Making a case for competition

By Karen Herland

Athletes are used to putting in extra hours training and struggling to bring home the gold. We rarely think of accountants in the same way.

"Just before the competition, your adrenaline is at the maximum. And then you present all the work you're doing. It is an opportunity to display what you know," says Thomas Horvath, who has been participating in commerce case competitions for three years now.

Each spring, dozens of JMSB students find themselves auditioning for one of 45 spots in either COMM 499W or 499G. A place in that course means that, come September, they'll be devoting long hours to training to participate in one of the 17 local or international annual case competitions offering students the opportunity to address real world problems.

Mark Haber, who has been coaching teams for over a decade, developed the courses to let students focus on these competitions. "I love cases. I went to a case-based grad school," he says. "Students learn an amazing amount in just three months in terms of practical business skills."

Haber initially coached teams for the Commerce Games, an annual January competition which has teams comprised of three students compete in 10 different fields ranging from accounting to entrepreneurship to taxes and finance, among others. Each team analyses a problem and proposes solutions in a competitive environment, usually judged by professionals in the field.

By working together so closely, students get to realize both their personal and professional potential. "We used to send 10 teams of three to the Commerce Games, now we send one team of 30."

The 45 students who are accepted in the courses are groomed to participate in either the Commerce Games or the Inter-Collegiate Business Competition. That competition goes through a series of eliminating rounds starting in September, with only the top six schools invited to participate in the Jan. finals.

Haber says those who make the cut to get into those courses are among the high achievers of the program. As they begin to train, they attend earlier competitions (some in Oct.) to hone their skills.

This year Concordia's teams have been doing remarkably well, making it to the podium at every one of the competitions they participated in so far this year, including three international ones.

"We started training for the October competition in Ohio in August, before school even started. Almost all day Friday and Saturday every weekend," said Horvath. He says 60 to 100 hours of training for an international competition is not unusual.

Haber is one of 20 coaches, each skilled in a particular field. Meanwhile, a volunteer group of eight students, the John Molson Competition Committee, manages the logistics. Horvath is the president this year. They combine and recombine the 45 students in teams that foreground their strengths and abilities. The JMCC ensure that entry requirements for all competitions are met, travel logistics are handled, registrations are filled in and funds to manage all this are raised.

They balance the strengths of all the students to be sure that each team includes the right skill combination to meet the needs of the competition. This year, 50 teams entered the competitions.

Although the course is an elective, and students find themselves competing long after the term is over, Haber says the rewards are many. "They develop a great sense of camaraderie."

Horvath says the competitions allows students from different institutions to mingle, learning from each other's cultures and strategies and making contacts with "top-notch people from different schools."


Concordia University