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Getting closer or being far apart. Is leadership pointless or vital in digital times?

Aarhus Case Competition 2021 marks the 10th anniversary for ACC. 10 years with case competitions, challenges, organising committees, and of course: many memories - both the stressful and fun ones. In a zoom call, we sat down with the founders of ACC, Anders and Jesper to talk about their thoughts on ACC going digital and get another perspective on leadership in these times.

Anders Thomsen Jesper Agerholm

CEO and Cofounder Partner

NoMoreHours Clearwater International

Julie: Back in the day when you started ACC, what was the ultimate goal?

Anders: Jesper, should I or do you want to go?

Jesper: You can start Anders, it’s fine.

Anders: It was actually Jesper’s initiative originally, and he came to me and said, “let’s do this thing” cause he needed somebody who had done a few more case competitions. The sort of joint ambition we both had back then was to create a case-solving culture, because when we started ACC originally, very few people had ever heard of the concept of a case competition; it was only maybe 1 or 2 out of 100 who had heard of the concept. It was a little bit of an elite concept. We wanted to make it more generally available since we believe the concept is helpful for everyone and not just the top 5 per cent of the students.

Jesper: I think it’s important to understand the concept or the building blocks that ACC is built upon, so the concept itself of case competition - it’s a way you communicate and a way you analyse.From the start we had this view that being good at case competitions is just training, like anything else. You don’t have to be the smartest person or get the best grades, to do this. It’s basically just that you need to train a lot, like anything else in the world. The way you learn at university, the way you communicate, the way you write and everything you do at university is very different from the way you do it afterwards in the corporate world, but case competitions are a good way to learn how to do it. Not because it’s bad the way you do it at university, but it is different.

Anders: It’s not bad; it is just useless.

Jesper: Argh, I don’t know if I would put it that way. It is just focusing on something else at least. ypically it is more effective, it’s more direct, it’s easier for the listener to understand this way (red. case-solving way) of communicating, and we felt that skill was needed at university, so that was also one of the reasons we started ACC.

"It’s basically just that you need to train a lot, like anything else in the world."

Anders: We also just thought it was really fun, right. We both had very good experiences, like the whole concept, spending 24 hours, working really intensely, coming up with something meaningful was fun.

Jesper: Personally for me, it was just a great experience, so if you ask what started it, it was just “ah, we can do this”. A lot of the thoughts and ideas came afterwards, and I know Anders said that I had the initial idea, but I don’t know if that is absolutely right, but at least I knew that Anders was stupid enough to join me on this journey.

Julie: What was your first thought when you heard that ACC would be held online in 2021?

Anders: My first thought was, “Finally!” We’ve been pushing for an online track for at least 5 years, so it is really cool that it will happen this year. It is easy to push and say: “hey, let’s make it digital and let’s talk again in three months at the next board meeting”. It’s something different to be the ones that say, “hey, let’s make this physical event even cooler than last year and let’s also make a really cool online approach on top of that”. Of course, I understand why people didn’t necessarily do it before because it is a lot of work, but I am really glad that the committee raised to the occasion, and also that the partners were willing to, you know, support it, and I really hope that, going forward, there will be sort of a really cool hybrid solution.

Jesper: I would say, if we can bring this whole professionalism into a digital environment if we can prove to the corporates that ACC is doing both the highly professional on-site event but also a highly professional digital event that will take ACC to a new level and be the one event to look at in terms of events on the university. So, I think that it is also just natural for ACC to move in that direction as one of the first.

Anders: One of the cooler things I see about case competitions is the gathering of people and working jointly on something, and having that whole sort of team atmosphere. And of course, you can have something similar like we have right now, but it is not the same thing, right? It is not the same thing as when you’re working hard on a case, and it’s 2 in the morning, and you finally submit that thing, and you go get a beer, and you feel really good about each other. Anything that has to do with team spirit and celebration and all these things. I think those things are really hard to imitate online. You can do something, but I think there is something embedded in us humans that we like to actually physically interact on celebratory occasions.

Jesper: Of course, Anders is right, but actually I think that the biggest challenge here is perception.The perception from partners about “what about ACC now? Can it be just as good?” the perceptions from students: “will this be beneficial for me?”. I don’t fear the event itself, I am certain it will be a good and again groundbreaking event, but I fear perception along the way.

"There is something embedded in us humans that we like to actually physically interact on celebratory occasions."

Julie: To stay on that topic, we are a huge committee this year - we are almost 30 people. When I do my work, I meet with my team on Zoom, and then I will go back, and I will do whatever I have to do, and although I speak to my team, then a lot of the decisions I make by myself without even realising it. So, I would say that I work quite individually, but would you say, in this time when people work in that way when they work by themselves, is leadership then pointless or is it actually more important?

Anders: I think it is always very important. It is definitely not less important in these times. I think some of the things - from a leadership perspective - that I know we have had challenges with are not so much getting work done and ensuring that things are well and in good quality, but I think that one of the things that is sometimes a bit tricky when you do not see each other in person is to know when someone is having a hard time or feeling stressed. It is difficult to pick up because when you are not around people, you do not pick up these small ques when people are not feeling well or having low energy or things like these.

I think that those parts of leadership and getting an understanding of your team and all of those things can become really tricky.

Jesper: Yes, and I have a few things to add because there are some very interesting points. And again, back to getting closer or being farther apart. When I talk to my colleagues, it is sometimes easier for me to get an even closer dialogue in some stages. I just press the video button, and then they arrive in front of me because I can do it from the car, and I can do it from home, and I can basically call someone with one question and then hang up. However, this day to day learning where we are just listening to the daily conversations and saying, “wow, that was a great way to do it”. That is becoming more difficult..

Anders: And just to add to that ... I think on the leadership part I think that is one topic and then also from a management point I think you do not know exactly what people are doing right, so it forces you to have some sort of transparency in terms of who is doing what and what are they prioritising and do they have some challenges.

Jesper: Yes, yes ... There are some project management skills you need to add here. I believe in that too.

Julie: You seem quite positive about going online. It can be difficult to establish a connection, but there are some upsides to actually going online. Is this the future? What do you think case competitions will look like in 10 years?

Anders: Hopefully, it will be a hybrid. If you think about it, the essence of most case competitions is, you know, to educate, entertain and brand the corporates. And then also to connect the students to the corporate… Making it online and offline, and make those interact with each other. Also, leverage more co-participation from the audience, getting more exposure, getting more re-usage of assets. In the physical world, you only fit 500 people, so you like to have a maximum of 500 views, but if you think digitally, you might get 50,000 views.

Jesper: Actually, the vision, and why we started this, was not to make it an elite event, but to educate and to teach people at the university how to communicate and how to analyse better,. This is a great enabler for that vision because now we can get an even broader focus, and more people can learn about ACC and learn from it. So sure, this is very beneficial, but I also think, back to your questions, hybrid. If you can take the best of both worlds, I think most people would say that is the way forward.

Julie: Best of both worlds. That seems realistic and like a good idea. If you could choose one thing, it can be anything you want. Think outside of the box; it could be balloons, something educational. If you could choose one thing to happen in your dream ACC, what would it be?

Jesper: Pull this off digitally. *laughs* That is my dream come true.

Anders: *laughs in agreement*. That the sound works really well, and the video doesn’t fall out. Even when there are like 1000 people watching. If we can avoid any glitches from technical problems and give everybody a good experience, that is a huge win.

Julie: I was thinking you had like a crazy idea, but we are hoping for that.

Anders: then we can do level 2 afterwards.

Disclaimer: This blog post is based on an interview executed on zoom. It has been edited for length and clarity. Therefore it must be taken into consideration that some phrases may be out of context and should not be taken at face value. Any quotes taken from here must be cited directly to this site. Please contact the committee for any questions or concerns regarding this.

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