USC Marshall Hosts Annual International Case Competition

Each year, the Marshall cup is awarded to the winner of the MICC. (Chris Flynn / USC Photo)
Each year, the Marshall cup is awarded to the winner of the MICC. (Chris Flynn / USC Photo)

It’s the contest everyone’s watching — a test of strategy, intelligence, teamwork, discipline, and meticulous preparation. No, it’s not the Super Bowl; it’s the Marshall International Case Competition.

On February 12–18, USC Marshall will welcome in 20 teams from around the world for the annual international case competition, an event the school has hosted since 1997. Over a week, the undergraduates from premier business schools will be faced with two simulated real-world problems that they must solve using strategy, creativity, and specialized knowledge of multiple business disciplines.

Quentin Fleming, adjunct professor of management and organization, is one of the Marshall team’s coaches. A highly experienced consultant, Fleming has worked for Fortune 500 companies, small firms, and everything in between, but the Marshall team showed him something completely new.

“Some of these undergraduates we have are smarter than the people I find in boardrooms,” Fleming said. “I never cease to be amazed by the talent of the students — their intellect, their curiosity, their ability to just take in lots of data and quickly synthesize it. It’s a joy to watch.”

Teams are judged by panels of industry experts and top executives, all of whom are Marshall graduates. It’s never clear what the judges will throw at schools. Challenges can be about financial issues, marketing mix-ups, PR disasters, and beyond. Teams have to be prepared for anything.

Teams will compete in at least two cases: one with five hours of allotted prep time, the other with 24 hours. Only five teams will make it out of the 24-hour round and qualify for the finals on Saturday, when they’ll be able to expand their presentations to 30 minutes. One of those schools will be crowned champion and hoist the Marshall Cup.

This year, Fleming says Marshall’s team is unique. Not only are they all freshmen, they’re also all friends who auditioned together. Now, they’ll represent USC and compete as a team. One of the members is Donald Lai, a World Bachelor in Business major. For Lai, the case competition is a landmark moment in his first year at Marshall.

“It actually means a lot to me because it is a recognition of our efforts,” Lai said. “As first year students, obviously, we don’t really have that much experience, but I’m just glad the Marshall case team gave us this unique opportunity for us to represent USC, to compete in such a prestigious competition.”

It’s an exciting time for these future business leaders, who’ve been preparing for weeks to master their presentation skills and strategies. More than that, however, the competition provides participants indispensable experiences for their futures.

“[The students] come out of this program with some incredibly marketable job skills and life skills,” Fleming said. “They have that ability to work under a deadline and to get to the essence of what the problem is. There’s an inner confidence they develop over time. The first few times [in practice], they’ll get flustered, but after a while, it doesn’t phase them.”

The last two days of presentations are open to the public, says Fleming. He hopes everyone can see the good work all of the teams have put in.

“If people really want to see the next generation of leaders in action, come on by for the competition on Friday or Saturday,” Fleming said. “They’ll see some amazing presentations from students from around the world.”

BY Alexander Bernard