by Barbara Black
When Pierre Brunet introduced the "live case" category to the Concordia University International MBA Case Competition a few years ago, he probably didn't realize that one day, he'd be presenting his own.
As a management professor, Brunet helped start the competition nearly 20 years ago. It's a round-robin tournament that pits teams of Master's of Business Administration students against one another to solve real-life business problems before a jury of seasoned executives. The cases are written accounts prepared by special case writers, but Brunet also introduced a "live" case that would be presented in person by the CEO with the problem, and have each team in the competition offer their best instant analysis.
Last spring Brunet took early retirement from Concordia and plunged back into the business world full-time. The new owner of Moody Industries Inc., of Terrebonne, Que., offered him the challenge of transforming an old, respected, but in many ways outmoded business into a vital, progressive one. It was an ideal "live case" to present to the 30 teams of students who gathered at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel on January 13.
Brunet told the students that as president and chief operating officer of Moody, he has an array of fascinating choices to make. The company started life way back in 1845 as Matthew Moody and Sons, a manufacturer of agricultural equipment. Over the years, its fortunes waxed and waned, but it is still the biggest employer in the region. Now, it manufacturers conveyor systems and ground equipment support systems for airlines.
Brunet provided the student competitors with a 20-page account of the company up to the present. At a plenary session on January 13, he filled them in on what had happened in the three weeks since that account had been written – after all, Canada's two airlines had merged, which was bound to affect the market, and substantial contracts had been offered by other clients. Then each team got to ask him one clarifying question.
"It was hard to present all that detail," Brunet admitted afterwards with a rueful chuckle. "Your tendency is to keep your cards close to your vest, and it's a private company, after all."
The students had only about 90 minutes to prepare their presentations, and naturally, there was a tendency to throw every idea into the pot. The Concordia team suggested developing a third product line (vertical metal shelving), despite the fact that staff were already swamped by current production; they recommended an ambitious new digital communications system within the plant, and suggested workers be offered equity in the company as an incentive.
However, this kind of brainstorming can be highly useful. Brunet said that ideas he picked up in the student presentations he attended "may nuance what I do." What he found really helpful, though, was the feedback from his own peers, the judges who listened intently to his presentation of Moody's situation.
Problem-solving and networking are major components in the MBA Case Competition's extraordinary success in attracting volunteer judges. No fewer than 330 business executives turned up during the five-day competition to act as judges. They also like picking up the fresh ideas that circulate among university people, Brunet said.
Brunet does wish that business schools wouldn't restrict their hiring to freshly minted PhDs, but would also hire people with experience in the real business world. He echoes his friend Henry Mintzberg, the well-known McGill business professor, in being a bit skeptical about the case-by-case approach. Brought to its fullest flower by the Harvard Business School, case studies -- and by extension, case competitions -- tend to emphasize glibness and trendy ideas rather than genuine knowledge of an individual company.
However, despite his plateful of current challenges, Brunet intends to encourage business-university symbiosis, and specifically, the Concordia Case Competition, by continuing to serve on the Case Competition's advisory board.
He was presented with an award at the closing banquet in recognition of his contributions.
The winners of this year's International MBA Case Competition came from the University of Toronto. Second place went to George Washington University (Washington, D.C.) and third to the University of Tennessee.
Concordia's team, at right, clockwise from top left, were Peter Calcetas, Timothy Field (alternate), Paul Hemens, coach and faculty advisor Professor Geoffrey G. Bell, Jennifer Aitken and Louise Simard. Though they had a disappointing start, they earned the maximum points in one of their encounters.
Thirty teams competed in this year's competition, about as many as there was room for in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel's facilities. Fifteen were Canadian, of which five were from Quebec; eight were from the United States, three from Germany, and there were single teams from business schools in New Zealand, Sweden, Finland and Peru.
As well as pitting their business skills against one another, of course, the students had a great time together, including a masquerade party and a closing banquet (photo at left).