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Cornell University and the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) organized the first Retail Real Estate Case Competition (RRECC) for teams of undergraduate students from five prominent universities (the University of Guelph, plus Cornell University, the University of Colorado, the University of Connecticut and Ryerson University).  The case involved an older shopping center that needed upgrading and new thinking.

The University of Guelph was represented by Daniel Adams, Tyler Corlett, Sam Ives and Sam Rolph.  Despite the fact that they had full time jobs, which limited their preparation time, our team took first place.  It is a good feeling to leave Las Vegas with an extra $10,000 (US!).

The biggest lesson may be to take advantage of opportunities.  Any meeting is an opportunity to learn new things.  A competition is an opportunity to apply what was learned in class.  It certainly looks good on resume.  But opportunities are extremely valuable because they teach you things that you might not have considered before.

In any competition, unlike in a classroom test, the prize is not given for finding a perfect answer.  It usually does not exist, given the limits on preparation time and resources.  There is certainly not enough time to debate it in exhaustive detail with the more experienced judges.  So, as Sam Rolph noted “Instead of trying to trick us, [the judges] were asking questions to help them understand our thought processes.”  In this competition, the judges recognized that the team had omitted the soft costs from their financial calculations.  After that very public “Oh s***” moment, the team still had to offer a coherent answer.  Fortunately, our accumulated experience has revealed how over-preparation offers something more important than a better “right answer”; it reinforces the cohesiveness of a thought process.  Consequently, they won and, as Sam Ives said, “first I’ll probably never forget soft costs again and second it illustrated the importance of the sensitivity analysis.”

Opportunities come in many forms.  ICSC is the pre-eminent organization which presents the interests of retail malls of many kinds (and awards scholarships to our students regularly, thank you).  This competition was held jointly with the RECon meeting of ICSC, where about 36,000 attendees from around the world meet in the 1 million square feet of convention space.

Once in Las Vegas, participants had a full access pass to the RECon meeting.  Daniel Adams noted that the team explored “the countless real estate booths in the Las Vegas Convention Center” and attended panel discussions.  Tyler Corlett said that there is a real “feeling of excitement walking into the massive venue for the first time, knowing that this is really the center of it all”: lots of learning never happens in a classroom.

Thank you to the organizers of RRECC and, for their time and energy, to the judges.