NBS Alumni, James Rhodes, speaks about his experience as both a competitor and mentor at The Universities Business Challenge.
“Knowledge is the wisdom of one passing on the accumulation of their experience to others” (Michael Hanson). This quote rings true in what has been a rather challenging 18 months or so, however amidst the pandemic, Norwich Business School were once again able to celebrate success in the IBM Universities Business Challenge.
Now NBS Alumni and a former competitor myself having led 2 teams, one of whom reached the Grand Final, with a strong affiliation to the competition and first-hand experience, it was a privilege to be asked to coach/mentor 3 teams, although admittedly from my perspective it felt rather strange being a ‘coach rather than a competitor’!
The first stage of the competition kicked off in October 2020 and ran through to December, whereby all teams were put into groups of 8, competing against other Universities up and down the country. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to pass on invaluable knowledge to the teams and worked closely with them on a weekly basis, holding virtual check in calls to review their results throughout the first stage of the competition, offering advice and support to enable the teams to reach their full potential, yet be able to learn and reflect as their UBC journey progressed.
Tasked with running an already established solar energy company, the teams were required to devise a business strategy and make operational decisions in a business simulation, with the aim of securing business growth. Whilst there were hiccups along the way, with 2 of the teams getting off to a ‘slower start’, through their resilience, commitment, and a few ‘words of wisdom’ from myself, all three teams successfully qualified for the semi-finals, with two of the teams finishing as group winners, and the other in the runners up spot.
Round one complete, preparations commenced in February 2021, ahead of the Semi Final in March. As was my philosophy when leading my own teams and something I stand by now, you must ‘plan to prepare, or prepare to fail’, so over a series of evening sessions I ran a number of masterclasses and mock sessions for the teams, enabling them to participate in a variety of practical exercises designed to get them to strengthen their critical and analytical thinking, but more importantly engage their brains in ‘creative thinking’, something that the next stage of the competition would require.
Preparations complete, in March 2021 it was time for the teams to compete in the virtual semi-final (a rather different experience compared to the traditional in person events), and on the day new challenges awaited. Unlike in round one, this time the teams were tasked with launching a start-up coffee shop, making business decisions to scale the business up but do so in an organic way with limited resources, and then alongside this throughout the day, there were a series of other activities the teams had to participate in, including a ‘story telling’ exercise requiring the teams to produce a creative presentation to reflect on their UBC journey, as well as a risk based exercise.
Time flew by and the results were in after an action packed and thoroughly engaging day, yet despite not reaching the Finals, there were many positives to take away for the teams both as individuals and collectively, and I was exceptionally proud of their efforts, professionalism and resilience. In a competition that had started off with over 200 teams, reaching the Semi-finals in itself was an achievement with only 50 invitees, and throughout the competition it provided an opportunity for the teams to experience the ‘ups and downs of business’, whilst applying their academic knowledge into real life business scenarios to bolster their CV’s and develop critical employability skills.
To summarise, in reflecting on my personal experiences, I can first-hand comment on the benefits competing in UBC brings. It provided me a platform to develop a multitude of skills including leadership, creativity and resilience to name a few, and the competition was invaluable in helping me to secure an internship in the summer of 2018 at Tesco. Through UBC, when I was required to complete a video interview and then attend a group assessment centre, having gained lots of great talking points and data to use, and more crucially having participated in a number of networking and group exercises, it allowed me to transfer my learnings and from such activities into the selection process, to then secure a role. Even to this day I still feel a better all-round professional, and the competition is one that I am still able to take learnings from and use in my every day professional career!
Could you be the next UBC Grand Finalist?