So the final term is upon the Manchester MBA’s Class of 2014 and with it comes the famous International Business Project, the capstone of the whole MBA programme. The project involves teams of students taking a live brief from a company with three months to provide a professional standard piece of consultancy.
Of course, we’ve already completed three other projects during the course. So what makes this one special? Try these for size:
1) It’s international. Well ‘duh I hear you say. But the international aspect makes the project a whole new kettle of fish to the UK based ones we’ve already done. Most of the briefs are for new market entry so involve heavy primary research in countries that team members have no linguistic or cultural connections to. Throw in having to cold-source contacts and plan itineraries / budgets and you have the ultimate challenge for an MBA student.
2) The clients are paying – a lot. In previous projects clients were only stumping up a few hundred quid for travel around the UK (if that). For the IB project they can potentially be spending tens of thousands of pounds sending us around the world. This level of expenditure brings with it a whole new level of scrutiny. Senior management demand results and this means that your day to day contact pushes that pressure onto you. This is, of course, as it should be, accurately reflecting the world of work.
3) You choose the team. For the UK based projects team selection was done semi-randomly by our MBA office. You were flung together with people you hadn’t worked with before and left to sink or swim. While this method has its merits, for the ultimate challenge it helps if you’re working with people you know you can work with. You’ll be spending three months together, often locked into a cramped syndicate room, so you’d better be able to get on.
4) Pitching for business. In common with the UK consultancy project, before you can start work on a brief you have to pitch to the client and convince them you are the best team to deliver for them. This process is fraught and riven with game theory. No-one wants to end up with one of the “dog” briefs with over-demanding clients or difficulties with collecting the data you need. You can only select three briefs to bid for so do you go for the “best” ones which will have the most competition or do you pick a less popular one to ensure you have a fallback position? In our case we ended up on the pitch list for two briefs (the client will select only three teams to present to them). Fortunately our number one choice was on the first day of pitching and we were able to secure the appointment. We’d already decided that picking our second choice was a mistake (it was in a sector that would have taken us months just to understand the basics) so had we lost we would have had a heavy night of soul searching and presentation re-writing.
While, for confidentiality reasons, I can’t give too many details about our project I can tell you that we are working for a FMCG company looking at new markets for potential entry. The specific regions we are looking at are Latin America, East Asia and Eastern Europe so I should be heading to one or more countries in those places at some point in the next few weeks.
At the moment we are still at the country selection stage which involves looking at macroeconomic, demographic and sales data to identify the most attractive new markets for our employer. Once this is sorted and we’ve done our in-country research we’ll have to put together models looking at the various ways to enter the market, what this could potentially yield to in sales and how that would then translate through to profit.
Of course, all this takes place amidst the fevered scrambling of MBA students trying to secure their exit strategy (i.e. getting a job) which makes the process all the more difficult but more on that in a future post. In the meantime I’ll enjoy the intellectual and cultural challenges that the IB project presents and hope for the best.