Competing in an international setting

McGill represents Canada at a business case competition in Singapore

What do you say to the head of a generic drug manufacturer in India, who just saw half his top executives resign after they were denied the right to sell their products in the U.S., their biggest market? How can you suggest he manage this challenge, while creating a better relationship with a company that has recently acquired his business – a company that specializes in producing innovator drugs in Japan?

Four McGill undergraduate Management students had forty hours to answer these questions, as they represented the only Canadian school at the Asian Business Case Competition (ABCC) in Singapore earlier this month. The competition, now in its fifth year, brings together students from top business schools around the world to compete in solving a real-life business case. The competition kicked off with a few days of social and networking activities that gave students the chance to get acquainted with the vibrant city-state in the heart of Southeast Asia while meeting colleagues from other universities across the globe.

None of the niceties distract teams from the arrival of the main event: when they are locked into a hotel room and given the case for the first time. Here, all the gloves come off. From this point onward, each team has forty hours to develop a recommendation to help the company move past its challenges. Finally, each team attempts to convince a panel of judges that their strategy is best suited to propel the firm to future success during a 15 minute presentation.

Representing McGill this year were final-year students Sarah Chow, Christopher Hartman, Sumira Jayabalan, and Samuel Latham from the Desautels Faculty of Management. According to the group, the key to doing well is to stay patient and not get frustrated.

“A lot can be accomplished in 40 hours,” Chow said. “We try not to do too many things at once, because you can get into a situation where you start spinning your wheels without getting anywhere.”

Part of the challenge was to develop an understanding of the industry itself.

“As business students, we have a somewhat limited knowledge of how the pharmaceutical industry works as a whole,” Jayabalan said. “So, in these types of situations, we start by doing some research to contextualize the firm’s problem. From there, we discuss alternatives and develop a recommendation.”

An important aspect of the problem was addressing the growing trend in the global pharmaceutical industry that is seeing an influx of ‘innovator’ companies – those that are the first to manufacture a new type of drug with the specific composition – acquire ‘generic’ manufacturers, in order to sell their products through existing channels in the developing world.

Keeping this in mind, McGill answered the questions of the case by focusing on a recommendation that would help the newly formed conglomerate achieve sustainable growth while addressing quality control issues. “We said that the company (Ranbaxy Ltd.) could start growing again by bringing some of their parent-company’s products to market in India – where Ranbaxy already has an extensive selling and distribution network set up,” Hartman said.

The proposal was based on the team’s research that stated thatdemand for ‘innovator’ drugs is exploding in India, reflecting a growing middle class that is experiencing a rapid rise in lifestyle diseases – those that arise due to modifiable lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity.

McGill finished second in their division, only coming behind the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) from Australia, who eventually went on to win the competition. QUT’s approach was to expand their product offerings in the US market by introducing new brands there.

Overall, the McGill team was proud of the recommendation they developed.

Morevoer, it was a great opportunity for the team to get exposure to different schools around the world. “We were able to see the difference in how schools tackle problems depending on where they come from,” Chow noted. “It allowed us to pick up some new approaches that will hopefully help us better explain problems in the future.”

Other schools with established reputations in case competitions in attendance were Nanyang Technological University (the host school), Maastricht University of the Netherlands, and Thammasat University of Thailand. The University of Florida, and the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) rounded out the top three teams to reach the finals.

“I’m extremely proud of my team’s accomplishments,” said Richard Donovan, a faculty lecturer in Desautels and McGill’s lead case coach. “They represented themselves and our school in the most positive light, which at the end of the day is one of the most important aspects of any case competition.”