'AMC is a conglomerate specialising in the paper, petrochemical and construction businesses. Its production base is in Southeast Asia. As its main businesses are commodities and services that are similar to those of its competitors, AMC is struggling to stay at the top, given the prevailing competitive environment. Its goal is to become the Asean leader in its business sphere by 2015."
Puntip Oungpasuk, far right, executive vice-president, Strategy & International Affairs at PTT Chem, presents the champion award to the winners of Thammasat Undergraduate Business Challenge 2010, who are, from left, Karanvir Singh Thakral, Vorawan Wangpanitkul, Sasirat Kittichungchit and Tamonwan Chen. COURTESY OF TUBC
The preceding paragraph set the guidelines for competitors at the student-driven Thammasat Undergraduate Business Challenge 2010 (TUBC 2010) late last month, which required the teams to find business solutions that would enable AMC to reach its goal of becoming number 1 in five years.
First conducted in 1997, the four-day TUBC 2010 was the latest event in the series of case-study competitions targeting undergraduates from international business schools worldwide.
The two-million-baht tournament was run by over 50 Thammasat University (TU) students and was largely sponsored by PTT Chem (Petroleum Authority of Thailand Chemical Plc).
"We encourage students to use their classroom knowledge to find practical solutions to business problems. In addition, we aim to build networks of international students as well as develop the skills of Thai students by creating opportunities for them to collaborate with their foreign colleagues," said Woraphot Kingkawkantong, a TU student who co-chaired the TUBC 2010 organising committee along with Primluck Wangphanitkun.
The contest also strives to promote hands-on management and develop the analytical and communications skills of the participants, as well as foster teamwork, logical thinking, presentation skills and the ability to work and think under pressure. Cultural excursions and recreational activities are incorporated in the activities for the participants.
This year, four-person teams of undergraduate business students from 15 Thai and overseas universities participated in the competition. Among those institutions were TU, Chulalongkorn University, Mahidol University International College (MUIC), the University of Southern California (USC), the National University of Singapore, the University of Melbourne (UOM), the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Washington (UOW).
After the elimination rounds, the four remaining finalists were "Avidity Consulting" from UOW, "DDME Consulting" from UOB, "Anomalies Consulting" from MUIC and "Vincit Consulting" from TU.
The teams presented their proposed solutions before an audience of over 300 persons to the panel of judges. Each team was given 20 minutes to present its strategies and another 20 minutes to answer questions posed by the adjudicators.
Each of the finalists came up with three solutions, which ranged from tapping into bioplastics production, expanding the company's construction business, to placing more emphasis on corporate social responsibility schemes. In the end, the judges unanimously awarded the championship to Vincit Consulting, the team members of which are Vorawan Wangpanitkul, Sasirat Kittichungchit, Karanvir Singh Thakral and Tamonwan Chen.
The winning team set the goal for AMC that by 2015 the company would be the market leader "equipped with the expertise to continuously provide innovation for high value-added products".
Besides concentrating on the petrochemical and paper business units, Vincit Consulting emphasized marketing AMC as an environmentally-responsible brand.
At present, the company is a very active raw-chemicals supplier. "However, we concluded that if AMC were to sell only chemicals, it would be very difficult for it to progress and create value-added products," Vorawan explained. So, the team suggested that the company should move up the value chain, by acquiring plastics manufacturers to extend its range as a major chemical vendor into the plastics-aggregating business.
"In this way, we can differentiate our products from those of our competitors, and we won't have to worry about the commodity effect," Sasirat added.
For the second strategy, Vincit Consulting looked into AMC's paper business. They suggested that the company start a packaging service for exporters of fruits and flowers.
"We would do two things: design and produce the packaging. It would mean a first-step integration of the company's paper business. We would be selling not just packaging services, but we would also be producing packaging materials according to customers' demands and preferences," explained Sasirat.
The team also realised that the paper pulp left over from the company's paper production was an otherwise wasted by-product. Using the paper pulp as a key ingredient in the production of "green" cement would be a cost-effective means of recycling waste and generating bonus income for the company. The team was keen to sell the green cement to build cost-efficient public housing. According to Vorawan, although the paper-based cement is not suitable for mega-projects, it is safe for one- or two-storey housing units.
"It was a good opportunity to collaborate with the government and simultaneously build a positive brand image for the company," said Vorawan.
The team reasoned that their combined solutions would result in a "win-win" situation for the company.
Apart from giving points on the players' adherence to the general criteria set out in the rules of the competition, "we analysed the participants' thinking processes and problem-solving skills and their competence in coming up with solutions based on a mountain of information within a limited time period", said Puntip Oungpasuk, executive vice-president, Strategy & International Affairs at PTT Chem and one of the judges.
She commented that even though the competitors were undergraduates, they had great ideas. "Some of their ideas are better than those of experienced adults'," she said.
"We did not consider the feasibility aspect of the solutions, because it is impossible for students to come up with 100-percent practical solutions in just 40 hours," said judge Oranuch Apisak-sirikul, chief executive officer of Tisco (Thai Investment and Securities Plc) Group, "but we evaluated their presentation skills. Did they present their strategies systematically and logically? Were their presentations persuasive? Did they respond calmly and correctly to the questions by the judges?"
Ms Puntip and Ms Oranuch agreed that the members of the winning team delivered their presentation systematically and logically and detailed their solutions convincingly. "They coped with the questions very well and weren't overly nervous," added the Tisco CEO.
Ms Oranuch added that the success of the event demonstrated positively that Thai students are now more self-confident, in contrast with the lack of confidence that has been a visible weakness plaguing young Thai competitors for a very long time. The activity promotes cross-cultural learning, such that foreign students can learn humbleness from Thais and Thai students can learn how to gain greater self-confidence from overseas contenders, she said.
Both adjudicators suggested that all the participants could develop their performances further by focusing more on detailed analysis, proper presentation postures, and more-effective selling skills.
Analysis is key
Vincit Consulting team members declared that the keys to their success were hard work and thorough analysis. "As far as the English language is concerned, we are not as fluent as the Western competitors," Vorawan said humbly. "We realised that we had to compensate for that by standing out in giving a deeper analysis of the case and coming up with effective, creative and feasible solutions," she explained.
Another factor that contributed to their success was the defence mechanism that they employed to handle the questions from the judges. "We prepared answers in advance to every question that we could anticipate from the judges," Vorawan said.
The team members are not novices in this sort of competition. Vorawan was a member of the TU team that won the first prize at McGill Management International Case Competition 2010 hosted by McGill University in Canada. Sasirat, Karanvir and Tamonwan have competed in competitions in many countries, for example, Sweden, the US, Hong Kong, Canada and New Zealand.
"These students are the cream of the crop," said James Paul Fitzpatrick, the team's adviser. "I told them that this is just the beginning."
In the remainder of this academic year, TU plans to send students to compete in seven competitions that will be held in Singapore, Hong Kong, the US and Canada, among others.
According to Mr Fitzpatrick, so far TU has come home with 12 champion titles from business case competitions around the globe. Four of the prizes are from the TUBC, including this one.
Tips from champions
The team admitted that the TUBC has taught them useful skills for coping with the pressures of business management, for improving teamwork and esprit de corps, for raising levels of professionalism, and on how to recognise their own weaknesses. It also allowed the team to explore a wide range of new ideas.
"Always work hard. Never think that success is impossible. If you work hard, you have already won half the battle," Tamonwan advises prospective contestants. "Support each other and master your emotions," recommends Sasirat.
"Don't be reckless," Vorawan points out, "and never say, 'This is good enough'." She continued, "Please keep working to the best of your abilities until the last minute." Karanvir's pointer to contestants is that if they strive to do their best, they will realise their true potential. "Never underestimate yourselves," he says.
The first runner-up was DDME Consulting from UOM. Its plans consisted of entering the recycled products industry, manufacturing specialised plastics, and building a petrochemical refinery plant in Vietnam. The team members are Maya Dagan, David Raffa, Divya Goyal and Eugen Lim.
All the team members agreed that their participation in the competition was a valuable experience.
"I got to meet people from around the world. This is a big network, so you can make friends with people from many places," said Goyal, adding that he also enjoyed the cultural sessions.
"We were able to put the [theoretical] skills that we learned in class into practice," said Dagan. She was a member of the team that won the Marshall International Case Competition hosted by the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business earlier this year.
For the next competition, the team said that they will place more emphasis on time management. They are sure that, as usual, they will enjoy taking part in the competition and the special events.
"The whole premise is that we must do our best, but we should have fun doing it, which eases the pressure on us," said Goyal. "If you take a little time to have fun and relax, you will perform better," he added.
It is clear that TUBC 2010 was an outstanding opportunity for business students from around the world to learn from each other and to enrich themselves with multicultural thinking skills, which will prepare them to confidently enter the global business arena with all-round knowledge and experience.