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Laurier students win case competition again – and possibly job interviews

The Globe's biweekly business-school news roundup.

It is case competition season across Canada, when business students demonstrate their academic, athletic and fundraising skills to judges (and potential employers) over the course of a weekend.

For the Laurier School of Business and Economics, winning has become a habit. For an unprecedented sixth year in a row, the undergraduate team at the Waterloo, Ont., school took top honours last weekend at the JDC Central competition of 14 business schools from Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.

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"There is no reward that, so to speak, is tangible," says Laurier captain Michelle Morin, of the extracurricular and no-academic-credit competition. "The intrinsic reward you get from knowing you did a job well done can be so much more powerful – that is the No. 1 thing I have learned."

Ms. Morin, 21, working with unofficial co-captain Nick Barbour, led a team of mostly third– and fourth-year students.

Since last September, the student-selected team met weekly (more frequently closer to the competition), aided by faculty adviser Sofy Carayannopoulos, an associate professor of business, and school alumni.

Is there a formula for success?

"It is not one ingredient," says Prof. Carayannopoulos, who worked with the team for the first time this year. "It is a combination of having dedicated students who are willing to make the sacrifices and have the discipline to train, work as a team and to help each other … and ultimately to care about winning."

The overall winner was not announced until the end of the competition, but Ms. Morin saw encouraging signs when some private-sector judges gave business cards to students for follow-up recruitment meetings.

As team leader, Ms. Morin says she learned it is "very hard" to co-ordinate a diverse group of people. But she also discovered her interest in leading others and is considering a career in marketing or project management after graduation this summer.

Beyond salary, she hopes to find a job that offers non-monetary rewards she gained from this competition.

"A salary is nice, but if I can find something I care about remotely as much as I care about JDC it won't matter how much I am paid," she says. "I will be happy in that job."

Meanwhile in other student competitions:

– Led by an MBA team from the University of Victoria's Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, three Canadian schools took the top three spots at the 2015 Business for a Better World Case Competition held at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. A team from the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., and York University's Schulich School of Business in Toronto placed second and third, respectively, in the competition that has a corporate sustainability theme and is sponsored by Corporate Knights magazine and Schulich.

– An undergraduate business team from the University of Manitoba's Asper School of Business in Winnipeg won school of the year honours at the 2015 JDC West competition last month, followed by teams from the University of Alberta School of Business in Edmonton and the University of Regina School of Business.

$1-million Concordia donation earmarked for small-cap progam

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An alumnus and long-time donor has given $1-million to Concordia University's John Molson School of Business to train an elite corps of small-cap stock portfolio managers.

The latest gift from J. Sebastian van Berkom, an undergraduate commerce graduate of Sir George Williams University, one of Concordia's predecessor institutions, is for a new small-cap investment management program (named for him), with an annual intake of eight graduate students starting next year.

Using real money, students will be trained to become fund managers for small-cap (market capitalizations between $75-million and $1.5-billion) stock portfolios – ideally achieving returns above the North American benchmark – and receive industry internships and mentoring.

With his latest gift, the president and chief executive officer of Montreal-based Van Berkom and Associates Inc., has given $2.3-million over the past 16 years to the Montreal university and various initiatives at the business school.

Real estate specialization gains ground, with industry support

On a business trip to Boston in 1986, Calgary developer Ron Ghitter discovered that one of the city's major universities, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offered a specialty MBA in real estate development.

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"It [the specialty graduate degree] was to assist the industry in getting individuals who could come in to the industry with knowledge," says Mr. Ghitter, chairman of Certus Developments Inc. "I was impressed, to say the least, that a program like that would exist." The MIT degree, a one-year graduate program, opened in 1983.

Now, at the urging of Mr. Ghitter and other real estate industry leaders, the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary plans to offer an undergraduate concentration and an MBA specialization in real estate by September of 2016.

In doing so, the Haskayne program will join the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business (which offers a bachelor of business in real estate) and Schulich (which has an existing graduate diploma in real estate and infrastructure and plans for a master level program by 2016) in targeting the development sector.

Mr. Ghitter says Haskayne's decision to offer specialty curriculum for his industry is "very exciting."

"It will reap dividends not only for the individual taking the courses but for the industry at large that will have a source of talented young people with some background coming into their offices," he says. Typically, he says those interested in real estate begin as brokers but lack financial and other expertise to manage every step of development from land acquisition to construction.

The school's curriculum initiative follows its move last fall, with financial backing from industry donors, to establish the Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies. Its inaugural director, industry consultant Jyoti Gondek, was named in December.

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"We have collaborated with industry and government to understand the types of skills they are seeking when students come out," she says, with the proposed programs designed to cover all aspects of the industry, including increasingly-important issues such as working with multiple stakeholders.

"You have extremely well-educated, well-positioned individuals in communities who are now speaking out about what they believe their neighbourhood should look like," she said in an interview. "That didn't use to be the case."

Despite a slowdown in Alberta's oil-driven economy – and news this week that Calgary home sales dropped last month to their lowest levels in 35 years – Dr. Gondek stated in a subsequent e-mail that "the need for real estate expertise transcends economic cycles."

Follow Jennifer Lewington and Business School News by subscribing to an RSS feed here.

Contact Jennifer at jlewington@bell.net.

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