Cracking the case: NUS Business School students clinch victories at local and international case competitions

Exceptional teamwork, inventive thinking and analytical acumen – NUS Business School undergraduates have proven their mettle and emerged triumphant at both the local and international stage in two case competitions held recently.

A team of Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) students comprising Jacky Hu, Alexis Tan, Jin Wenqi and Johnathon Tan from the NUS Case Consulting Group (CCG) won the Rotterdam School of Management’s (RSM) STAR Case Competition, while two BBA students, Hazel Lye and Jessy Lene Amolar, were victors at the MaritimeONE Case Summit 2023 organised by the Singapore Maritime Foundation.

Tackling real-world business challenges on the global stage

Held annually in the city of Rotterdam in Netherlands since 2014, the RSM STAR Case Competition is regarded as one of the world’s most prestigious and highly anticipated business case competitions.

This year, 16 teams from top business schools around the world, including Berkeley University of California, University of Florida and Copenhagen Business School, were invited to showcase their problem-solving abilities and develop solutions to challenges faced by two global beverage giants.  The teams were given 12 hours to propose an innovative strategy to boost Heineken’s engagement with ‘Generation Z’ consumers specifically for its Heineken Silver brand. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola’s 24-hour challenge to participants involved proposing a solution to address water stewardship in water-stressed regions.

Johnathon, a Year 2 BBA student, shared that his love of problem-solving along with the opportunity for global exposure were the reasons he was drawn to participate in the competition. “It provided me with the opportunity to represent the University on an international stage, a chance to travel to Europe and experience a new culture, as well as broaden my horizons and gain a global perspective (on issues),” he said.

For Heineken, the team drew from their own experiences as members of ‘Generation Z’, a term referring to young people who are born between the mid-1990s and mid-2010s. Inspired by their observation that these consumers preferred authentic interactions and collaborative engagement with brands, they mooted the idea of ‘Silver Circle’ – a social platform which allows users to share videos of how and where they have been enjoying a drink of Heineken Silver.

The Coca-Cola problem, however, was more complex, explained team leader Jacky. “We really had to pull our knowledge and experience together and finally came up with a multi-pronged approach to improving water security,” he said. The team focused their recommendations on the water-stressed region of California and proposed the introduction of ‘AquaCARE’. This independent organisation would coordinate local water sustainability efforts and foster greater cooperation amongst stakeholders within the ecosystem through education and advocacy. 

Brainstorming and strategising over 24 hours proved to be both a physically and mentally challenging process for the team. After hours of intense discussions, “the limitless supply of Coke Zero kept us awake and gave us the energy to continue!” joked Jacky, who will be graduating next month.

Associate Professor Ang Swee Hoon, Deputy Head of the Department of Marketing at NUS Business School, who was the team’s mentor said, “The students did NUS proud with their mature and viable solution, coupled with a strong and confident question-and-answer session. The judges were impressed that students were able to develop such a strategy within 24 hours and despite having no experience in the beverage industry.”

Creating a safer, fairer workplace for seafarers

Driven by their interests in sustainability and the logistics sector, BBA students Hazel Lye and Jessy Lene Amolar jumped at the opportunity to participate in the MaritimeONE Case Summit 2023.

This year’s competition was the fourth edition and sponsored by leading multinationals CMA CGM Group, Rio Tinto and the Swire Group. Entries were submitted by 49 teams representing local universities and polytechnics, encompassing students from a wide array of disciplines such as maritime studies, supply chain management, business, data science and engineering.  

“We picked the Rio Tinto case because their challenge statement, which focuses on human capital sustainability, stood out to us,” said Jessy, a Year 2 BBA student. The pair was moved by the challenges faced by seafarers who endure months away from their families with limited external support. They were particularly sensitive to the concerns of female seafarers, who may experience discrimination and harassment in the male-dominated industry.

However, the duo had limited familiarity with the maritime industry. To bridge this gap, they strategically conducted one-on-one interviews with seafarers to gain first-hand insights into their experiences at sea. Additionally, they surveyed youths to acquire a broader understanding of their perceptions regarding the maritime industry. These research efforts played a crucial role in establishing a solid groundwork for their project and ensuring that the solutions they devised were both appropriate and feasible.

Hazel and Jessy, who specialise in business analytics and operations and supply chain management respectively, outshined the competition with their project to attract, retain and train seafarers at Rio Tinto. Their focus on talent management and welfare led to several recommendations. These included the integration of virtual reality technology for seafarers’ crisis simulation training, a women’s scholarship programme to encourage greater female participation in the industry and foster a strong community within Rio Tinto, and the establishment of an external task force to address seafarers’ complaints impartially.

Learning about the seafarers' experiences at sea and receiving their support throughout the competition proved to be a highly rewarding experience for both BBA students, a sentiment they unreservedly shared. “Jessy and I sympathised greatly with the seafarers who have challenging jobs and spend long stretches of time away from home. As young female students, we are also excited that we may be able to encourage solutions pushing for greater diversity in the industry,” said team leader Hazel, a Year 3 BBA student.

Convergence of diverse skill sets key to unlocking innovation and success

Despite their victories in separate competitions, both teams demonstrated a common strength -  their ability to tap on each other’s knowledge and skills and incorporate different viewpoints to devise more holistic strategies and solutions to complex problems. Each of the students agreed that their interdisciplinary learning contributed to their success in the competitions.

Jacky, for instance, noted that his team of four comprised both finance and marketing specialists. “The breadth of knowledge acquired from interdisciplinary courses helped us in understanding the context of the business problem better and made us more effective communicators,” he said.

Hazel and Jessy also leveraged their strengths as business students. “The modules we’ve done equipped us with market research, report-writing and presentation skills. This really helped us in shaping our problems and solutions, and communicating our ideas to the judges,” added Jessy.