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UofGH wins prestigious CFO Case Study Competition in Johannesburg, South Africa

UofGH's winning team
Photo courtesy of Justin Medak

A team of University of Guelph-Humber Business students and alumni has won the prestigious CFO Case Study Competition in South Africa, with judges coming to a unanimous decision for the very first time in the history of the competition.

The victory marked the end of a highly competitive and rigorous process in which 1,950 students on 550 teams – from 85 universities, 46 countries and six continents – all vied to compete in the final rounds, which took place Oct. 15 and 16 at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

UofGH’s team of fourth-year Business students Shirin Monga and Daniel Bielak and alumni Emma Lal and Michael Persaud overcame teams from Finland, the U.K., Germany, Nigeria and South Africa in the final two rounds to secure the victory.

This also marks the first time a team from North America has won the CFO Case Study Competition.

“I am extraordinarily proud of our team,” said Dr. George Bragues, Assistant Vice-Provost and Business Program Head. “It was an honour to have been with them in South Africa to watch their performances and share in their victory.

“Alongside our victory at the Network of International Business Schools Case Competition in February, this achievement further solidifies the status of the University of Guelph-Humber as a global force in the Business case competition arena. It is a testament to the excellence of our instructors in providing the educational foundations for our team’s victory in South Africa. Justin Medak is especially to be commended for his tireless work and dedication in mentoring the team.”

“Daniel, Shirin, Emma and Michael are exceptional individuals and will become inspiring business leaders,” added Justin Medak, Assistant Program Head of Business. “Their work ethic and dedication to success was unwavering for seven months and 17 days, which was the duration of this competition.”

A winning approach

Taking place at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange – the oldest and largest stock exchange in Africa – the final rounds of the competition tasked the teams with solving business problems relating to Volkswagen. The finalists presented their proposals in front of a panel of judges that included the CEOs and CFOs of major corporations.

The University of Guelph-Humber’s team put in hundreds of combined hours of reading and research to prepare for every round of the competition. The team studied Volkswagen’s press releases, annual reports, its Transform 2025 strategy, and any news relating to the company, while also leaning on mentorship from the UofGH team that reached the finals of the CFO Case Study Competition in 2018.

“I thought the team performed brilliantly,” Dr. Bragues said. “They gave very strong and confident presentations. They exhibited a powerful command of the strategic issues facing Volkswagen and thoughtfully evaluated that company’s options in light of the risks.

“Their responses to the questions posed by the judges was masterful,” he continued. “With their responses, they displayed a strong grasp of the nuances and complexities of the case. They also showed poise when they did not immediately know the answer to a question and smartly huddled together to formulate thoughtful responses.

“The judges were impressed both by the strategic acumen demonstrated by the UofGH team as well as the logical flow and clarity of their analysis. The judges were also struck by the cohesiveness of the UofGH team and how everyone equally contributed to the presentation.”

The road to South Africa

That cohesiveness that the judges praised didn’t come about accidentally. All four of UofGH’s team members are seasoned case competitors: Bielak and Monga both competed in Ethics in Action in 2018 and were members of the winning NIBS World Wide Case Competition team earlier this year; Lal was a member of UofGH’s winning team at the 2017 Ethics in Action and also competed at the NIBS World Wide Case Competition in 2018; and Persaud competed in the Royal Roads Case Competition in Victoria in 2016 and the Harvard International Case Competition in 2016.

Combined, the four students and alumni went through more than 75 training sessions of six hours each. In addition, they were assigned homework every week including readings, analysis and reflections.

“A lot of the groundwork – such as critical analysis and presentation skills – was developed prior to the competition,” Medak pointed out. “This allowed the team to focus on strategy and execution through the duration of the CFO Case Study Competition.”

UofGH’s team, in turn, praised the dedication of Medak – who trains UofGH students for case competitions at all levels – and other Business faculty for their dedication to helping with every step of that painstaking training process.

“Justin built our foundations, taught us how to problem solve, and then we took what we learned and applied ourselves to this competition. This proves that when you have a dedicated coach willing to wake up at 3 in the morning to watch livestreams, to stay with you for hours during the practice sessions, to conduct their own research, and to read every reflection email we type up, you can set the students up to achieve amazing things,” Bielak said.

“It makes us feel proud to have won for an institution that encourages student success,” he added. “We’re proud to have won for ourselves, the University of Guelph-Humber, and Canada.”