From left, Kahai Cloutier, Yatin Singla, Ella Spillane, Jerman Rose, and Nam Nguyen at the 2019 Annual CUIBE-Northeastern University International Case Competition.

Cracking the Case: International Business Competition Experience Builds Undergraduates’ Professional Skills

By Sue McMurray

When Zachary Green, a freshman from rural Silverdale, Washington, received an email from the WSU Honors College inviting students to participate in an international case competition, he saw it as a stepping stone to success.

Though he has not yet declared a major, Green says he is leaning toward international business and finance for his Carson College of Business degree program and thought the experience would enhance his public speaking and other skills he’d need for his future career.

Zachary Green

Twenty hours of practice a week and many late nights did not deter Green and five other team members coached by Jerman Rose, clinical professor and special assistant to the dean in the Carson College, as they spent two months preparing for the 2019 Annual CUIBE-Northeastern University International Case Competition in Boston.

Each week, students were assigned a different international business case scenario. Working in teams of three, they prepared a strategic analysis and developed a 15-minute presentation to address the problem posed in the case study.

“We rotated teams each week to learn how to work with other people,” says Green. “I liked the social aspect of that approach and hearing the diverse views of my peers.”

Mentoring and business training provide a competitive edge

Time management, team work, and presentation skills such as eye contact, self-confidence, and even what to do with your hands while talking were among the most valuable skills Rose taught them, Green says. An economics class helped him understand concepts like opportunity costs and supply and demand, but the case practice really improved his comprehension of business strategy, he says.

The members voted to select four students who would go to the competition in Boston. Though he was not selected, Green says he’s thinking ahead about trying again for the spring 2020 case competition. As a freshman, he will have four years of opportunity, as most team members are either seniors or juniors, like Ella Spillane.

Ella Spillane

An international business and marketing major, Spillane is also a student in the Honors College. The Edmonds native is considering going into business law in the future and plans to live abroad at some point.

She was one of the four students chosen for the competition.

“The case competition is probably the most educational experience I’ve had in college,” she says. “All of my business classes helped me prepare for the competition; every class I’ve had required a group project and presentation.”

Practical experience hones skills for future careers

The team had just 24 hours to perform a strategic analysis and develop recommendations to assist an international company to market a microfiber makeup removal and cleansing glove.

Spillane and WSU teammates Kahai Cloutier, Yatin Singla, and Nam Nguyen recommended the company build its brand through ecommerce and only keep retail stores in three European countries instead of 60, where annual revenues were poor. They also suggested the company use online web and fulfillment services to handle tech support, design, and consulting, as well as shipping and logistics. That way, the company could customize its website and collect data analytics on customer buying behaviors, as well as free up CEOs to focus on growing the company, says Spillane.

“Once their website was launched, we recommended the company avoid social media influencers to sell the product, for example, paying Ariana Grande to post a photo with the product on her Instagram,” says Spillane. “Instead, we recommended using real customers to provide marketing content encouraged by incentives such as a special hashtag, 10 percent off products, or other giveaways.” Additional recommendations included pursuing search engine optimization practices and user-friendly packaging that could work well for customers to use in their own social media posts.

“It’s rare to say I’d work with a team in a high stress environment, but I would totally do it again,” says Spillane. “The teamwork and communication skills we learned are very important in the job world.”