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