AACRE CASE 2014 COMPETITION
By: Alba Medina
I feel so honored for having had the opportunity to compete in the semi-finals of the AACRE 2014 CASE Competition in London. Our team was comprised of two DUSP students, Esteban Castro Izquierdo and Pablo Posada Merino, one Sloan student, Yao Yao Duan, and myself representing MIT.
The CASE focuses on real estate acquisition, development programming and financial underwriting at the asset level. The competition mimics the professional circumstances and assignments that students interested in real estate finance, acquisitions and development are likely to encounter after graduation. Registered graduate teams, comprised of no more than four graduate students, are sent a competition packet that includes important information about a specific development site in the United Kingdom.
Teams had five days to submit a brief concept narrative (Letter Of Intent), including a bid price and development program for the site, the capital structure for the development venture, a fully-functional Excel-based financial model and a summary PowerPoint presentation. Based on this information, a panel of judges selected 12 semifinalist teams to travel to London to compete in a semi-final round in front of a host of judges and industry professionals in the Royal Institute of British Architects. Three teams were selected from the semi-finalists to advance to the final round to be judged by industry veterans in front of a live audience in the London City Hall.
The process was anything but easy. First, I had to organize a team that shared common interests with complementary strengths and different backgrounds. Once the three additional members of the team accepted, we sacrificed a considerable amount of time and effort in order to discuss our strategy, build up the financial model, and design the overall project.
We met as a group and read all the provided documents and restrictions. We discussed which we each thought to be the most important elements that needed to be addressed within our presentation and about how each one of us envisioned the design of the project. Our second step was that we put all the ideas together and started working on the overall strategy, product mix and design. After that, we worked on the financial model and changed the design in order to maximize our profits. This was an iterative process and finally, we worked on putting the presentation together along with the Letter Of Intent.
I believe that the most important aspect of the project is the financial feasibility of it. This is because it doesn’t matter how innovative the design is if the numbers don’t make sense. It is important to focus on design and innovation, but these aspects should be secondary to the financial analysis and overall business plan for executing the project.
Working in teams with heterogeneous members and reaching a consensus in every step of the process proved to be very time consuming and by far the most challenging part of the competition. We were able to overcome this obstacle by focusing on the goal and the final outcome that kept us together.
In the end, all our effort paid off when we were notified that we made it to the semi-finals in London. It was a very rewarding moment, but we all understood that this was only a first step. We needed to put much more work and effort in enhancing our presentation and persuasion skills. I have to say that for MIT students this is the most complicated part, since we tend to be more quant oriented than other schools.
I believe that it is very healthy to embrace the competitive spirit that the CASE competition promotes. This competitive halo, coupled with a desire to achieve will affect our success in business throughout our lives. Competitive people push themselves to obtain excellence, work longer hours, encourage creative ideas, master discipline, and push past the boundaries of innovation. As students, we need to practice all these qualities in order to be competitive in the market and to increase the chances for career advancement.
Our experience in London was a very gratifying one in every aspect. We had the opportunity to network with alums, with different leaders from the local real estate sector, and to learn from their different experiences. I personally made new friends there and didn’t lose sight of the fun and excitement of the larger experience of engagement with all the niceties of the parallel events of the competition.
Even though we came in 4th in the competition, it was an invaluable experience for me to compete and to force myself to become a better professional and human being, as well as to learn from my excellent teammates and from other teams.
My most important take-away is acknowledging the power and importance of working in teams with different cultures and backgrounds. It can prove to be very challenging, but I personally learned a lot from them and it was certainly the best part of the experience.
Also, I believe that working hard toward a personal goal provides a person with a strong feeling of achievement. I have observed that generally, competitive people are not afraid of experimenting with new things, which can then lead to exciting opportunities that other less competitive people may not encounter. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that the real sense of satisfaction has to be tied to the spirit of wanting to be a better professional and human being, and not to the results and outputs that are often beyond our control. The spirit of participation like in a game of sport, should be independent of victory or defeat.