Lessons from the Deloitte National Consulting Case Competition
By Felipe Rojas, Two-Year MBA ’19, and Kyle Johnson, Two-Year MBA ’19
At the height of our first semester at Johnson we were in and out of group meetings, prepping for midterms, dressing up for networking events, practicing for case interviews, and attempting to balance our social and family lives. However, we still jumped at the opportunity to participate in the Deloitte National Consulting Case Competition. We saw this as the perfect opportunity to learn more about the firm and get a real feeling for what it will be like to work on a high-stress consulting project with a diverse and talented team. This would be a small preview of what it would be like to work in our consulting internship during the summer.
As we formed our team we purposefully leveraged the benefits of having individuals with diverse skillsets and backgrounds. We had no idea what a rewarding and defining experience was waiting for us in the following two months. An experience that could be summarized with three main lessons we learned throughout the various stages of the competition.
Lesson 1: Luck helps, but assembling the right team is key
Our team had a great combination of personalities, skills, and, most importantly, diverse previous experiences. During a strategy consulting case competition, it is tempting to assemble a team of all like-minded consultants; however, we took a different, perhaps unorthodox approach: Our team comprised a civil engineer who built high-rises, an actuarial, a financier, and a consultant. Fate smiled on us when our first case was revealed to be about smart cities and how to integrate big data to provide citizens and visitors an enhanced experience. A perfect task for our civil engineer and data-driven actuarial to go to town with out-of-the-box ideas.
With the case given to us, it was time to go to work. We had 24 hours to analyze the case, go through loads of data and build a deck worthy of presenting to Deloitte senior partners and Johnson faculty. Not an easy task—we knew we had a long night and day ahead of us. During that first night, after a few Wegmans’s pizzas and a couple frosty beverages, a detailed game plan for tackling the case and a preliminary strategy was determined. We agreed on going home for a few hours of sleep with the expectation of an all-out sprint the following day until the 6 p.m. deadline.
“Rested” and with caffeine in our bellies, we began the day drawing out slides and making sure we were following a logical flow throughout the presentation. All of us were immersed in our laptops, firing off executive summaries, implementation strategies and discounted cash flows. We were feverishly coming up with mitigation strategies for risks to our proposed strategy within the final few minutes prior to the deadline. We submitted our deck at 5:59 p.m. with only seconds to spare.
Lesson 2: Preparation is not only necessary but essential
A few days after we submitted our deck, we were notified that the team had made it to the local semifinals. It was now time to present our strategy and our slide deck to Deloitte senior partners, most of them Johnson alumni. We approached the situation with the mentality that strong presentation skills are just as important as the quality of our strategy. We wanted to ensure we engaged with our audience and therefore allocated an important amount of time on practicing our presentation. Despite our diverse personalities and professional backgrounds all of us had strong presentation skills, which came in very handy when presenting in front of a very attentive and inquisitive group of Deloitte partners and senior managers.
When we walked into the presentation room the environment was tense. Fortunately, one of our team members had the foresight to lighten the mood with a joke or two about fine weather in Ithaca (of course it was a snowy day) and we all brought our game faces. We delivered an efficient and direct presentation. We were pleased with our performance, but we had a strong competition—the other teams who made it through to the final round also had strong presenters and very innovative ideas. The ball was now in the judge’s court.
Lesson 3: Enjoy the ride
It was a tough and impressive competition during the regional Johnson round. The judges ultimately decided to name our team the winners of the local competition, which meant we had made it to the national finals at Deloitte University (DU) in Westlake, Texas (all expenses paid!). Cornell was among 16 MBA programs competing for the top prize, all just as equally prepared and composed of impressive individuals. This time, the stakes were even higher.
DU, is an impressive, world-class facility that blends a five-star hotel environment with the functionality of a university. The weekend started with a networking event that brought all of the business schools together. It was the perfect kick-off to network among future consultants that would become our colleagues during our consulting careers. We did not have as much time as we would have liked to enjoy everything DU had to offer because we only had 12 hours to work on the new case and prepare for an early morning of presentations. We were given an interesting case about a young coffee company that was analyzing different growth strategies. Compared to our first case at Johnson, our preparation time got cut in half, so we needed to make every minute count. Time flew and before we knew it we were practicing our presentation way past midnight.
The following day was one of those days that we will always remember about my MBA experience. We had the opportunity to present our proposal to the founder and CEO of the company in the case, other top executives from the beverage industry, and Deloitte senior partners. It was a humbling experience but incredibly fulfilling to sit across the table from the company’s founder and speak about how our strategy fit with their vision. Questions were tough and more than ever we had to rely on our team members and on our individual preparation to answer in a professional and thoughtful way. We fought a good fight, but the winner was announced as NYU Stern. Having watched their presentation, it was a well-deserved victory and a valuable learning experience in itself to see other MBA students excelling at their craft.
Now it was time to enjoy ourselves and decompress. We had an impressive dinner with recipes that were based on our client’s coffee products and each team was seated with Deloitte partners and various judges. Getting feedback on our presentation and learning more about their personal professional stories, was one of the most rewarding aspects of the weekend. After the dinner was over, we headed over to The Barn, the ultimate business bar and BBQ pit, to connect with judges, partners and other MBA students. A great end to an exhausting, but defining, experience at Johnson.
About Felipe Rojas, Two-Year MBA ’19
Prior to attending Johnson, Felipe was a data analytics consultant in Washington, D.C. Originally from Monterrey, Mexico, Felipe graduated from Purdue University’s industrial engineering program. At Johnson, Felipe serves as the VP of international recruiting for the Consulting Club, a board member of the Golf Club, and an incoming Johnson Leadership Fellow. Felipe will be back in D.C. for his summer internship, working at Deloitte Consulting’s Strategy and Operations practice. Felipe enjoys discovering Ithaca’s many trails and gorges with his wife, Daniela, and Irish Setter puppy, Ezra.
About Kyle Johnson, Two-Year MBA ’19
For seven years prior to coming to Johnson, Kyle worked in a project management role for high-rise construction projects in San Diego, CA. Kyle is a Park Fellow and Consortium member and serves as VP of marketing and prospective outreach on the Consulting Club board. Kyle will be headed to EY Strategy out of its Denver, CO, office for his summer internship. Kyle and his wife, Christy, love exploring the incredible Ithaca food scene and hiking many of the beautiful trails in the region.