at least you know you've tried,' he reflected.

As for Deeraj, the competition has opened his eyes to other career options, namely that of consulting. 'Many students aspire to work in banks, but now I have another option. It's because of this that my interest in consulting has taken off,' said Deeraj, who is doing an internship at Accenture. Meanwhile, Darren will intern at both UBS AG and Tata Consulting Services this summer.

This article was first published in The Business Times on Jun 9, 2008

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