Sixty students from schools across the country recently came together at Northeastern University's Boston Campus for the annual International Business case competition sponsored by the D'Amore-McKim School of Business and the Consortium for Undergraduate International Business Education's (NU-CUIBE) International Business Case Competition. 

This is the 10th year D'Amore-McKim has organized the competition, a flagship event representing one of CUIBE's foundational principles: to advance high-quality international business education for undergraduates among its member schools. The event challenges students to examine a real business issue a company is facing internationally and is an experiential learning component that enables participants to put themselves in a consultant's shoes and to create a tangible product.

Every year, the competition starts with an opening dinner for the participating students and their advisors. The dinner is meant to welcome and orient the 16 participating teams, and to distribute in a sealed envelope the much-anticipated, real-world case the students would be asked to analyze.

This begins the 48-hour competition process at the end of which the top four winning teams receive recognition for their excellence.

NU-CUIBE teams met at Boston's Colonnade ballroom for a reception organized by D'Amore-McKim to kick off its 10th International Business Case Competition. Photo by Magda Drici/ Northeastern University.

In the first 24 hours after the dinner, the students must analyze the case, propose recommendations, and submit their PowerPoint presentation slides. Then comes the work of polishing their presentation skills for the next morning's exposition before a panel of randomly assigned executive judges who all come from the world of practice.

Throughout the morning of the competition, groups of four randomly selected teams present their recommendations to four sets of judges in a two-round bracket format. The judges choose one from each set to progress to the final round and base their assessments on the following criteria: analysis, recommendation, presentation, and Q&A.

In the afternoon of the competition, the final four teams present their recommendations to a different group of four judges who then chose the winning team and rank the other three by order of their merit.

The final four teams cement their school's standing among the world's top international business programs.

CUIBE through the years

CUIBE was founded in 2003 as a consortium of 10 universities that wanted to create new opportunities for their students. Through Professor Harry Lane and Associate Professor Emeritus Nicholas Athanassiou, Northeastern was one of its founding members.

Associate Professor Emeritus Nicholas Athanassiou speaking at the opening reception of 2019's NU-CUIBE. Photo by Madga Drici/Northeastern University.

The founders' goals were to establish benchmarks of excellence for undergraduate international business education, to share information on such programs, to create shared study abroad experiences, and to co-sponsor events like this one — high-impact case study competitions to enrich the student experience.

The consortium quickly began to have influence over non-member schools, many of which had strengths in some areas, but which lacked in others. Athanassiou said of those early days:

“The ten founding schools had well-developed programs along key curriculum and experiential dimensions that were not identical across schools. However, in the end, their graduates have similar exposure to the complexities of managing business across national borders. The initial survey of potential [new] members revealed that those too were disparate but in many cases could be further developed.  Since then we have all learned from each other about how to improve and expand our international business programs.”

Thus, the benefit of the consortium's work spoke for itself. When the consortium started accepting new institutions with undergraduate international business programs, membership in the organization grew from 10 in 2007 to 42 in 2019, 27 full members and 15 associate members. This year, CUIBE membership also expanded internationally with the inclusion of one member school from Colombia (La Universidad de la Sabana) and one from the United Kingdom (University of Leeds).

Nineteen of CUIBE's members are now ranked in the top 35 of U.S. News and World Report's Best Undergraduate International Business School programs. Northeastern's program is ranked 8th as of 2019.

All these events build strong skills around personal and professional qualities.

Part-Time Lecturer in International Business and Strategy Monica Borgida

The final four of NU-CUIBE 2019

Northeastern's 2019 team took the alias of Blacksand Capital and its members included D'Amore-McKim students Xinyi (Ivy) Zhang, '20; Kleber Lachize, ‘20; Zachary Appel, '22, and Brian Kessler, '22.

Their faculty coach and a part-time lecturer in international business and strategy Monica Borgida started preparing them two months in advance through consultations with D'Amore-McKim faculty, with whom they practiced presentation skills and learned more about real business challenges. Coach Borgida described the students as “truly a team of global talent” who “worked hard to come out with a creative presentation.”

The real-world case involved developing a strategy to market and sell internationally a reusable glove to remove make-up created by an actual company in Poland. Teamwork was essential to Blacksand Capital's case strategy, which they worked on over the course of a non-stop 17 hours. Appel felt the pressure of a real professional experience saying, “If you're a consultant, you are not hired to think of something inside the box. You need to create value in a way the company could not have done themselves.”

Blacksand Capital's recommendation incorporated unique, feasible business solutions that studied markets in countries all over the world. They incorporated social media influencers and recruited linguistics companies to further their reach and improve customer service. They were proud of their recommendations, especially of the effort they put into the reasoning behind their ideas.

In the end, however, Northeastern ceded its spot in the top four to the University of Hawaii at Manoa (1st), Brigham and Young University (2nd), American University (3rd), and the University of Oklahoma (4th). (shown below) 

NU-CUIBE 2019 Top four
The top four teams gave presentations that impressed the judges in the four grading categories of analysis, recommendation, presentation, and Q&A. Photos by Madga Drici/Northeastern University

“The tight time frame was tough for sure,” says Appel. “The main challenge was deciding how much time we had for research and planning.” Zhang echoed that thought: “We probably should have left more time to create a more attractive slide presentation.”

Lachize, who has participated in more than one competition, noticed an overarching theme that the team could have focused more on: sustainably and the environment. “At each competition, sustainability is becoming a more significant theme,” he said.

The experience is more like a real workplace, not like work in a school.

Kleber Lachize, DMSB'20

The CUIBE experience

Appel said of the experience: “While I've done case analysis before, I would say the entire CUIBE process just taught me how important it is to be creative.”

Zhang learned a lot about herself, too. Before this, she didn't realize how much she enjoyed presenting in front of an audience. She gets a boost of confidence that she normally doesn't have in one-on-one interactions. That realization may influence what she does in the future. 

“All these events build strong skills around personal and professional qualities,” said Monica Borgida, which fulfills in a large way CUIBE's ongoing mission for bridging academia and practice and enhancing the experiential learning of undergraduate students studying international business.