Written by: Will Uhl
For the past four months the students of Lazaridis MBA’s Full-time program have been in class for 30 hours a week, spent countless hours outside of class working on class prep and assignments, and tackling finals. We had completed eight courses over the past four months, covering all of the business fundamentals ranging from highly qualitative, to highly quantitative material. Now, in the beginning of December, we entered into the last few weeks of our first term of our MBA. Exam week was rough, four exams in four days including one 24 hour take-home exam, and three in-class exams. After finishing the gauntlet of exams our class had a few days off to prepare for our last exam of the semester, an individual case exam touching on several subjects from the Integrated Core. The relief felt from finishing our last exam of the semester was short lived though, as it was immediately followed by the kickoff of Laurier’s well-known Live Integrated Case Exercise (ICE).
Friday morning, our entire class of 90 full-time students gathered in the Senate & Board Chamber where we were presented with this year’s Live ICE, a real-life challenge that a local business was facing. Our professors shared with us that we would be working on a real challenge brought forward from an international, yet local business, Linamar Corporation. (Linamar Corporation, manufacturer of precision metal components and systems for the automotive, energy and mobile industrial markets) Our professors provided us with a brief history on the company Linamar, a few ground rules and a timeline. It was now Friday afternoon, we were to present our initial recommendations to a professor panel on Wednesday. Keep in mind, as a class, we had just finished exams and the eight core courses worth of material, and needless to say, we were tired.
Saturday morning though we were back at school researching the automotive industry. This was just another chapter in an eventful semester of learning about industries most of us knew little about before coming into the MBA program. Throughout the weekend, in our teams we began researching Linamar, emerging markets, and different industries that might be of interest to Linamar. By Sunday night our team was looking in the direction of aerospace and expansion into India and Brazil as possible ways for Linamar to grow.
Monday morning quickly came, and a team of executives from Linamar came on campus to answer questions from each team. Answers from the question portion highlighted different markets, and in result more expectations were set of what Linamar was looking for from our teams. The executives quickly instructed us they had no interest in aerospace and wanted to concentrate on expanding their core divisions. As the question and answer period went on, Linamar stopped us and highlighted a gap in our logic, the single biggest issue we’re facing is with obtaining and retaining talent in our organization, why is no one focusing on human resources?. Our team had overlooked a major problem for the company and industry. Due to the shift away from trade skills and apprenticeships they were experiencing a draught of talent in the skilled labor market. Our focus needed to broaden to incorporate human capital, in addition to growth in industry. After a constructive question and answer portion with Linamar executives it was back to the drawing board for our team.
It was now Monday afternoon and we had until Wednesday morning to put together our team recommendations to present to the professor panel. In a mad flurry of activity, we consulted with local apprenticeship programs, dove further into industry analysis, emerging markets and financials. All day Tuesday and late into the night we researched, wrote, and put together our recommendations for Linamar. Finally on Wednesday morning our team handed in our proposals to Linamar, and presented our recommendations to the professor panel.
Each group had now presented their findings in a 15-minute presentation to a panel of professors and Lazaridis MBA alumni. At the end of the presentation, we were cross-examined by the panel to see how well we could defend our recommendations. When all was said and done, we waited to find out which teams would move into the finals and have the unique opportunity to present their recommendations to the Linamar executives
Five days had passed and it was now Thursday morning. Four members from Linamar’s executive team were on campus to hear the recommendations that four lucky Lazaridis MBA teams felt would be the solution for the challenge they were facing. This was an amazing opportunity for those four teams as they now had the opportunity to discuss a real-life situation, and provide their advice for moving forward with the Linamar executives. In attendance from Linamar was CEO, Linda Hasenfratz, CTO & Executive VP of Marketing, Mark Stoddart, CFO, Dale Schneider, and Executive VP of Human Resources, Roger Fulton. As we sat and watched the four selected teams present, we were impressed and proud of the information and suggestions that our classmates were proposing. Each proposal was presented incredibly well by the MBA teams, with the last team wowing the executive panel with their proposal.
Live ICE was an incredibly valuable experience for all those involved. From a student’s perspective this opportunity was a culmination of the entire Integrated Core semester. We were implementing the technical skills we learned in finance and strategy, but also incorporating the soft skills of time management, working under pressure and team building, in order to accomplish tough objectives with very limited time as we would encounter in everyday business situations. As the company involved in Live ICE, Linamar benefited as well. CEO, Linda Hasenfratz commented to the class afterwards that they were impressed with all of our team reports and the depth of our understanding of the topic and industry. As students that have just completed the Integrated Core, this was confirmation that we understood the information taught, and that we now were prepared to ask the right questions in high-pressure situations that produce results.
All in all, the first semester in the Lazaridis MBA program was, and will be, a whirlwind of activity. We all had significant challenges along the way, but by ending the term with the Live Integrated Case Exercise we were able to apply everything we had learned over the past four months, explore a new industry and communicate with a real-life company. The interaction we had with Linamar executives was extremely rewarding, and an outstanding opportunity to see the challenges an international business is facing, and how, as MBA students, our skill set that we are learning can and will be of value to them as an organization.