Our boys from Rotterdam in Ottawa

Faces are tensed as Raphael Kürün (IB), Kenzi Loa (TBK), Jorik Groenenberg (Management) and Michal Dragomir-Brzezinski (IB) enter the room. The ROCA 2023 has now truly begun, the Rotterdam-Carleton International Case Competition. Counting the inaugural edition, it is already the fifth time this prestigious trans-atlantic event has been organized. This year it is the turn of our partner in Ottawa, next year it will be our turn again. Sixteen student teams from the best business schools in the world come together for 1 week to compete for the best solutions to complex business problems. Yesterday was the opening with speeches by the university presidents and business school deans; the Ministry of Education was also present. The draw revealed that “we” have to play against universities from Montreal, Vermont and Hong Kong. After a night of sleep, the first match now follows.

The problem is not simple. A passionate social entrepreneur, Aguilar is driven by two goals: fighting food insecurity and building a successful business. As co-founder and CEO of Plantaform, he plans to achieve both goals. In July 2023, his company shipped the first 250 units of Rejuvenate, the new player in the smart indoor garden market, to enthusiasts who pre-ordered the device through their website. Aguilar expects sales to grow significantly. Given the universal need for safe, convenient and nutritious food and a product that makes it easy to grow, the possibilities for global expansion seem limitless. By the way, their main partner in vertical farming technology is in Rotterdam!

But like many early-stage start-ups, there are many questions on the table: How and where should the company expand? Can Aguilar transform his start-up into a mature, established company? There are so many things to consider. A close look at the company’s current situation is needed, at opportunities and risks, and expectations for the next 3 to 12 months. Advertising, sales promotion, production capacity and financial considerations also come into play: availability of government grants, investor capital inflows and the company’s “burn rate” – i.e., the extent to which cash reserves are used to cover overhead costs. So many questions. This morning our team had the unique opportunity to talk to the CEO himself, now they are working on a solution. In a few hours, they will face a judging panel made up of business people and professors. We cannot wait …

Kenzi (TBK), Michal (IB), Jorik (Management) and Raphael (IB) leave the preparation room after 6 hours and now enter the presentation room. Months of training should now pay off. And … it does. They analyze Plantaform’s problems razor-sharp and advise the jury to focus on “silver gardeners,” older people who love gardening, and “bling-bling customers”, people with money who buy products for status. This way, the limited resources are best utilized. And focus on North America first, then other countries later.

The University of Vermont, the winner of the last ROCA edition in Rotterdam, chooses a very different strategy. They are opting for a leasing program and entering into partnerships. Very different target groups too, and they say very little about international expansion. I would know the winner, but of course I am biased. The two presentations are followed by extensive feedback. The jury is very positive about Rotterdam. But is it enough?

Yes, “we” have won: 7.5 – 5.5. A large victory. The boys go wild.  A great start for ROCA. They enjoy the moment and then already work together with the coach, Britta Stoelinga-Brus, on the feedback. Tomorrow there is a match against the very strong Hong Kong team. Then with a real Dutch case: the family business Stinis from Krimpen a/d Lek. Let’s see if the Rotterdam Business School will be as good as today …

Tuesdaymorning, all ROCA teams had the unique opportunity to speak via a live connection with Lisette Stinis, the CEO of a company that can make a small country very proud. Stinis is a Dutch family company that manufactures “spreaders”; a spreader is a system with mechanical arms that holds a container and makes it easy for a crane to lift containers. Stinis’ spreaders are seen in the market as the “Rolls Royce” among spreaders. Lisette Stinis took over the family business from her father Kees Stinis in 2020. It is up to her as the new director and main shareholder to work with the management team to get the company ready for the future. The company is doing well but as CEO, of course, you have to look ahead. Competition from global competitors is intense and the company faces tough questions about how to create value in the best way. Do we really understand our customers? Are our offerings meeting their needs? Are we doing everything possible to help them get from where they are now to where they need to be?”

All these questions – and much more – were written down by Arjen van Klink, director of our Business Innovation knowledge center, in the case to be solved today at ROCA. To get even better and more accurate solutions, the students were allowed to speak with the real “problem owner” this morning. And now it’s time for the presentations. Raphael, Kenzi, Michal and Jorik are playing today against the University of Hong Kong, last year’s bronze winner. Not an easy match.

The Hong Kong team mainly focuses on sustainability: refurbish, recycle and trade-in. A nice solution, but in my opinion far too limited for Stinis’ strategic issues. “Our” team has a much stronger analysis and emphasizes that customer needs are changing rapidly. That is why Jorik, Kenzi, Raphael and Michal come up with new services such as predictive maintenance and a dashboard for monitoring the spreaders. They also propose leasing as a new revenue stream and emphasize the importance of retaining skilled employees. But they are running out of time and the last slides are no longer explained properly. The jury, therefore, asks critical questions about the implementation of the plans, especially with regard to leasing. They don’t find the ROI convincing enough. They also ask critical questions about the choice of markets. The boys try to answer as best they can, but the jury doesn’t seem completely convinced.

However, many compliments follow during the feedback. Have we won after all? A little later the jury announces the score… 7 – 6 for Rotterdam. A great achievement. But even after two victories, the final is still far from certain. The Rotterdam performance will have to be better against Montreal tomorrow. But this victory is sweet …

Case 3 Wednesday : Wow, this is really a difficult problem to tackle. As Supply Chain Director for Avia Aerospace, Santos spent the summer laying groundwork for the adoption of Kinaxis RapidResponse, a cloud-based software platform that promises to dramatically improve the company’s supply chain management (SCM) and forecasting. Things had been progressing well until recently, when it was announced that Gurdeep Jaswal, Avia’s Chief Operating Officer, was leaving the company. He was the key person working on information systems to improve process efficiency, align planning with execution, foster collaboration across the organization, and enhance the quality of decision-making.

What should Santos do now? He is convinced that a new supply chain planning system is important—possibly even essential—for Avia’s long-term success. This view is shared by some, but not all, within the company. And getting people on board is only part of the challenge. It is an organizational design, and process management challenge too. People, processes, and technology all need to be aligned to achieve the best results. I am glad I am not in the shoes of Raphael (IB), Jorik (Management), Kenzi (TBK) en Michal (IB). What will they propose?

Their analysis is strong. They know how to name the pain points very precisely and explain well that these lead to loss of data and inaccuracy. The key – and thus the solution – lies with the people in the company and they paint the employee journey very nicely. Only when it comes to the really concrete implementation of their plans do they seem unable to convince the judges. Why purely bottom-up? What are the incentives for the employees? Why would it work now and not before? What is the plan B? “Our” opponent, the University of Montreal, I don’t find very convincing either, but they do state that the leaders should co-lead the implementation, have good KPIs and have clear objectives per employee. Britta and I fear losing. That is not so bad, but in case of a clear defeat we could drop from the no. 1 position to the no. 3 position. And then we will miss the finals. Last week, another All Stars Consultancy from our business school won bronze at another competition. Of course we want another medal now, at our own ROCA.

However, … 8 – 5 for Montreal. We are out. Both Montreal and Hong Kong now pass us by in the ranking. If we had lost by 7 – 6 we would have been in the final. Grrr, so frustrating. The disappointment is, of course, great. So close and then it goes wrong at the last moment. Such a pity. But Michal, Kenzi, Jorik and Raphael can be proud. They have represented our university and the Rotterdam Business School excellently at our own competition. And this was only their first competition. They can build on these experiences. Our business school certainly belongs at this high level, we can be proud …

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