LAU Case Competition 2021: Back and Stronger than Ever!

The most recent edition of the competition, though virtual, created a hub for invaluable business networking, job prospects and professional growth.

By Raissa Batakji

The all-LAU student team that was chosen as a winner by Unilever, and a third-place winner by Leo Burnett. They went on to earn the LAU Case Competition Best Case Team Award.

As jobs in Lebanon became increasingly harder to find, two LAU students determined to disrupt the status quo brought back the LAU Case Competition, a student-led initiative that creates a win-win haven for both job-seeking undergraduates and leading businesses.

Over the course of five months, banking and finance graduate Lara Baz (BS ’21) and industrial engineering senior Despina Bachour recruited 580 undergraduate students from 17 universities across Lebanon to take part in the competition, while partnering with five leading multinational companies: Ernst & Young (EY), Leo Burnett, Unilever, Cisco and Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD).

The students competed in teams of four to solve real-life business cases relevant to their industries. Throughout previous successful editions of the competition, company partners had often implemented business solutions proposed by participating students, who were offered internships and employment.

Returning after a one-year hiatus, brought on by the pandemic, the 2021 LAU Case Competition announced 20 winning students from five teams, who underwent rigorous phases to qualify and were rewarded with internships and monetary prizes. This edition also featured a career-development webinar series by leading professionals from BCG GAMMA, Goldman Sachs, Strategy&, EY and LinkedIn.

In the following interview, Baz and Bachour reflect on the motivations that drove them, the challenges they overcame, and the rewards they reaped.

What made you take this on, especially considering your academic load and the circumstances in the country?

Lara Baz: It is not easy being a student in Lebanon, and this was particularly exacerbated during academic year 2020-21. We were just undergraduate students grappling with crises brought on by the Beirut port explosion, the economic situation and the pandemic. So, with the dwindling hope and opportunities for students, we felt compelled to revive the competition and offer a gateway for them to expand their business acumen and network with top companies and consultants. Despite the various obstacles, we wanted to bring back the competition and provide a “safe business haven” for them in which they could grow their skills.

What challenges did you face and how were you able to overcome them?

LB: Challenges kept on springing up from every direction, but we were determined to go the extra mile and ensure that, despite all obstacles, we would deliver a high-caliber event to the participants. The biggest hurdle was the sudden shift to a virtual setting. In previous years, this competition was famous for its dynamism and ability to provide a platform for participants and business executives to interact face-to-face. This is why it was imperative that we maintain this spirit in our online delivery. Another challenge was persuading students to participate, and convincing them that a virtual competition was not of a lower caliber. Despina and I had big plans for this competition, and we wanted to promote it in a way that sparked the enthusiasm of students as much as an on-campus event would.

You have worked closely with management consultants, who are mostly LAU alumni, to help mentor the teams. How did that partnership come together, and what added value did it bring?

Despina Bachour: To make any event successful, you need a secret ingredient that would give the competition an edge. For us, it was the addition of the Mentorship Program this year. We pitched the idea to LAU alumni, and held a general meeting with them to introduce the initiative in detail. The enthusiasm from their end was just outstanding. To say that they brought added value to both the competition and our participants is an understatement – in fact, the support and information we gained from consultants working at top-notch companies, who have such a firm understanding of the market, is immeasurable. The feedback from student participants was overwhelmingly positive, and some have maintained contact with their mentors to this very day, months after the competition ended.

We would like to thank the Alumni Relations Office, particularly Assistant Vice President for Alumni Relations Abdallah El Khal, who gave us unwavering support, and provided the link with LAU alumni currently working as consultants.

How was the competition received overall, both by the participants and the companies? 

DB: The very moment we concluded the Award Ceremony and turned off Webex, we received a surreal amount of “well-done” and congratulatory messages. Partnering companies, student participants, as well as LAU faculty and staff were very happy with the outcome of the competition. Lara and I had the pleasure of meeting with Vice President for Student Development and Enrollment Management Elise Salem, whose support and passion was heartwarming. The final outcome was truly a success, and we could not have imagined it any different.

How did the Case Competition contribute to your own personal growth, academically and professionally?

LB: I have taken part in numerous activities both on and off campus, but the LAU Case Competition was by far my favorite. The network I built throughout this period is priceless, from business executives, consultants, participants, to the LAU Case Competition organizing team. I made valuable friendships, most prominently with Despina, whose work ethic and excitement was a key driver for this competition. This experience also helped me grow professionally – and personally – as it taught me flexibility and communication while on the job. I am genuinely happy I got to be a part of it and hope to be able to support this competition as an alumna for years to come.