A UGRAD student's COOL competition in the Netherlands

Duy Quy Tran, Vietnam, California State University, San Marcos

Duy Quy Tran and his team from Vietnam.
Duy Quy Tran and his team from Vietnam.

This past April I had one of the best journeys of my life. My team was invited to the Netherlands to compete in the Final Round of The Global Student Challenge of Supply Chain Finance. During the mere eight days of my travel, I visited Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and, by an interesting turn of events, I also spent some time in Stockholm and Copenhagen. The experience was an incredible opportunity for me to discover new lands, to learn and to grow.


It all started with one simple crazy thought.

I remember the first time I heard my friend tell me about the competition and it struck me right away: “Maybe we will make it to the Netherlands. Maybe we will win this one competition that has very little to do with our major but everything to do with our dream career, Supply Chain Management.”

The competition was an internet-based simulation in which we managed a company called The Cool Connection. The company was on the brink of bankruptcy with a broken supply chain, horrible relationship with customers and suppliers, and a grave financial situation. Our team acted as the managers of the four departments of Purchasing, Supply Chain, Sales and Finance. To proceed, we made decisions regarding the operations of The Cool Connection. For instance, as the Sales Manager, while negotiating with our customers about their payment method, payment term and reliability of our service, etc. I worked with the Supply Chain Manager to make sure that we had enough stock to satisfy the promise. At the same time, the Purchasing Manager had to see that we bought sufficient materials at the right time for production whereas the Finance manager allocated the capital effectively for us to have money to pay the suppliers and the labor when earnings were still account receivables. The ultimate benchmark for the performance of a team was Returns on Investment.

I found it fascinating how those small pieces all fit into one complete jigsaw puzzle. Every small change in a decision would affect others. For example, if we produced a lot of goods in stock, we would easily satisfy the demand from customers. However, a high level of stock would cost us dearly in terms of storage cost and the capital invested in the goods.

It took us great deal of time to get used to the terms and the interface. We formed a group study where we would meet every week to teach one another what we had learned ourselves. We would also make use of any other sources of help we could. After five months of the competition (July to December 2014) in Vietnam, we learned a tremendous deal of what had been so alien to us in the beginning. What was even more crazy was that we made it to the Final Round, earning our tickets for the Netherlands!

To the Netherlands

My trip to the Netherlands was full of surprises and emotions.

Duy Quy Tran in Stockholm, Sweden
Duy Quy Tran in Stockholm, Sweden

The journey began with a delayed flight, which resulted in me getting stuck at Stockholm Arlanda Airport for one full day. I was angry and worried because I was supposed to meet up with my team one day prior to the competition to prepare. And then I realized, instead, I could spend the time touring Stockholm. It turned out to be the best delayed flight ever! I settled, rested and took the express train to downtown Stockholm first thing in the morning. The UGRAD experience prepared me so well that I could navigate through the big city without a hitch.

I fell in love almost immediately with the ancient beauty of the Old Town. I wandered around the small streets, visiting royal buildings, churches, places that I only knew before from movies.

I arrived at the hotel in Zwolle, Netherlands at midnight. Although exhausted after a long travel, I was elated to be reunited with my teammates and professors. The competition for the next four days was tough yet thrilling at the same time. We were put under extreme time pressure where we only had one and a half hours to analyze new information, graphs and functions considering we were used to having weeks to do such tasks. To make the game even more interesting, there were a dozen of new features added like consignment stock, vendor-managed inventory or exchange rate risk.

Duy Quy Tran and his team at the Rotterdam port
Duy Quy Tran and his team at the Rotterdam port

One highlights of the finals week was the field trip to Rotterdam Port, the biggest port in Europe. At the port we saw in real life the origin of what we had learned in our class such as the Hamburg rule, Rotterdam Rule or the famous Hague-Visby rule, which was a pretty amazing experience.



Duy Quy Tran and his team at the Final Competition in Zwolle
Duy Quy Tran and his team at the Final Competition in Zwolle

The finals put great pressure on us and forced us to adapt in order to perform well. We managed to score quite high during the six rounds. However, we could not make it to the top three to win the prizes. Personally, it was disheartening for me because we worked so hard for it, we deserved to win. But in retrospect, so did the top three. We spent months preparing for the challenge and so did they. We still had loads to learn before we could be the champion.

We spent the last day together visiting the lively city of Amsterdam and the famous tulip garden of Keukenhof. There were so many interesting things to do there that I wished I could have had weeks discovering the city.

I embarked on the flight back to the United States just to realize that I had a 16-hour transit in Copenhagen, which turned into another amazing biking trip around the city of the Little Mermaid.


What the journey taught me

There are so many things I learned from this adventure. There are three things I would like to share:

  1. Work hard for your dream: I understand that everyone knows this. But believe me, it is never over emphasized. Everything in life has its price. You have to be willing to pay it. The work will pay off in the long run.
  2. Make the most of what you have or where you are: I would not have visited Stockholm or Copenhagen had I just slept in my hotel the whole time due to exhaustion and disappointment. I would not have known how awesome those two cities were.
  3. Travel whenever you can: Immerse yourself in other cultures, meeting new people and exploring unfamiliar places will re-shape your perspective, improve your adaptability and benefit you in so many other ways. You will be surprised at how empowering it is!

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