Haas Students Win Japan Case Competition

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Written by Arhum Ali, Haas UG Blog Writer

Congratulations Team Synergy!

The 2016 Audi Global Business Case Competition sponsored by Audi Japan took place in Beppu-Ōita earlier this month.  Student teams gathering from China, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States came to compete and solve some of the most complex business problems.  Four of our very own incredible UC Berkeley students stole the spotlight as they represented the Haas School of Business. Mitchell Quon, Sophie Wan, Grace Ma, and Angela Wang are the Haas names that led Team Synergy to be crowned the global champions of this annual competition.  Not only did they represent our school, but they also represented the United States.

Fortunately, I was able to interview Mitchell Quon about his amazing experiences in Japan. Here is my conversation with him:

Thank you very much for giving us your time Mitchell.

My pleasure, Arhum.

You must be really excited to have brought the gold back home. Let’s start off by talking about the team name.  What was the inspiration behind “Team Synergy” and how did your team come up with that?

It was sort of a play on consulting roles in general. In consulting, synergy is a very popular buzz word so we just wanted to have fun with the name, but at the same time we realized that synergy is an important aspect to any sort of team and we really wanted to represent that element when we went for the competition.

Can you tell me a little bit about your team? What made the four of you unique from other teams?

What made our team unique is that all of us brought very different elements of strengths. We worked really well together because we looked out for each other and wanted to make sure we all felt part of the team. It was nice that no one felt the need to dominate the team, and we all shared ideas with one another allowing us to cooperate well with each other. We were really open with one another and that enabled us to perform at our best. What made our team enjoyable is that we were are all easy-going people, and that took a lot of the pressure off of us since we did not feel like we had to outperform each other. That really allowed us to be our best.  That’s really what helped us be successful at the end.

Cases can be extremely rigorous and perplexing.  People spend hours on top of hours trying to sharpen their case studying skills.  Your team went to an international competition where some of the top students were competing.  What type of preparation did Team Synergy do beforehand?

The way the preparation process works is that after you audition and are selected for the team, the Haas undergraduate office has practice cases set up for your team before the competition.  Prior to the competition, we met every other week on Saturdays to do case studies at Haas for five hours each time. We would then present our findings to the undergraduate team to improve our skills.  We did this from the beginning of the school year to October, and our final case was a full 24-hour case. That was the week before we went out to Japan. At first we didn’t really know each other, and doing these practice case studies definitely helped us learn more about each other and helped us perform well and be creative. The undergraduate office also really showed us what to learn, how to create a story, and use a person to convey findings. Being able to utilize those two tips gave us confidence in the competition.

For consulting and case competitions it is crucial to know how to structure your thoughts in an organized way and be able to communicate different elements in structured arguments. People have different ideas and have varying ways of going about them, but if you don’t go about them in a structured and orderly way, it will be hard for the team to know what issues need to be addressed.  For case competitions, you do not need to worry if you have case competition experience or not.  I didn’t, but I got the opportunity through my classes and organizations to do case competition simulations beforehand and discuss how to solve problems.

What was the most enjoyable part of the trip for you personally?

Three things I enjoyed about the trip was the case competition itself, exploring Japan and meeting various types of people. The competition was enjoyable as it really challenged me and the team to think outside of the box. When we first came to the competition, we did not have too many expectations and were not sure how we would perform.  Yet practicing before helped us create synergy within our team and allowed us to think critically under pressure and hash out what we needed to be successful. We spent a lot of time coming up with a storyboard at the hotel and had sticky notes everywhere. We felt challenged not just from a case perspective but as a team to work together in the time given to us.  That’s a rare and valuable experience that you can bring into the business world.

We didn’t go to the main parts of Japan that people usually visit.  Instead we visited down south and saw traditional cultural elements of Japan.  The people in Japan are accommodating and kind.  The food is amazing! you can get top quality sashimi for half the price there, and Japan is known for their bath houses. The bath house was cool and were bath/sauna fusion. Moreover, you go in with no clothes which was interesting. It was really unique being able to experience cultural differences and visiting the cities with these really tiny shops.  It says a lot about the culture.

The people that I met were from the other teams, and they were from nine different countries so I had the opportunity to bond, learn, and see different perspectives of the world.

I remember sitting next to someone from Thailand and we had a deep political conversation.  Despite that, being able to have perspectives from different parts of the world was amazing and all of the participants were together even though we came from different places, we were brought together by competition, and regardless of who won we were all going to be friends and bond together.

Tell us about the moment the team found out that they are the champions.  What was everyone’s reaction?

The way that they announced the winners is that they went backwards from second runner up to first runner up to winners. At the ending ceremony, they would announce the place of the team, and there would be speech from faculty of the schools and they would discuss the highlights of the teams and the school. What happened however is that they screwed up the slides and they only went through second runner, runner up and went so far ahead by mistake they said we won 10 minutes early and we found out accidentally when we saw our picture come across the PowerPoint slide.  We were surprised because we did not have any expectations.  I mean we did not even think we would get past preliminary rounds.  When we saw we got first place, we were in complete shock and were very excited. We did our best and gave it our all. To see our hard work pay off was great and to be able to see all things come to fruition.  Our presentation we gave to the judges was something everybody liked and to be able to represent Haas, who hasn’t won a first place in a long time in a global competition and bring victory home to the United States was a very humbling and rewarding experience.  We were very thankful.  We felt we helped Haas and the country by making them proud.

Can you tell me one word that you would use to describe this entire trip in its entirety?

The word to describe the experience is humbling, and the reason for that is I had the most brilliant and talented teammates I could imagine.  All three of them are just incredible people.  Angela was the oldest who took the leadership role, generated ideas, and figured out what we needed to get done whether it was financial analysis and writing the recommendations themselves. Grace who was the youngest had a ton of experience with case competitions, and she could make decks really well.  Sophie came from the same consulting organization as me, she was the president, and I was only an analyst.   Because of that she had a ton of experience with consulting projects to start with.

Because I was surrounded by so many talented people, it really challenged me to rise up to the occasion and perform up to the high standards of our team.  Being in another country, being in an unfamiliar environment, and being able to experience a new place took me out of my comfort zone.  I have never been in Asia before, and being in a place where English was not the main language, and experiencing a different culture, whether it be food or bath houses forced me to get used to it and break out of my comfort zone.  Meeting people from other countries and learning about the background of their country, and what their perspectives were on life and the world made me realize what I take for granted by living in America whether it be economical, educational, or career opportunities.  I have so much here and people from other countries want to come here since they see it as a land of opportunity.  Having these conversations with them and seeing what they thought about life humbled me and made me realize I have so much here in America.

Really appreciate your time Mitchell!

Thank you, Arhum!

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