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MPA Candidates Compete in Duke/UNC Case Competition

May 15, 2017

This April, Fels students Francisco Garcia (MPA ’18) and Ben Williams (MPA ’18) competed in the Duke/UNC Consulting Case Competition. The Case Competition provides an opportunity for potential consultants to showcase their critical thinking and problem solving skills while also offering numerous networking opportunities with top firms in the nation. Francisco and Ben reflect on the conference below.

We chose to enter the Duke/UNC consulting case competition because we saw it as a great way of learning more about consulting, as well as gaining experience presenting to a tough audience. Neither of us is certain that we want to enter consulting (we weren’t before the competition and we still aren’t after!), but we had a great experience.

A consulting case competition entails conducting in-depth analysis of a business problem and coming up with what you consider to be the best ‘solution’. If you interview with a consulting firm, part of the process will normally entail a ‘case study’, where you talk through how you would solve a hypothetical business problem. A consulting case competition is very similar to this, except that you are working on a real case and you have a week to work on it, rather than just an hour in an interview.

One week before the competition date, we received our case and we didn’t have much to go on. We were presented with a problem involving an early-stage pharmaceuticals firm which was entering the final stage of clinical trials for a drug that combats age-related blindness. Our task: to choose the best strategy for the company going forward; i.e. should it continue developing the drug, license the rights to the drug to a larger firm, or should the company seek an immediate sale. Along with a brief description of the company, we were given a case ‘prompt’ containing eight questions to which the firm’s CEO wanted answers.

It’s fair to say that we knew nothing about pharmaceuticals before the case, but that’s one of the best things about entering a case competition, as it is a real-life simulation of what consultants do. After a week of hard work, we were somewhat expert in a very specific field: treatments for macular degeneration. This is pretty much what consultants do: they are given a new problem to work on and become expert in, but they rarely have prior, in-depth knowledge.

On the day of the competition we were feeling confident. We’d made some very pretty slides, aligned all of our formatting and triple-checked for typos. We felt like we knew our facts and figures and had come up with a shrewd solution to the case problem. We’d spent the night before practicing our presentation: 15 minutes to talk through our slides and 5 minutes to answer questions from the judges. We entered the competition venue to find 9 teams, including two others from Penn, as well as 6 other teams from universities across the country.

We presented to two judges in the morning and we made it through to the final round, where the best teams get to present in front of a panel of consultants and all of the other contestants. This was where we’d get to see the solutions that the other teams had come up with and whether we had thought about the problem in a different way to everyone else or not. It turned out that we had; we were the only team to propose that the drug company enter a partnership with a market-leading firm, Roche, whereas every other finalist proposed a partnership with a different firm, Regeneron.

Although we did not ultimately win the competition, we learned a lot about how consultants work, what the job involves, and what judges are really looking for in a case competition. We’d suggest that anyone interested in consulting enters a case competition as nothing prepares you for consulting as well as doing the real thing. We’re very appreciative to Fels for helping to fund our trip to North Carolina and enabling us to gain this experience.

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Contact Information

Fels Institute of Government
University of Pennsylvania
3814 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: (215) 898-2600
Fax: (215) 746-2829

felsinstitute@sas.upenn.edu