Lunch with Booz & Co.

As prize for winning the Columbia Case Challenge, Team Almost GS was given the opportunity to have lunch with Mr. Becker Chase from Booz & Co.’s New York office. The lunch was great. Sashimi, bento box, shabu shabu – all paid for by the generous Columbia Economics Society (which receives its funding from our student life fee).

Turns out, Booz is very interested in China. Their home page tells the compelling story of a new “China Strategy” – a worthwhile read.

“In the world’s fastest-growing economy, the experience of the last ten years will not be the best guide to the next ten years. Business leaders around the world who want to be successful—not just in China, but anywhere—will need a new China strategy.”

Indeed, a lot of this might just seem like an overly not-another-bullish-view-on-China book. But the fact that the Chairman of Booz & Co. Greater China region is thinking in line with GCC should still be taken as an encouragement.

And what do you know? “Indeed, China is now the world’s largest and fastest-growing source of entrepreneurial start-ups.” Spot-on opportunity for GCC members right there. The world’s largest international student network focusing on China – and what business opportunities do our members have, if not in entrepreneurial endeavors? GCC-Vanderbilt is looking at starting a chapter initiative on doing pro bono consulting work in Nashville Tennessee.  GCC-Harvard is looking at bringing volunteerism to China.

“Since 1978, China’s economic growth has been phenomenal,” the report goes on, “but also extremely inefficient.”

What are the trends?

With regards to the model of business ownership, the chairman writes, “it will evolve toward a nondemocratic but market-driven form of rule that, arguably, has never been seen on the world
stage before.” Included is a fascinating interactive graphic of how these ownership trends are heading toward.

Lastly, Mr. Tse wrote on leadership – “Many Chinese officials have internalized this aspiration. They have taken on responsibilities beyond their job descriptions, acting as the guiding hand in the creation of a world-leading nation. Their interests extend beyond self-enrichment to the creation of national wealth.” This reminds me of the words of Mr. Li at Ping An Insurance during the GCC Winter Delegation, “The most outstanding human capital of China are going into the political system.”

So all of this sounds wonderful and great. How do I get a piece of it? Becker assured me that every year, Booz tries to hire at least one person from Columbia. How very kind of them. I think I am better off working my ass off at Goldman Sachs this summer.


Winning the Columbia Case Challenge

Team "Almost GS" capturing gold at the Columbia Case Challenge.


Woke up to the biggest snowstorm this winter. Should I go? I wasn’t sure. I don’t even have a team. I thought.
Walked into Satow Room of Lerner in boots, jeans, and t-shirt. Lots of people – well, more than I had expected – all in suits.
I was placed on a team. Then I was switched. Within 5 minutes I was switched again – Too many teams were missing people, and in the end it made more sense for me to be add onto a team that had a group of 3 rather than staying in a group that only had 2.
I met Damion and Mansur for the first time. Katherine and I spoke for the first time after we have been through 5 econ electives together. I was the youngest on the team, and I liked it.
I changed into my routine charcoal suit and glasses. Damion’s energy level awakened my spirits. BLT and green tea by my laptop. I was ready to go.
The case began. Microfinance? I jot down notes as I speed-read through the packet. Where should I begin? The case was very different from Corporate Finance. No financial statements. Just a bunch of projections and statistics of competitors. Where do we begin?
We finished reading the case. It took too long. I was getting worried about our progress.
“I’m going to go ahead an put some basic info into the PowerPoint.” Having done multiple successful presentations before, I was confident with this aspect of the presentation.
The team decided the three main challenges facing the firm: fraud, profitability, growth.
The team debated at length regarding the possibility of introducing technology to help cutting down overhead costs and the possibility of fraud. I glanced at the profit forecasts. No way, I said, microfinance is a volume business, with a profit margin of less than a hundredth of a percent – if we want the firm to turn profitable in 3 years, technology would suck in all the profits. I was firm. A vote confirmed my position.
Debate ensued on the possibility of raising labor wages. I did not want to do anything that would increase costs. How about we change the model and collect interests via banks rather than in small groups? It worked out well. Everyone agreed.
Time is going fast. We broke down individual recommendations into 4 sections,  with each one of the team members in charge of certain calculations, in hope that we would put them all together at the end. We squeezed a lunch break in there somewhere. I sat in the same place with the unfinished BLT.
Time was going faster than we expected. Our recommendations were smart, but our calculations were very basic. We had no pro forma. This is not gonna go so well, I thought.
We had 40 minutes left. “Let’s start building the PowerPoint,” a teammate suggested. I did my usual trick – overview, projection, recommendations. Having seen a good number of presentations before, I knew simplicity was key, and audience members usually appreciate animations.
Productivity shot up 5x within the last ten minutes. Procrastination is part of human nature.
We walked into the dark room. Inside, a judge sat with a notepad and a copy of the case next to him. Projector faced a whiteboard that had poor surface. Here we go. I thought.
I opened the presentation with an overview and outlined some of the things that I felt were important. My teammates each went in depth regarding the recommendations that we made and reasoning behind each. It was a quick ten-minutes. The judge stopped us in the middle of our presentation and asked, “why lend only to women?” We gave a satisfactory answer. “Because women statistically save more and are better borrowers because they are more likely to make repayment.”
The team ambled to the piano lounge. How did we do? I did not think too much about it. I do not like overestimation, nor do I like making guesses if the answer will be revealed in the next ten minutes. The team talked about how to answer some of the questions that the judge threw at us at the end. How are we going to solve the problem of hiring talent and retain them?
“Look!” A teammate shouted. The firm that was in the case existed in real life. We felt dumb for not having noticed before. But wait – the website confirmed that all of our recommendations were accurate. How could that be? The coincidence (or I should say, our group acumen) gave me a boost of confidence.
The finalists were announced. We made it. I was surprised – I had expected much harsher competition from the other team members, many of whom I knew from other student organizations. No time to think about that for now. Let’s get on with editing the PowerPoint.
The team practiced the presentation twice. We were going last. It meant that we had more time, but no chance of seeing the other presentations. We decided to add in a new slide to address the “talent” issue brought up by