Michael Waitzer – Reporting Live from the John Molson MBA International Case Competition in Montreal.

A little background – The John Molson MBA International Case Competition –  now in it’s 32nd year;  36 teams from around the world – from as far away as Cape Town, and Dublin and as close as Montreal. The teams are divided into 6 divisions, each with 6 teams, and have round robin competition where they present their solution/ideas for business cases.

Day 3, the mid-way point @MBAICC, was a spectacular day for everyone.

It was a Live Case for the 4th challenge and everyone from the students, volunteers, coaches and judges had the opportunity to stretch their minds. I like to think of these challenges as puzzles and this was a good one.

The Case:

“What measures would you recommend to Novartis Group to improve the
Canadian Divisions overall distribution system?”

 Some of the background that was given:

  • Novartis, based in Basel, Switzerland, is a multinational pharmaceutical company operating offices in over 100 countries.
  • 2011 revenue of $around $60B, generated net income in the 15% range.
  • An ambitious growth plan and aggressive stance to be number 1 in the field. Currently in top 3.

5 Product Categories:

  1. Pharma – patented medicines and vacines
  2. Sandoz – Generic medicines
  3. OTC – Over the counter medications/products
  4. Alcon – Eye Care
  5. Animal Health – Veterinary Medicines

In Canada, each of the 5 divisions  is a stand alone operating company.

Now this was a great opportunity for everyone to think outside the box.

Novartis executives, Serge Maltais and Laura MacNeill, presented the case background and gave some insights into some of the challenges.

Some key issues that they pointed out:

  • Novartis is the parent of 5 operating divisions, each a stand alone.
  • The divisions have some overlap in customers but also some which are unique to a division.
  • Market is shifting in product type and delivery requirements to end users with the change in demographics.
  • Currently 2 Divisions operate DC’s in both Calgary and Toronto and the other 3 only operate in Toronto
    [ a significant portion of the product comes from Europe].
  • Various products require different shipping standards. Narcotics are very controlled, some meds require temperature control, some have short shelf life.
  • 4 of 5 divisions outsource distribution.
  • The cost of warehousing and distribution is significant in real $’s but pretty minor in terms of overall expense.

This gives you a sense of the task challenge that faced the Canadian Novartis team. They are also being looked at as the beta centre for the global company to learn from, adding a little more pressure.

Well with that info in hand, 36 teams went off for a 90 minute period, locked in a room with no technology, no communication outside the room and as many overhead projector acetates as they wanted. [Remember overheads? They are still tough to get the slides straight!]

I had the pleasure of hearing MBA candidates from:

Krannert School of Management-Purdue University, USA


Heinrich Heine University of Dusseldorf, Germany

Of course the judges also had some time [and some unfair extra Q & A with the Novartis Execs] to formulate their own proposed solutions and strategy, prior to hearing the students. This also gives the Novartis Execs an opportunity to identify what components should be included in a great student presentations.

What I found amazingly interesting through all of the presentations and discussions was a reminder of how helpful business experience can be AND how little even the most experienced of us actually know. The students come to the table with fresh, new, creative, unbiased ideas to consider and massage and learn from.

The energy and enthusiasm from all participants was fantastic. Wish we could harness and market it!

It is off to the semi-finals today and I suspect the tension is palpable.

While I had a truly educational and enjoyable time meeting interesting people [young and not so young], learning and having interesting discussions, I am now back in Toronto so will not be hearing any further cases. I will however tweet (@waitzermichael) the final results and this years winner of the Jon Molson School of Business – #MBAICC!